In February of 2011, about a year before I started writing this blog, I was having a talk with one of my roommates and good friends. He pointed out to me (it was solicited, I might add) that I had a very small comfort zone. This was spot on. Whenever it was implied to me by any person or circumstance that it would behoove me to step out of that comfort zone, I clung to the edges like a Looney Tunes character in a doorway.
As I said, it took me nearly a year after that conversation to start writing this blog, the purpose of which was to help me take risks with my life, so I could have things like love and adventure. In other words, it took me a year to be ready to be ready, to be willing to be willing.
Now, I have been married to the love of my life for over 2 years and we travel the country for work, moving every 3 months to year and a half.
I love this life. It is fun and exciting. I love seeing new places and learning new things. But it can be exhausting. This week I worked from home part time, plus secured my husband and myself an apartment in our next town, including electricity and internet. Plus, I had to deal with some seemingly shady dealings with our last landlords. Not to mention cooking, laundry, dishes and grocery shopping.
There is a lot to working on the road. And let’s face it, moving sucks. And while we get better and better at it every time, it is almost never just smooth sailing.
Having my eating under control is absolutely the rock that makes it possible for me to not only live, but love, this life. Knowing what I am going to eat, how much, and when, leaves so much of my brain free to deal with inevitable hiccups and snafus. Knowing that I must eat my meals within certain times reminds me to stop what I am doing to eat lunch, no matter what it is or how important it seems at the moment. Eating my meals is the most important thing. Period. Not eating foods that get me high keeps me sane, clear-headed, and focused, which keeps me able to get things done quickly and efficiently.
When people hear about my many rules and boundaries around eating, they often marvel at what they consider to be inconvenience. Sometimes it is. But mostly, it is the thing that makes everything else in my life fit into its proper place. And I can’t think of what could be more convenient than that.
I set alarms for so many things in my life. Just now, an alarm went off asking if I posted a blog this week. And the answer was no, and I had totally forgotten. But I had an alarm set, so here I am.
Before I got my eating under control, I had people in my life, people I paid in either time or money, like a personal trainer, and a life coach, telling me to make plans, and keep those plans, regardless of how I felt. And I refused. Where was the joy in that? What about spontaneity? What about fun? What about what I “felt like” or “had a craving for?” What about eating out with friends or last-minute adventures?
When I got my eating under control, I realized how much I was self-sabotaging by clinging to what I thought was spontaneity and fun, but was really just an out to let myself not do something uncomfortable. I didn’t want to plan what I was going to eat because then, if I didn’t follow through, I might have to look at myself. If there was no rule, there was no rule to break, and no behavior to scrutinize.
The truth is that 1) planning makes it easier, not harder, to eat out with friends and take on last-minute adventures. With my eating under control and firm boundaries around food, there are fewer moving parts. The food has to hit certain marks. Once those marks are hit, everything else can be pretty loosey-goosey. And 2) the things that I was fighting against were not boredom or monotony, but long-term fulfillment.
Instant gratification and long-term fulfillment occupy the same space, so you can really only choose one. If I don’t want to go for a jog, I can think of a million excuses not to. I need the sleep, my hip is tight, I should do x instead. But what happens is it becomes easier to not jog. Every time becomes easier. And suddenly, I don’t do that anymore.
That is how every diet ever worked for me. I went on a diet. Instant gratification won once. Then it gradually became the norm. Then I was not on a diet. Then I gained back all the weight I lost, and then some.
I love my life of rules and reminders. I love my alarms. I love the sameness of people calling me every day at the same time to make a commitment of what they will eat the next day, and my call every day at the same time, to commit to what I am going to eat the next day. To have a plan and a commitment to that plan. To have a witness and to be a witness.
I won’t pretend that I am a particularly spontaneous person, though I have my moments. My rigorous adherence to my rules and reminders and commitments gives me a great sense of peace. And I cherish that peace. But also, I have made some bold choices and some daring leaps, because I am grounded in my commitments. After all, I left my home and my city about a month after I re-met my husband, to start a new relationship where I travel around the country with him, constantly moving. That’s pretty bold, if I do say so myself.
I did not used to like promising things to myself. And I used the excuse of freedom. But I was never free until I gave myself boundaries. Since I put boundaries around my eating, I have found that many things that seem counterintuitive are absolutely right. Boundaries lead to freedom. Commitment leads to spontaneity. Rigidity offers fluidity.
After over a month of uncertainty and moving around, my husband and I are finally in a place we will be in for a little bit of time. Probably about another month and a half. It’s not exactly long-term, but it’s a chance to relax and catch my breath for a minute.
One of the things that makes my life happier is that my husband and I always travel with a little bit of home. My kitchen, with my cast iron skillets, our dishes, our silverware, my favorite mug, and a handful of other things I know I will need to be happy come with us. In bigger places for extended periods, I bring more. For a month or two, I make do with less. I also bring our linens everywhere. We also bring our internet TV and the husband’s PlayStation.
I started doing these things because of my my eating boundaries. Because I needed to cook all the time and I needed to be sure I had the tools I needed. But it started to become a way to recognize a place as home. My decorative shower curtain has hung on several shower rods above my bath mat, and alongside my matching towels. My coffee mug, my ramekins, freezer bowl to make homemade sugar-free ice cream, all these little things make every new sublet feel like home.
If I were a normal eater, I may never have gotten so good at making myself comfortable. I may have disregarded that kind of home comfort as important. I could have eaten fast food, and gotten by in hotel rooms without kitchens, and flown by the seat of my pants.
I am terrible at flying by the seat of my pants. I like routine. I like sameness. Life is complicated enough. I am always going to be expected to deal with life as it comes up. Always. In the in between time, I like to know that my husband and I will eat dinner together at the same time each night. I like to know the mug I have is big enough for the way I like my coffee. I like recognizing my home in a new place. It makes me feel safe.
So for the time being I am in a tiny little studio apartment with my husband. But I have bits and pieces of my home all around me. And there’s no place like home.
The husband and I went home for a few days this week. We had to see the new baby in the family. I sure do love a newborn. She had that new baby smell.*swoon*
The thing about traveling, especially when we go home for a visit, is that the tastiness of my food is is less important while I’m there. I make sure it’s within my eating boundaries, and that I don’t hate it, and that is about it.
There is always so much to do when we go home. We have people to see and errands to run. And cooking the way I like to cook is time consuming. Fresh food cooked daily, or every two days is a lot of work. And after all of the running around and the visits we have to make, I would rather have something easy that I can mix up and pop in the microwave for a few minutes.
When I gave up sugar and stopped eating compulsively, I gained a new kind of experience of being with people. Prior to that, parties, get togethers and visits were always colored by what there was to eat. Food was more important to me than people or events. And, more than that, I was embarrassed about being fat. I didn’t want to be seen or judged for how or how much I ate. So not only was food more important, but people could be a burden.
But when I gave up the food, company and experiences became the point of life. After all, I wasn’t going to eat the birthday cake at all anymore. I might as well enjoy the relationships I was in.
So I spent the last few days eating mostly mediocre food (though in truth, I did take one afternoon to cook two days worth of delicious lunches) and being with friends and family.
We also had a friend bring us with him to a baseball game, and we got there just as a crazy storm rolled in. I had such a great time anyway. I had eaten an efficient dinner on the way, and was able to just be available for whatever happened. I got soaked, the crowd was crazy, we ended up leaving early, and it was still a wonderful time because it was exciting and we were with friends. Instead of being a disappointment, it was a fun adventure.
I am so grateful that, when it’s just for a short time, having delicious food is not the most important thing. I couldn’t do it forever, because I am not neutral about food. I love eating and I am sure I always will. But it’s nice that I can have different priorities when the situation calls for them.
Today I called a restaurant to ask about their menu. I wasn’t going to. I looked it up on line. They had vegetables. They had protein. It would have been fine.
And then my boyfriend said, “But aren’t you going to call them?” And I said “Yeah. OK.”
Here is the truth. I would have been able to eat there without calling ahead. It would have been fine. But only just fine. By calling, I gave myself the opportunity to eat better. I was able to make a special request and have them prep something for me specially. This restaurant normally braises their cabbage with a seasoning blend that has starch in it. But one of the cooks told me that he could set aside some for me that did not have that seasoning. He then answered all ten thousand of my questions. Told me what was made pre-prepped and could not be changed, and what I could get on the side. He even told me portion sizes.
I would have had to take up plenty of my server’s time if I had asked all of my questions at the table. And in the end I would have ended up with a salad of lettuce and onion and 4 orders of steamed broccoli. Dry. It would not have been my favorite meal. I would have made it work. Because I always make it work so that I keep my food boundaries. But I would probably have been kind of disappointed.
I can have a lot of anxiety. Especially around keeping my food boundaries. Because as a sugar addict and compulsive eater, I am so clear that my happiness and sanity hang in the balance. But since I have started living with my boyfriend, I have been trying to be able to be more flexible about eating out. NOT like crossing my boundaries. Ever. But being more willing to trust that I will be able to keep my boundaries in the actual real world.
Other people do it. Calmly and peacefully and with the sure knowledge that it will go well and be great. I know so many people who regularly do what I do in restaurants and in public. I know people who have done what I do anywhere and everywhere. Morocco and India and the South American Jungle. Places where it’s actually hard. And yet they have managed. Even Japan (though I have been told that Japan was the hardest.)
I want to feel free to go out into the world and live my life. And trust that I will be able to keep my food boundaries as long as I am willing. Because that is really all it takes. Willingness.
But it was nice to remember that preparing can not only make the experience less stressful, it also gives me an opportunity to get something I would not have gotten if I had not called ahead. Not only did I get to let go of some of tomorrow’s dining anxiety by being prepared, I gave the restaurant an opportunity to be prepared to serve me better.
I am sure that I will have plenty of chances in life to prove that I am willing to keep my food boundaries in all manner of circumstances, while flying by the seat of my pants, because that is what life throws at me. But in the mean time, I am grateful to have a fantastic boyfriend who reminds me that when being prepared is an option, it’s worth the effort. And I’m sure he thought to remind me because, let’s face it, a better-fed Kate is a happier Kate. And a happier Kate is better than the alternative…
It’s funny to realize that you don’t know yourself. Or that you are not who you once were. Or that maybe you were never that person you thought you were and you didn’t realize it.
I have always considered myself a person who never took chances. Who played small. Who never risked.
To a certain extent, I know that it’s true. Until a couple of years ago, I never took risks with my heart.
But when I look at the things I did do, I can’t help but note my own daring. I auditioned and got hired as an actor in a famous, long-running comedy in Chicago at 20. I moved to New York City at 21. I danced with a modern dance company for years. I wrote a play that went up in San Diego and spent a month there while it ran. And through all of this, I never thought of myself as a risk taker.
I also did all of these things while I was fat and food obsessed. I am not saying that these were bad decisions. They were not. But I was high on sugar. I made these decisions, but I didn’t always take responsibility for them. I had grand notions, but I was not a high-functioning addict. A lot of these exciting things were marred by my needing to get rescued when I couldn’t pull my shit together to see them through on my own.
When I got my eating under control, I let my life get kind of small for a number of years. In retrospect, I can see that it needed to be that way. They tell people who are just getting control of their eating that they shouldn’t make any major life changes for the first year.
The first year. That makes me laugh. I needed at least 5. But I have always been a late bloomer. Quick in understanding, slow to process. Fast with ideas, paralyzed around actions.
But then I started writing this blog, and keeping a commitment to write weekly, which was risky in my little life. And then because of this blog, I fell madly in love and let myself get risky again. Really risky. Like leave-my-home-and-go-start-a-new-life risky. Only this time I was sane and healthy. I was sober. I made bold choices, not rash decisions. Choices I knew I would take responsibility for. Because I had the clarity to think them through, past the current moment. And because I had given up trying to control life.
When I put boundaries around my food, I learned that you can only do the best you can, only do the right thing, only follow your heart. And then you have to let the chips fall where they may. And go from there. I learned that I don’t get a say in where the chips fall. That I can’t control the outcomes of my choices with manipulation. That even exquisite planning and execution don’t deliver the results I think they “should”. In other words, when I put boundaries around my food, I learned to let go.
And since I have been in love, I find that I really do love adventure. Yes, I am afraid of the unknown. I think that is part of being human. But I am not paralyzed by it. I am actually excited by it. I think love makes me excited for the next adventure. Because it’s an adventure with my boyfriend. Because it’s not my adventure, it’s ours.
And it may be time to embark on the next adventure. I don’t know for sure yet, but it might be time to move forward. And I don’t know what that looks like or where it will take us. And I can’t wait. Because there is something else that I learned when I got my eating under control. If you do your best, follow your heart, and let go, things always get better. Maybe not right away. There might be dips and stalls. But ultimately, I have always ended up happier, wiser, more content, and in a superior position. So there’s always that…
I was about to start this post by saying that it has been a quiet week.
But then I remembered. Right after I posted last week about how I was getting better at going with the flow, my boyfriend called to say that the truck had broken down, that he was waiting for the tow truck, and that he didn’t know what was wrong with it. He just knew that we were definitely not going to make it on the road in the early morning. And he wouldn’t even know when we could make it back on the road until the next day.
The truth is, I wasn’t that bothered. We had a place to stay. I had enough food. There was nothing to do about it but wait. And hey, it meant we didn’t have to set alarms and get up at the butt-crack of dawn. So that was nice.
And in the end, it was a quick fix. We were on the road by 1:30 in the afternoon, and my boyfriend made it in to work the next day.
And now we’re back in our apartment down south. And I love it here. I loved getting back here and unpacking our travel bags from Illinois and Indiana. I loved doing the laundry and putting everything back in its place. I don’t know why. I didn’t expect to love it here. I was a New York City girl for almost 15 years, after all. And it’s not as if I do so much here. Or that there is much to do. I’m just very comfortable.
And I have lots of time to cook for myself. And lots of room to experiment. My boyfriend bought me a deep-fryer and this week I made deep-fried brussles sprouts, deep-fried artichoke hearts, and deep-fried green beans. (The green beans are not that good, the artichoke hearts are actually better reheated later, and the brussles sprouts are ambrosia – you know, food of the gods…) I’m looking forward to making some double fried chicken wings soon.
I have mentioned before that this new life where I travel (and probably more importantly that I am in love) has made me more willing to experiment with my food. I hadn’t eaten cabbage or cranberries in years for fear that I would be disappointed. I have been enjoying both recently. And I started making pork tenderloin. I made one wrapped in bacon and one rubbed with onion powder.
And then I have a bunch of travel over the next two weeks that I am looking forward to. Later this week, I go alone to visit friends in New York City. And then the week after, my boyfriend and I are going to his cousin’s wedding. It means a lot of preparing and packing of extra meals, but I have traveled so much in the past 6 months that it doesn’t even scare me anymore.
Plus tomorrow, I am going to meet up with a woman I have never met before, but got in touch with via the internet. She and I and a friend of hers are going to have coffee for a bit and talk about food and our solutions to eating disorders.
I guess I’m getting even more adventurous. Or maybe it’s just less afraid. Either way, my life seems to be moving ahead, and I seem to be managing to keep up. Maybe it’s not about a quiet week. Maybe it’s about a quiet mind.