Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “November, 2016”

There is still joy in foodville now that sugar is cut out.

This week I was interviewed for a documentary about people who have lost a significant amount of weight and have kept it off for a certain period of time. I was excited to do this interview because I am frustrated by the way the media often covers weight loss.

There is a lot of talk about the “obesity epidemic,” specifically in the western world. And there is an underlying assumption in the way it is covered by the media, and I would dare say even the way it is studied: “No one can entirely give up ‘comfort food.'”

We’ve got Oprah managing her bread. We’ve got contestants on The Biggest Loser exercising for 6 or more hours a day and ruining their metabolisms in the process. We’ve got Dr. Oz recommending sugar in moderation rather than artificial sweetener. In fact, we have an army of nutritionists recommending eating what amounts to junk food in moderation, so people won’t feel deprived.

What I think this does is perpetuate the myth that if you give up junk food, there will be no joy left in life. And this is a belief I see and hear all the time. When you give up cake, the first thing that everyone asks is, “But not for your birthday, right?”

I gave up cake entirely. Even on my birthday. I gave up my grandma’s lasagne for Thanksgiving and Christmas the last few years she was alive.

The idea that food equals joy is not entirely foreign to me even now. I have favorite meals. I look forward to them. I sometimes do a little dance, or talk to them in a baby voice. (This is not a joke – ask my husband.) I love to eat. I love food. It brings me joy, it’s true. The difference is that the food I eat now is all nutrient rich food. It’s all real food. It’s all whole food. It’s mostly stuff that grew in the ground, and can still be identified. 

I don’t know how to stop this idea that a person both cannot, and should not be expected to, give up unhealthy food, because that would be cruel. A punishment. 

But there is something important that I would like to point out. It was not always this way. This “obesity epidemic” is new. And I know that it is, because when I was growing up fat, I was the exception, not the rule. I was the weirdo. I was the one who was considered lazy and shameful. So I remember a time when most people were a healthy weight. I was not one of them, but they were the majority. In 2011, the U.K. medical journal, The Lancet, reported that obesity rates world wide had doubled since the 1980s. 

So here is my point, this idea that people cannot be expected to control their eating is ridiculous. There is no biological reason for it. But there may, in fact, be a reason for it that has to do with money, specifically profit.

There is a whole industry out there making food as addictive as possible. There are scientists in labs working on “food optimization,” doing whatever they can to make everyone feel the need to eat more. Even if it is killing us. They are looking for the perfect combination of fat, salt, sugar, and texture to keep you eating past the point you know is healthy. They are trying to get you to eat without ever feeling satisfied. They have buzz words like “mouth feel” They are working to create “addiction.”

I put “addiction” in quotes, because I don’t know how much of it is what I would consider a real addiction. “Addictive” is a word we use for everything now: TV shows, video games, songs, apps, just about anything. So the truth is, I don’t know if the salt, fat, sugar, mouth-feel, and crunch combination is simply “tricking” us into eating more than is healthy, but ultimately we still have control, or if it is really creating an inability to stop. But when we are talking about food, especially junk food, it is having a real effect, with real consequences on our lives and our health. Real whole food that can be identified (i.e. is not or is minimally processed) does not keep one on the hamster wheel of more. 

Here’s the deal: I’m fine. I am a-ok, and I am going to continue to be just fine. I found a real and lasting solution to my eating problem. I live a free and happy life. I am not saying this for me. I am saying this for the people who are suffering and keep being told that there is no solution, because, apparently, “nobody can avoid junk.”

If you want to avoid junk, you can. And perhaps we should all, as a culture, be asking who is gaining from our weight gain, when seemingly everyone is telling us that losing it is impossible.


Living in interesting times

I am afraid. There is an old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. Well, I am living in interesting times. And I am afraid. 

I have been having food thoughts. This is not something that happens to me often. In the past almost 11 years, I have had noticeable food thoughts through a handful of stressful times. Of course, I had them when I first gave up sugar and put boundaries around my eating. I also had them at the beginning of my relationship with my now husband. After all, I left my life in New York City after only spending about 10 days with him face to face, and moved across the country to be with him. Obviously, in retrospect, I made the right choice. But in the beginning, I didn’t know what would come down the pike. And I was nervous. And I had food thoughts.

But then, I knew a few things that I don’t know now. I knew that I was in control of my life. Even if it didn’t work out, I could move back to New York, get another job, find an apartment. All of that was in my hands. And I knew that no matter what, my husband was a good man. If it didn’t work out, he would still be a good man. 

But now, I am not sure how things are going to work out. And I don’t know that the people who have my life in their hands are good people. In fact, it is not circumstances I fear in this situation, but those people.

I will not eat compulsively. I need my wits about me. I need to be firing on all cylinders. But I am afraid.

One thing that happened to me, and to others I know, when we put boundaries around our eating, is that we discovered who we really were. We found out who was hiding behind that wall of fat and food coma.

One thing eating does is numb you to the ways that you are not true to yourself. When you get integrity around your eating, you necessarily get integrity around the way you live your life, because it hurts too much to do what you can to please others, or at least slip by unnoticed, at the expense of your own self. Especially if you do not have a way to soothe that. I not only got clear about “the truth,” I got clear about my truth.

So here is my truth. I choose justice over unity. I choose freedom over safety. And I will fight, even if that fight is dangerous to me personally. Because if I turn a blind eye, I’m going to need to eat a chocolate cake. Maybe two. I am telling you I would rather be harmed by someone else than harm myself. That is what eating compulsively is to me.

I still believe in the general benevolence of life. I know that this, too, shall pass. Like everything else, good and bad. And I am happy to see so much of what I despise brought out into the open. I am happy to see the hate dressed in its Sunday best and paraded around, because some people think it’s safe to do so now. As Justice Louis Brandeis so eloquently put it, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” 

But believing that life is giving me what is best doesn’t mean that this will be easy. And it doesn’t mean that this will be gentle. And it doesn’t mean that this will be painless. It just means that I trust that life is right, and that as long as I do the best that I can to live honestly and with honor and love, all will be well with me.

So the first thing I have to do is keep my eating under control. When I have a food thought, I cut it off. I do not hold on to it, or romanticize it. I remember that sugar and carbohydrates are poison to me, because I am sick around food. 

I am afraid. But that doesn’t have anything to do with my food. Except that three times a day, I sit down to a delicious, nourishing, satisfying meal, and I don’t have to think about the next right action I have to take to honor love and justice in America.

(Ba ba ba ba, ba ba ba ba ba) I wanna be sedated.

I keep boundaries around my eating, but I am not on a diet. And sometimes, I eat for comfort, but always within those boundaries.

I ate heavy on Wednesday. Lots of high-fat, high-calorie foods. Since then, I have reined it in. Because having boundaries around one’s food doesn’t necessarily mean being thin. I could be fat and still be eating within my food boundaries. I make different choices because I don’t want to be fat. I don’t like it. I have my priorities.

The big difference between me now, and me when I was active in my sugar/food addiction was that back then, even if I wanted to rein it in, I couldn’t. I was a slave.

Look, I don’t “like” to eat lighter (i.e. less fat on my vegetables, less fatty meat, smaller fruit portions, fewer high calorie foods in general.) Ever. I want to eat all big and juicy, fatty, greasy, ooey gooey all the time. I want to roll away from the table because I’m too stuffed to walk properly. Much like the late, great Joey Ramone, (Ba ba ba ba, ba ba ba ba ba) I wanna be sedated.

But, of course, I don’t want what comes with that. I don’t want the extra weight. I don’t want the lethargy. I don’t want the obsession with food, even foods that are “by the rules.”

Food got me through difficult times when I didn’t have tools. But it’s important to note that I still gave up sugar and put boundaries around my eating before I had life-coping tools. Because I was never going to learn to cope without food until I gave up food. I was never going to figure out what my options were while sugar was still an option. Because as long as my substance was a possibility, I was always going to choose it. So I made a commitment. And something happens to you when you make a commitment. It looks and feels a little like magic, but I’ve come to realize that it’s pretty standard. I closed the door on numbing out with sugar. I chose that I was going to maintain my food boundaries no matter what happened in my life. Yes, I still use food as a comfort sometimes. But I do so with integrity. More than just eating within my boundaries, I bear in mind what I want for myself, and my body, and make food choices that coincide with those desires.

Since I stopped eating sugar, food no longer runs my life. I have the clarity and wherewithal to take a step back and look at the long-term consequences of what I eat. I don’t have to make decisions based on temporary discomfort. I have tools to deal with unhappiness and upset that are not edible. I get anxious, nervous, upset, unhappy ALL THE TIME. Food, even within my boundaries, had to stop being my go-to answer. I was forced to come up with some alternatives.

But what happened was that for a while there in the beginning, I was bad at life. I didn’t have sugar, and I didn’t have tools. But the commitment I made was clear. The sugar was not coming back. And it turned out that the old saying was right: necessity is, indeed, the mother of invention. I invented new ways of dealing with my problems. And I did it pretty damn quick. I found coping strategies. I got honest. I got grateful. I got responsible. I stopped blaming circumstances and started making choices and taking actions. Sometimes I effed up. Sometimes I effed up royally. But I learned. And I grew. And I got better at life. Hell, I got good at life.

When I was eating compulsively, and lying about food, I was always going to come clean about my transgressions after I got myself back under control. You know, (or maybe you don’t) I was going to admit that I ate a chocolate cake once I went a week without eating chocolate cake. I was going to admit that I gained 10 pounds cheating on my diet once I got back on that diet and lost the 10 pounds. I was going to be honest once I took care of the consequences.

Spoiler Alert! It doesn’t work that way. Instead of getting my shit together so I could come clean, I needed to come clean so I could get my shit together. I have never ever once gotten my integrity back before I got honest. And let me tell you, I sure did try a whole bunch of times, over and over, for most of my life.

So I let myself take comfort in comfort food. And that was nice. I am not ashamed. I love food. I will never be neutral about it. But food is not my coping mechanism. I have actual life skills for that now.

Two parts clarity, one part magic

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where pretty much everybody drives, but I never learned how to drive. I was afraid of it. I used to have nightmares as a very small child about being expected to drive a car and not knowing how. I can still remember how small and frightened I felt in the big driver’s seat in these nightmares. I didn’t even understand there were peddles when I started having these nightmares. And my fear of driving did not really lessen as I grew up.When I was 18, I left the suburbs and went to college in the city of Chicago, and lived on campus. Public transportation was the norm. And then at 21, I moved to New York City. Where the subway was not only the norm, but was cheap and reliable, definitely the best way to get around. I loved NYC immediately, and expected to live there for the rest of my life. I remember a feeling of relief at one point early on when I realized I would never have to learn how to drive. 

But 14+ years later, and I did leave New York City to be with the love of my life. And oddly enough, to return to the suburb of Chicago I grew up in. And that meant I did have to learn to drive.

So just about a year ago I got a permit and got behind the wheel for the first time. I got my license in February, at the age of 38. 

Last week, I did something a little terrifying, and pretty exciting. I drove over 2 1/2 hours, by myself, to an airport in a city I have never been to. And it was particularly empowering. 

I have always been an anxious person. When I was a kid, I used to bite my nails, and chew on the sleeves and collars of my shirts. I would often have large wet spots under my chin, or up my arms. It was how I managed. As I got older, I numbed my anxiety with food, specifically sugar and carbohydrates. True, I was less anxious. But I was also either ineffectual, or reckless. Instead of worrying about everything, I didn’t worry about anything. And nothing got done. Or I would fly headlong into a situation without thinking it through. But either way, the situation probably turned bad, and I got through by expecting someone else, usually my mother, to bail me out.

A lot of the anxiety I feel is not specific. It’s like a fear of the unknown and unknowable. It is fear for the sake of fear.

What having my eating under control does is allow me to break my life down into manageable pieces. It allows me to look at real possibilities, and create contingency plans. Like having enough meals with me, or leaving myself more time than my GPS estimates I need. And it also allows me to trust that all is well, no matter what happens. It reminds me that I am capable and clearheaded. It lets me recognize that if I stay calm and present, any issue can be resolved. That it’s all just experiences anyway.

I don’t really know why it works that way. I’m pretty sure it’s two parts peace, quick thinking and self-possession, which come from not being high on food all the time, and one part magic. But either way, it works. 

This drive to the airport felt like a turning point in my life as a driver. I expect there will be more of those turning points in the future. That’s life, after all. But I don’t want to miss feeling the satisfaction of this one. And I can feel the satisfaction, just like I felt the anxiety. Because I feel things when I’m not numbed out on sugar. And that’s as it should be. It’s all just experiences anyway.

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