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Why I Used to Be a Big Partier

I am reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God – re-reading actually. I first read it a little over three years ago, and I think, at the time, it both set the groundwork for me to start really believing I could change my relationship with food and was not something I was fully ready for. Because reading it now, I feel like every line is spoken to me, about me, for me.

In a recent chapter, she talked about the two kinds of eaters: Permitters and Restrictors, and I recognized myself in every detail she gives about Permitters:

“Permitters prefer going through life in a daze. That way, they don’t need to feel pain – theirs or anyone else’s. If I’m not aware of it, there’s nothing to fix. If I go through life asleep, I don’t need to be concerned about the future because I won’t be aware of it. If I give up trying, I won’t be disappointed when I fail… Permitters operate on the need to be safe in what they consider hostile or dangerous situations… They see no point in trying to control the uncontrollable and have decided that it’s best to be blurry and numb and join the party.”

This was me, for well over a decade. A writer I don’t know was able to distill the essence of my behavior and motivations in about a paragraph. And recognizing myself in her words has been such a gift in helping me understand my own process of transformation and why it is so valuable.

I really was blurry and numb for years – using food and alcohol to deaden my senses. It’s strange to think now that I routinely spent both weekend nights drunk (and sometimes a week night too), that the point of the night was finding a fun and social way to get drunk. Of course, the true point of all of it for me was just to get to more food. I always knew I didn’t have a drinking problem, even when I drank a lot, because I knew what it was to have an addictive and unhealthy relationship with a substance; it’s just that, for me, it was food. The nights of partying were always opportunities to eat with abandon. Late night diner meals, bar snacks, drunk snacking at home in the wee hours of the morning. In my early 20s, one of my favorite 3am activities was to bake cookies drunk and then eat them. I often made horrible cookies, forgetting ingredients, messing up the baking time; I always ate them.

And the reason behind this behavior that Roth speaks to was absolutely the truth for me: it was a way not to feel pain, not to be present, not to be disappointed. It was all a way to hide.

The process of coming out of hiding for me is both a slow and a fast one. It only takes a moment, a single action to live differently. In an instance, I can come forward and be my true self. But the practice of being present, of acting on my own behalf is a constant one that I repeat daily, in moment after moment, and it is a long transformation into being in the world in a new way. Discovering a new relationship with food and with my health has been the path that has led me back to myself though. It’s a path I’m still on, and it’s not always easy or successful. But the more I understand that I will always be on this journey, the more i can appreciate it. Because it’s the journey of my true self.

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Food in Autumn

pumpkins1

We are getting our first real fall weather here in Los Angeles, and I love it. Autumn has always been my favorite season; the crisp air and shortening days speak of possibility to me.

The food of fall is some of my favorite too. I love the arrival of fall produce at the markets: the crisp, juicy apples, the gourds in all their strange shapes and alluring colors. They remind me of the years in college and after when I visited my aunt on weekends in her coastal Connecticut town. One of our big activities was driving over to Bishop’s, the large farm stand in the area, where we would buy bags of apples and the best fresh cider I have ever had (which my best friend called “liquid gold”). And now, visiting farmer’s markets around LA, I get so excited when the piles of gourds appear with their different, delicious options: spaghetti squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, kabocha.

There was a long period of time, though, when I appreciated this bounty mostly through the co-opting of pumpkin to add season flavor to an endless stream of food products. Just as the marketing campaigns would like us to believe, fall to me did mean pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin scones. Pumpkin honestly makes everything delicious, so it’s no surprise that I liked all these foods. The 380 calories in a pumpkin spiced latte (from Starbucks) is surprising to me – or rather, it was. I know now that most of those foods have more sugar than actual pumpkin (and some don’t have any pumpkin in them at all), and as my views about food change, that reality makes them less delicious to me.

So now I focus on enjoying fall’s bounty in a more direct way: by eating the actual pumpkin, the actual apples, and all the other delicious produce out there. I am relearning how to bake with pumpkin, so it is a healthier experience. I’ve now made this pumpkin bar recipe about a dozen times, and I’m excited to try more recipes. In the meantime, I am cutting up gourds and cooking them in as many ways as I can think of: mixed with meat in the slow cooker, roasted as spears to simulate sweet potato fries, cut in half and baked to enjoy in their natural richness. It’s such a bounty. It makes me feel so fortunate.

pumpkins2

Earlier this week I walked down to the commissary on the Lot where I work to eat lunch and was surprised to find it swarmed with many more people than usual, many of who were wearing red. The source attracting the masses became clear immediately: a large Sprinkles cupcake booth. What was less clear was why it was there and why so many women were wearing the same shade of red. So I started poking around and found this sign (which had fallen off its display stand):

blogcupcakebs

Does anyone else see what’s wrong with this?! Does anyone else find it infuriating?

The event – and fundraiser! – for Women’s World Heart Day was a cupcake festival. Presumably, since the proceeds of this fundraiser were going to the American Heart Association, this World Heart Day was about heart health. And what could be healthier for our hearts than a calorie bomb of sugar, fat, and processed ingredients?! Oh wait… that’s right: pretty much everything.

Sprinkles cupcakes are giant, sugar and fat-laden concoctions often topped with candies, cookies, and/or cream. They have negligible nutritional value, and their calorie range is anywhere between 400 and 600 calories per cupcake.  This kind of calorie bomb, along with major ingredients like sugar, contribute to conditions that create and exacerbate heart disease (among other ailments). So WHAT the fuck is this about?

Willful ignorance, presumably. We live in a society that has all the answers we need about dietary health but that continues to promote eating highly processed, sugar-laden, crap food because it’s a major source of profit. People are encouraged to buy (literally) into unhealthy behavior through constant marketing of products created intentionally to be more desirable and addictive because of their flavor palates. And this heart health day at work is a great example of how insidious it is.

These cupcakes at work were being sold as a fundraiser for the American Heart Association. That action was encouraging people (lots of people – there was a line) to buy something that is actively bad for their heart health. This double message is infuriating because it says: Support heart health! By buying and consuming this thing that hurts your heart’s health!

I’m not saying people can’t have cupcakes, or even that they can’t be sold as part of a fundraiser (although I really think there are more responsible fundraising options). But I think it’s horribly irresponsible to use a product that contributes to poor health to promote good health. It’s like having a Virginia Slims stand at a cancer awareness event – except that people would recognize how ludicrous that would be. We have not reached that level of awareness with highly processed foods yet, although hopefully some day we will.

 

The fury I felt from reading the following article sub-head basically just caused my head to explode:

The Sugar Association — up until the mid-1970s — aggressively advertised sugar as a healthy weight loss and diet aid.

Yeah, you read that right. Go ahead and click on the link to get REALLY angry. You’ll see such gems as this one:

via buzzfeed via motherjones.com

via buzzfeed 

It’s an apple – obviously! Those three teaspoons of highly processed sweetener crack are MUCH better for you than an apple. That fattening terrible apple that came from nature and has nutrients. Gross. If you really want to succeed on your “reducing plan,” make sure you have some sugar:

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

…because it give you energy! More so than that crappy old egg. I mean, an egg has almost 80 calories in it, whereas a teaspoon of sugar only has 18. And everyone knows that it’s all about calories. The nutritional value of the food has no bearing on anything at all.

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

This ad is perhaps the most horrifying of them all, and the text is probably too small to read, so let me just share the biggest gem from it:

“There’s a useful psychological effect, too. The good natural sweetness of sugar is like a little reward that promotes a sense of satisfaction and well-being.”

There, at last, is some truth in advertising. It sure is a useful psychological effect – that little reward just keeps you coming back for more. And more and then some more. I know that’s how it worked for me for years. Things didn’t turn out quite like these advertisements (which I was not alive to read anyway) claimed they would.

Of course, I find this all so infuriating because the years of research since – and my own personal experience – have shown just how damaging the consumption of sugar is. And yet, here it is being sold as a nutrition supplement. It’s a good reminder – and one that still applies today – not to believe anything being sold as a weight-loss cure. Or really anything that’s being sold. There’s always a spin and always a hidden motivation, and that motivation is profit, not our well-being.

 

Healthy Treats: Pumpkin Bars

Pumpkin Bar with Coconut Cream

Pumpkin Bar with Coconut Cream

I am working on being kinder with myself in my relationship with food. In that vein, I was offered the challenge last week of baking something just for fun.

I love to bake, but I rarely do it now that I don’t eat most of the ingredients that go into baked goods. The idea of baking a traditional cake/cookie/bread/etc that I either would not eat or would feel bad about eating did not sound fun to me. So I set out to find some recipes that fit my dietary parameters.

I knew this would be challenging because of the sugar. I don’t believe in sugar at all. It is a toxic substance, and while I’ve certainly still eaten it from time to time, my goal is not to. Further, I do not think that chemical sugar substitutes are acceptable, nor is agave (the ways in which agave is not at all what it’s sold to be deserve their own post, but suffice to say that it’s really pretty terrible). At this point, I’m basically okay with maple syrup, honey, dates and fruit as sweeteners. And none of those in large quantity. Also, I like to avoid any kind of wheat flour. And dairy.

So it took some Internet sleuthing, but eventually I found my way to a wonderful site called Spoonful of Sugar Free. The author has a whole section of desserts, and I fairly quickly found one that fit my parameters: her Grain-Free Pumpkin Pie Bars with Creamy Frosting. The ingredient list for this recipe is great in its simplicity: pumpkin, coconut flour (and only a 1/4 cup at that), spices, vanilla, a little almond milk, and eggs. I find all of these ingredients to be totally acceptable, so I was really excited to try the recipe.

And it turned out great! It was easy too. The prep time really did only take about 10 minutes. The resulting bars were tasty – like a milder, less sweet version of pumpkin pie filling. Since I don’t really eat sugar, they tasted sweet to me. My husband, whose diet is less restricted, also liked them though. And one of the best parts? The whole tray totaled just over 400 calories, making a piece a very reasonable snack.

The author also provides a frosting recipe, which is ingenious. I tried it the next day (because it involved overnight refrigeration), and I found that adding the creamy coconut concoction to the top of the bar gave it a little extra punch of flavor. With the frosting, it is a dessert I think almost anyone would enjoy. The frosting also doubles the calorie count because coconut milk is intense. So I’ve approached that part of the dessert with a little more reserve.

I really enjoyed making and eating a treat a felt good about, and it’s something I intend to do again. I love treats, and I don’t really want to live a life without them. I just want them to nourish and support the life I’m choosing.

 

My Body, My Self

For many years, until relatively recently actually, I treated my body like an unwieldy appendage attached to my head at my neck that I had to suffer through because it was what lugged me around. When I thought of myself, I truly only considered me from the neck up. This perspective is evidenced by an endless quantity of neck-up head shot photos of myself, years of me telling whoever was taking my picture to just take it from “here up” (hand motion to my neck). I didn’t want my ugly and unsightly (to me) body being immortalized in any picture. I didn’t want to have to see it or acknowledge it. I was told I had a pretty face and that I was smart, so if everything could just be about my head, it would be all right.

Neck up, please!

Neck up, please!

Except that it wasn’t. My body is a gift. Just like everyone’s is. What it can do is biology and also magic. Just the muscles working in unison for me to type these words, how my hands move, the signals that my brain sends to direct them are all phenomenons of immense complexity and brilliance. Computer scientists spend years creating robots that can do what my hands do without me even thinking about it. And as I sit here on the couch typing and breathing there are so many amazing functions happening: my heart beating, pushing blood, my lungs filling with oxygen, my eyes, skin, ears, and nose sending signals to my brain. The feel of the couch under my legs and the hardwood on my bare feet – miracles all of it. That I spent most of my life wanting to disregard this amazing vessel of my physical self is so sad. That I wanted to do so because I felt shame in it is heartbreaking.

My body is worthy.

This is my body, and it is worthy.

My body is my home. It is my guide also. Through my body I feel and experience; everything I know of the world comes to me through my physical self. Everything I experience, I feel in my body; all my emotions have sensations that go with them: the bubbling joy of seeing people I love, the racing heart of excitement, the constriction in my chest when I am scared, the heaviness of grief.

I ignored my body for so much of my life because it was also a way to ignore my feelings and what I experienced. It’s a coping mechanism that worked well when I was young, when I needed to escape, when it was the best way to protect myself. I was taught in many ways that it was not okay to be myself, that some, but not all, of my feelings were acceptable. So I hid the ones that weren’t. I hid parts of myself and then I hid from myself.

I was so detached from myself that I could eat huge portions of food, gain weight and not understand how or when the weight gain had happened. I could eat until I felt sick and then wait just enough time for the nausea to pass before I ate some more. I ate my feelings instead of having them, feeling them, and expressing them. I ate to stay separate from myself.

And it worked. Really well. Feeling numb and separate and hidden had benefits. It was harder for me to get hurt (even though, somehow, I felt hurt most of the time), and I felt protected from the world (even though I was just isolating myself). Eventually though the costs were too high and the pain (of trying to avoid pain) was too great. So I started the long journey of coming back to myself.

I’m still understanding all the ways in which I disregard myself, how I dismiss my body instead of honoring and loving it. It takes constant consciousness – which I don’t always have – to be kind to my body, instead of judging it. The judgment comes so immediately, and it is mean and ugly. But more and more I realize that there is no true health and no true care for myself without true acceptance of myself. Right now as I am today and however I will be tomorrow.

Always

Always.

Weight-Loss Frustration

I am in a place of great frustration. I am not losing weight, even though I am working hard to do so.

After months of being unfocused, I have gotten back down to business: I am working out hard; I am eating well. I have cut out the little delicious cheats that sustained my food addictive ways for so long. No more dark chocolate, no more macaroons made only of coconut and cacao, no more Lara and Kind bars as just for fun snacks, no more cheating and pretending I’m not. And it’s really hard for me.

So I am also doing the work of considering why it’s so difficult for me to stop snacking for fun. I am looking at the compulsions behind my eating habits. For the first time in my life, I’m really understanding how little my eating has to do with when I am or am not hungry. I like to eat so much that I do it whenever I can. In the past two years, I’ve switched to healthier, real food, and it has made a massive difference in my life. But it has not changed the fact that I most often eat because I feel like being comforted, distracted, and entertained. Now it’s just that apples or (until recently) dark chocolate distract me. I am finally starting to pay attention to my hunger level, and if I’m not hungry, stopping long enough to question why I want to eat something.

In the meantime, I am working out so hard. My trainer has redoubled her and my efforts, and once again, my workouts leave me covered in lakes of sweat, often feeling nauseous from the levels of exertion. I am strong, and now I am breaking through to get stronger.

I am doing everything the way I should, and every day it is work. Every day, I am choosing not to eat the desserts that are presented, to join my friends for Mexican food and not drink the margaritas or eat the chips or anything else not healthy, to buy as much produce from the farmer’s market as I have cash for and to cook and eat it (or eat it when my husband has cooked it), to work out daily, hard.

And nothing’s changing. It has been three weeks. Three weeks since I stepped on the scale and saw that my little slips and lax ways had caused my weight to jump up a couple more pounds, making me 10 pounds heavier than my lowest weight. Enough to rattle me into action. In three weeks, I should have lost between 4-6 pounds. Instead I have lost 1. It was 1.5, but I stepped on the scale this morning, and for reasons I can’t explain, my weight went back up.

I know I just have to keep doing it. I know it will work eventually. But it frustrates me that it’s not working better despite how much work I’m putting in. Also it frustrates me to be this focused on numbers when I want to focus on a healthy life. But I don’t know how to do that without the numbers because when I stopped paying attention to them before, I stopped paying attention in a lot of other ways too. And right now, I really don’t feel like I have all the answers I once thought I did.