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Archive for the ‘Things I Didn’t Eat’ Category

I’ve started taking pictures of all the desserts I’m exposed to that I don’t eat, mostly just to give myself something to do around those desserts besides feel fussy. Photographing the food allows me to appreciate its appeal – visual, and emotional as well – while still helping me maintain distance. I have a lot of pictures of desserts already. In just one week, I was offered a lot of cookies, cupcakes, pies and ice cream.

In the moment, I wanted to eat all of it. Pretty much what stopped me was knowing how unhappy I’d be about it afterwards. Because it always tastes good in the moment and then I always feel gross once the moment is gone. Sometimes, if I really eat a lot of sweets, I feel sick to my stomach. Always though, I feel where I have let the desire for a short-term pleasure get in the way of my long-term happiness and well being.

I’m not actually against having dessert as a special treat. I ate my wedding cake, and on our first anniversary, I’ll eat it again. I’m also not against having a couple of bites to appreciate a truly delicious treat. The first two bites are always the best ones anyway. After that we all get diminishing returns on our taste buds. My lifelong response to those diminishing returns is to just eat as much as I possibly can until my taste buds actually go numb. But obviously, this habit has served me very poorly. If I can keep my consumption to “just a taste” – a literal two bites – I am much better off, and I actually enjoy the thing more.

But if I were to have a taste of every dessert that crosses my path, I would still be eating a LOT of dessert. And the truth is for me that it is hard to just have two bites; it takes a lot of will power and only sometimes is that will power in place for me. I do better when I avoid the sweet entirely – or when I sub it for a healthier sweet, like one square of 85% dark chocolate.

So now I’m photographing it instead of eating it. I like taking pictures anyway, but it also gives me a very useful perspective. When I can see almost a dozen pictures of sweets accumulate in the course of a week, I get a clear visual reminder of why it’s important to avoid them: because they are everywhere. They are constant and they are legion. And if I let the treats be in control, they will destroy me. This may sound dramatic, but it’s actually true. The infinite cookies of this world are out to do me – and everyone else – much more harm than good.

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I will offer you nothing but misery and regret.

I will offer you nothing but misery and regret.

That’s half of a coconut scone. And it’s caption is what I had to tell myself to keep from eating it.

I’m like a dry drunk right now. The halcyon days of extreme focus have slipped away (temporarily), and everything is a decision again. I don’t eat sugar, so a lush coconut scone offered by a lovely inn at its complimentary breakfast should be NO PROBLEM ME, right? It’s not even on my radar – right?! Except there I was, sitting in the thoughtfully appointed main living room, at a cute table eating breakfast to the soothing sounds of classical music, and I thought, “Well, why not have just a bite?”

The fuck is that about?! Here’s why I shouldn’t have a bite: sugar. Also, butter and processed white flour. My body takes those ingredients and holds on to them like a long-lost lover returned. No good comes of me eating a scone. And yet… when we walked in to the eating area, and I saw the nicely arranged plate of bakery-made breakfast pastries, I wanted them. I got myself plain yogurt and a grapefruit a hard-boiled egg, but my heart was not in it. My heart was busy composing sonnets to scones.

I thought I could resist when my fiance brought one back to the table. But then he took a bite and said with disappointment, “Aw, it’s coconut.” Whaat? What’s that you say? Did you say coconut?! I LOVE COCONUT!!! GIVE ME THE COCONUT!

That’s not what I said out loud, but I did reach out immediately, break off a bite and pop it in my mouth. Oh sweet delicious coconut and sugar and butter and flour. Stephen said, “I hate how chewy coconut is.” I said, “Om nom nom nom nom!!!”

And I was about to eat more. I was ready to do it. I had the excuses lined up: We’re out of town! It’s a special occasion! I already ate a huge meal full of questionable ingredients last night (the tasting menu for our wedding reception)! Why not just make a weekend of it?!

I looked at the scone and thought about how good it would taste. And then I thought about the rush of happy feelings it would bring me and how, at least for a moment, those would overwhelm the stress of wedding planning. But then I remembered what would come after: the regret. The sense of disappointment with myself. The eroding of my confidence in my ability to choose what I truly want for myself. So I took a picture instead and tagged it with what truly defines that scone for me.

And you know I was glad I didn’t eat it. Of course. Always.

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I found this bullshit in the office kitchen when I went to get a refill on coffee:

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Seriously, people?

You need to sort yourselves out.

That is a giant blog of dye-colored, air-spun sugar just hangin’ out! And it is not okay. I mean, what is that supposed to be? A snack? Please.

What it really is is a perfect example of how we are all, as a society, just way the fuck out of control. How can we ever expect to appreciate the sweetness of a crisp apple or a juicy mandarin – delicious treats that are also full of nutrients, which actually, you know, benefit us – when our taste buds have been blasted to smarting nothingness by pure sugar. I have eaten cotton candy before. After a few bites, my tongue burns. It burns! That is not normal.

Nor is something so totally artificial and pepto pink. There was a time in my life when I would have thought, “Ooh, cotton candy! And ripped off a piece.” But I also probably would have picked a stray cupcake up off the sidewalk in those days. Because I was addicted to sugar. I would take my fix however I could get it, which is what most of us do in our society.

But once I actually stepped away from it, once I went through the hard withdraw weeks and got the pounds of sugar out of my system, I could really see how most of it wasn’t good at all. It seemed like it would be good, but that was an illusion made from ideas I have been sold my whole life. The actual taste? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong: a homemade or chef-crafted, from scratch dessert can still be amazing. But most sweets are crap, and if you’re really paying attention, you can tell.

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So there were these amazing brownies. (I’m noticing I discuss and photograph food I don’t eat a lot – this is part of my process apparently.) I was at my monthly book club, which was being hosted by my friend Shanna. She did me the amazing service of making us all a supremely healthy meal: a huge, delicious vegetable stew, preceded by a salad. In my no sugar, no red meat, no processed carbs, no cheese, no fried food, no alcohol world that is now also a no wheat and no corn world, it is a pretty tricky task to create a meal that is me-friendly. And she did it fabulously, for which I was so grateful.

Of course, there were foods I couldn’t eat as well, which were available for, you know… all the other people in our book club. Cheese and crackers, wine, cornbread – normal stuff. There was also dessert. And ohmygoodness, did it look like an amazing dessert. Homemade mint-chocolate brownies. These fit pretty neatly into my ideal food wheelhouse. There are many foods I adore, but the combination of mint and chocolate is one of my all time favorites (was? I suppose I should say was, but truth: it still sounds amazing to me). And the mint part of these brownies was a thick, gooey icing on top, so the dessert had that great texture contrast going for it: dense chocolate brownie, smooth, creamy mint icing.

I imagine. I don’t actually know. Because I didn’t have one. They sat on the table, looking resplendent with their pale green, chocolate-flecked tops, smelling like all the joy in the world. And I watched them and didn’t eat them. It was great practice in self-control. Ultimately, I didn’t need a brownie, and I was totally fine without one. I forgot about them as soon as they were out of my sight. But when they were in front of me, they seemed like a very, very good idea. Almost a necessary one.

In the past, I would not have been able to NOT eat the brownie – multiple brownies in fact. They would have called to me like a siren song, and I would have answered. Oh, I would have answered – as often as I felt like I could get away with it without looking noticeably gluttonous to those around me. For years, not eating tempting foods seemed like the impossible task, the thing that kept me from losing weight. I really didn’t know how not to do it, how anyone could not do it.

Yet, here I stand today, choosing not to eat the brownie. It’s still hard for me, but it continues to impress me that it’s so possible for me to just say no – and then follow through on that decision. There are a bunch of reasons why I didn’t eat the brownie, reasons that really mean something to me (as opposed to the “oh I shouldn’t” reasons of the past that meant nothing and which I always ignored). I think it’s useful to share them.

*My trainer would have a fit if she knew I’d eaten a brownie. Accountability is a powerful thing, especially when you’re accountable to a pretty intense person who really cares about you doing your best.

*Of course, I could just lie to Pip, but I don’t like lying. Even more importantly though, I’ve learned, through trial and error, that it does not serve my purpose. I could eat the brownie and then pretend it never happened, but my body would still know it happened. And it would act accordingly. Meaning, I would not lose weight. I know this because I have played with the lines. I have crossed them, despite Pip’s better guidance, and what I have found, over and over, is hey! If I eat crap I don’t lose weight. Sometimes I gain it.

*Maintaining the weight I’ve lost and continuing to lose more weight is actually, finally more important to me than a dessert. For years, it wasn’t, and I think that’s because I didn’t have momentum. When I’d only lost 3 or 4 pounds, it was much easier to say, “Oh fuck it” and eat the brownie. A 3-pound loss didn’t means as much as a brownie, especially when I told myself I could always start again the next day. But it’s different now: I have real stake in this thing. I have changed my life. I have a different wardrobe. I am proud of myself. And I’m not giving that up. I worked hard and I intend to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I really really don’t want to sabotage myself, so I will make the extra effort – employ my full well of willpower – to care for myself in this way.

*Finally, I am in an accountability group with two great friends. We hold each other accountable for all manner of things, and as I’ve started struggling a bit with my resolve, I added sugar to the list of things I need to be accountable for. To break me of the habit of having tiny tastes and bites, I made one of my weekly goals be to not eat any sugar. We set up consequences for if we don’t meet our goals, and as it happens, mine is to clean Shanna’s apartment for two hours. I really hate cleaning. It’s totally not worth the taste of a brownie.

So this turns out to be where the line is for me: this overlapping list of reasons, other people, and hard-won understanding. I didn’t eat the brownie. I stayed accountable – to myself, my trainer, my friends, and my health. It’s really hard sometimes, but I’m always glad when I’ve done it. It’s a different feeling from the total pleasure of a favorite dessert, but honestly, it’s just as good.

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I knew going in to my trip to Texas for Thanksgiving that eating would be a challenge. The holiday is centered around eating for most Americans, and my family really celebrates that part of the tradition. It’s a big holiday for my extended family; we all meet at our family “farm” (it’s not a working farm) in East Texas and gather in the old yellow Sear’s Roebuck home where the large front room and long porch gives us space (albeit crowded when we’re all in there) to congregate. There is a lot of food in this house, notably on the two (two!) dessert tables. I decided to photo-document these many desserts as a way of interacting with them without eating them.

Ultimately, the desserts bested me – in that there were too many of them and I got distracted and did not photograph them all. But here’s the photographic evidence of what was out on the first day, the many sweet treats that I did not eat:

Dessert Triumvirate

Dessert Triumvirate

Pie AND Cake

Pie AND Cake

This guy looks like he lost a battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

This guy looks like he lost a battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

The first of about seven tins of cookie-type treats to be revealed.

The first of about seven tins of cookie-type treats to be revealed.

Here's how many desserts there were: no one ever got around to eating this cake - at least not by the time I left on Saturday.

Here’s how many desserts there were: no one ever got around to eating this cake – at least not by the time I left on Saturday.

I didn’t eat any of that y’all. Not a bite. Despite how it STARED ME DOWN for days and days.*

(*Full disclosure: I did have a small piece of pie after Thanksgiving dinner, but it was not yet out for presentation when I took these pictures.)

 

 

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Last year at Thanksgiving, I had only been eating and living differently for four months, which meant there was no wiggle room. It was all still too new, and I was still too much in the process of learning a new way of being to have an off day or a non-sanctioned treat.

My trainer would argue that I still cannot have off days or non-sanctioned treats, and it would be a sound and valid argument. I did not believe her for a long time; I thought the idea that I could never relax my very stringent dietary standards was unreasonably strict. So I tested the idea of having the occasional treat, and I then I tested it again. And it turned out I could have an occasional non-program treat. I could drink a glass of wine or eat a biscuit or a bite of cheese or even – gasp – a piece of cake and the world would not end. But what I also learned was that I would not lose weight. I did lots of trial and error to figure this out, and as I have previously noted, I have a multi-month-long weight-loss plateau to show for my efforts.

But all that still being said and known, I decided I would cut myself a little slack this year, make a few concessions to the idea of being normal like everyone else. So I had a dessert at Thanksgiving, and I had some fried chicken (because my family can’t just have one big meal in a week – ho no). And I did not lose any weight this week. But I also did not gain any. This is because there was still much I did not eat.

Beyond the infinitude of desserts I denied, I did not eat mashed potatoes, jello salads, cranberry casseroles, vegetable casseroles primarily featuring cheese, dips, chips, rolls, gravy, honey-baked ham, bacon, pancakes, or any of the random candy scattered about.

Something else I didn't eat: These hush puppies are essentially deep-fried cornmeal and buttermilk - because that's a good idea.

Something else I didn’t eat: These hush puppies are essentially deep-fried cornmeal and buttermilk – because that’s a good idea.

Also I made, and ate, healthier versions of two of my favorite dishes. Because there is always the issue of Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey is fine and good, but after it, the list of healthy options is noticeably short. So last year, when there was no wiggle room, my mom and fiance helped me create healthy versions of my favorite dishes: namely, the yams. The yams have always been my very favorite Thanksgiving dish. My mom makes them with brown sugar and apricots in a deep, oven-safe bowl and then covers the top with marshmallows perfectly browned to be both crispy and gooey. I could just eat a big plate of them and be happy. Until I couldn’t anymore. My lovely fiance had already developed a yams-alternative for me at home, which my mom made especially for me on Thanksgiving. It’s yams, cooked and mashed, then blended with nonfat, plain Greek yogurt, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and some pieces of fig, and then baked together. And that’s it. Obviously, it tastes very different from the traditional yams recipe, but since I was no longer used to tasting sugar, it also tasted very good to me.

My mom made it for me again this year. I think I was the only one who ate it at Thanksgiving dinner, but I ate two servings of it, and I continued to eat it for the next two days. Because food can be good for you and still be delicious; it can still be a treat.

My pretty healthy Thanksgiving meal - heavy on the vegetables (yams and green beans), medium on the turkey, and light on the homemade stuffing.

My pretty healthy Thanksgiving meal – heavy on the vegetables (yams and green beans), medium on the turkey, and light on the homemade stuffing.

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Thanksgiving is a dangerous holiday. I don’t know if everyone’s families takes excessive food consumption to this level, but my family has two tables – tables! – devoted to just the desserts. There is, of course, all the savory food as well: the turkey, and the honey-baked ham, the giant tray of stuffing, the three versions of yams, the two versions of cranberry sauce, the mashed potatoes, the green beans (finally! something green), the gravy, the rolls, the appetizers. There is already, always, plenty of food. And granted, there are a lot of us; my extended family celebrates together at our family farm, and this year, we have about 25 people in attendance.

But two dessert tables? Two? Really? And that’s with overflow onto the entryway side table. I think this year we have something like five pies (butter, pumpkin, pumpkin, pecan, pecan), two cakes, a pan of fudge (and a box of store-bought fudge because, you know… overkill), a pan of brownies with fudge topping (this may be the best of all the desserts present), some errant cupcakes, and at least six tins of cookies. And that’s not counting the sweet rolls my aunt has been hiding in the closet (for some reason) or the various jello salads that weren’t “real” desserts.

As one might imagine, I find this environment… challenging. There is an abundance of sweet temptation, but more than that, there is a pull I feel when I walk into the big front room of the old yellow house where my family congregates. I feel compelled to eat. It’s visceral, a feeling so innate that I did not notice it, for years, until I started bending my will against it, by not eating the desserts.

I associate this place and the holiday with eating so much so that just walking into the room makes my saliva glands activate and I drift unconsciously towards a dessert table. All my life, I have spent the holiday perpetually eating sweets, and at some point, it became hardwired. Just thinking about being here gives me the happy sensation of post-cookie-eating endorphins. When I am here, I feel a innate pull toward the food. It takes physical action and constant awareness to keep myself from thoughtlessly eating sweets.

Before last year, I just ate the sweets all day long, taking a piece of fudge or a bite of cake, every time I walked passed a dessert table; walking over to the dessert tables all the time to get myself another bite of something; eating sweets constantly, to the point of feeling sick, and then eating them some more. It’s so hard NOT to eat the sweets. Because they are right there, and they are delicious. And maybe there is not enough else to do? Or maybe just for that moment there’s a pause? Or maybe there is no reason at all other than that it tastes good and is in abundant supply.

In years gone by, it would have been normal, over the course of a day during the Thanksgiving holiday, for me to eat six to eight pieces of the fudgy brownie, one to two slices of pie, a couple of cookies and a piece of cake. In one day! I would have spread it out, of course. And the cake and pie would have been eaten mostly in little bites, stolen over and over until they made full pieces, but it all adds up the same. And it is hard to resist. This year, I told myself I could have dessert for Thanksgiving dinner, a slice of homemade pie if I wanted it. My trainer specifically told me not to do this, so I started out thinking that maybe instead of a piece, I would just have a bite. So I did. But it was so delicious that I took another bite. And then I walked away and went back to helping my cousins wash the mountain range of dishes. But I kept going back to sneak bites, until over the course of an hour, I had eaten the whole slice of pie. It was just so hard to stop once I started. And it was even harder, once the pie was done, to turn the switch back off, to not graze on other desserts. I finally just left the house and went on a walk to avoid the temptation.

What was interesting though was that I could flip the switch. Has hard as it was, I could decide not to eat the desserts and just… not eat them. Despite the fact that, like Everest, they were there. It is still something of a revelation to me to realize that it is possible to just not eat the food. To walk away form it, to ignore it. And then to get through a whole day and find that I have lived just as well, that I am just the same as I would have otherwise been, except that I have successfully avoided consuming 2000 excess calories.

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