My eyes are broken when it comes to size. When it comes to food portion size and my own body size. I am bad at those.
I think that there is an expectation, by others, and occasionally even myself, that over time certain aspects of my thinking will normalize. That somehow I will know what a portion looks like. Or that somehow I will see my body clearly.
After over 12 and a half years, that is still not the case for me. Even right now, when my body dysmorphia isn’t looming large, I am subject to my own broken eyes.
I gained weight a couple of months ago. It hasn’t come off, even though I stopped eating soy nuts (the weight gain offender, in this case) and I have come to terms with the fact that it may not. At least not on my schedule. My weight fluctuates. Or stays stubbornly static. I had to make friends with that.
Also, it occurs like more than it is. My weight does change from time to time. But I am particularly sensitive to it. So a little gain will feel like a huge one. My jeans got a little tighter a couple of months ago with the soy nuts. But in my head, I got “huge.” The same jeans still fit, just differently. But I sometimes wonder if anyone notices, and thinks bad things about me, if people at work can see the difference. (Spoiler alert: nobody at works cares enough about me to notice if I have gained or lost weight, except my husband, who actively avoids thinking about my weight, because “nothing good can come of that.” – His words. Compulsive eating ladies, this is the kind of man you want to marry.)
And then this week I bought some new workout clothes on the internet. Based on the size chart, I was supposed to buy a medium. But I thought for sure I would need a large. This is ridiculous when I think about it rationally. A medium was for size 8/10, and I am an 8. I could still go up a size and need a medium. It was still so hard to buy a medium.
When they came, they were hard to get on, and for a moment I thought, “damn it! I knew I needed a large.” And I almost didn’t even bother to try to get them on. But I did, and they actually fit perfectly. I just forgot how hard it is to struggle into new workout clothes. (My old ones were pretty stretched out, because I’m cheap, and I have only had 3 sets of clothes for over 2 years, but I work out 5 days a week. So my old ones have been worn and washed twice a week for years. Hence the need to buy new ones.)
As for food size, I control my portions with a scale. Some people seem to think this is extreme. It may be. But I have an extreme problem. I don’t know when I’m full. I don’t know what enough means.
This morning, I ate some bacon, sausage, and egg, plus whole milk in my coffee, and a quarter of a ginormous honeydew, and I will tell you, I could have eaten a whole other one. I mean a second complete breakfast. Seriously. Please know, sometimes I fantasize about it. Because I love to eat. I love food. It’s why I control my portions. Because how does a girl who would happily eat like a hobbit, know what enough is? The answer is, she doesn’t.
I am glad to be aware of the fact that my eyes are broken, and to have measures in place to make that irrelevant. I weigh my food to know exactly what I should eat. And as long as I control my portions, and keep boundaries around my eating, I don’t need to know what my body looks like. As long as I stay rational and look at the size chart when I buy clothes off the internet, I should be OK. Also, there is always sucking it up, and paying for return shipping. (I better keep an eye on the size chart, because let’s face it , once it’s here, it’s probably not getting sent back.)
When I gave up sugar, I figured I would end up with an average, boring, mediocre life. And that did not thrill me, but I had become so unhappy in that previous year with eating and body image disorders that I was willing to go to any lengths.
I had always despised the thought of my own mediocrity. Perhaps it was being a child who grew up in the 80s. Sesame Street told us we were all special. Perhaps it was that I had a huge personality and love of the attention of strangers. People expected me to be a performer. And that made me expect to be a star. Or perhaps it was that I was born with a lot of a particular kind of talent, the kind of keen intelligence that made understanding the world around me easy as a kid. People called me precocious. I expected that I would be able to win for my whole life as easily as I had early on.
This was not the case for several reasons. Obviously, my pool got smarter. It turns out, they put smart kids with other smart kids. Also, I was pretty fragile emotionally. I did not take failure well. And I didn’t learn much from it. The lessons I took from failure usually ended up being not to do that thing I was bad at anymore. And, probably most importantly, early in life I figured out that sugar and carbs would make all of my difficult feelings go away.
This life that I have now would almost certainly make child and teen Kate cringe. It would occur to her as pathetic and pointless. It would occur to her as mediocrity incarnate.
But I look at this life as particularly extraordinary. And I think it’s specialness, and the fact that I think so, is all about having my eating under control.
Being the person I am now means I judge my success in terms of my integrity, my growth, and my contentment, not accolades or prizes from outside. This lack of outside approval is exactly what mediocrity looked like to my young self. How would I know I was awesome unless someone else told me. Unless everyone told me. Unless *important* people told me.
I am not diminishing the power of “important” prizes. But not everyone is going to win a Pulitzer. And I don’t have to base my pride in my life on whether or not I do. (I am not even writing right now. But even if I were.)
When I got my eating under control, it finally clicked for me that wanting an outcome had nothing practical to do with getting it. By putting boundaries around food, I learned about taking action. I learned about practice. As crazy as it seems to me now, I somehow had it in my head that wanting to lose weight was enough. But it’s not that crazy when you consider that sugar gets me high like a drug. The thing that was making me fat was also muddling my thinking. It was a win-win for sugar and a lose-lose for me.
Sometimes people in the self-help world talk about visualization. I used to think this meant something like visualizing myself winning the Pulitzer. And while science says that there is a case for that kind of visualization being effective, what is more effective is visualizing oneself *doing the work.* Because if you picture yourself doing the work, you are more likely to actually do the work.
Through having my eating under control and thereby getting a body I could love and be comfortable in, I came to understand about the practicality of achieving something. I got this body by entirely changing the way I eat. I did something about my body. I didn’t just “want” it to be different, I did the work.
Between my meals, I do the next right thing in my life, whatever that is for my next goal. When I wasn’t working full time, it was writing. Now that I am working, it can be dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s on a particular work task, making sure I am doing my job to the best of my ability. Or in my free time it can be ripping out a section of knitting because I realized I did something wrong and I want to get it right. Or it can be drinking my water quota or going on my jog.
I practice the things I want for myself and the things I want to get better at. And in understanding practice, I have come to recognize that one doesn’t win a Pulitzer Prize by aiming to win one. One writes the book or the music. One does the thing. And maybe it strikes a chord with one’s fellow humans. Or maybe it doesn’t.
The idea that something I do won’t wow the world no longer feels mediocre to me. The idea that I do *anything,* especially with any semblance of integrity and consistency, whatever that may be, feels like I have become a powerhouse in the world. I feel like a shining example of accomplishment. And I haven’t won an award of any kind since high school.
I used to think that everyone understood life but me. I used to think that knowing with certainty what to do next was obvious to everyone else. I felt incapable compared to all of the confident, well-adjusted beings all around me. But I realized that most people are flying just as blind as I always was. They are just better at hiding it.
And I realized that wanting to be liked by others more than honoring oneself is about as average and mediocre as it gets. And here I am trying to impress the hell out of myself. That sounds pretty extraordinary to me, if I do say so myself.
It’s Sunday, which means I have just finished breakfast, I will post this blog, then go grocery shopping, and cook breakfasts and lunches for the week. It’s what I do on Sunday.
I used to hate routine. Now I thrive on it. I used to want to be able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. And I did. But the things I wanted to do and did, never brought me anything worth having. Or perhaps that is untrue. They never brought me anything worth having by themselves.
I did a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. And those are absolutely worth doing. But really, only if one is doing the mundane actual living part of life. All of that reading and thinking never gave me a sense of pride, or purpose, or accomplishment.
Doing whatever I wanted never made me content. The life I live now, full of routines and commitments makes me content. It even makes me happy. I don’t know if I know many people as happy in their lives as I am.
It’s not so much the routine that makes me so happy, as what I use it for. I use it to make sure I get everything done in the day that I have promised myself. I make food for the week on Sunday so I know that the food is taken care of for the week. I don’t have to scramble. I don’t have to do it after work when I’m tired and just want to sit, and relax. I work out in the morning so I don’t have to worry about it if something comes up in the evening. And again, after work I don’t want to do things. I like to eat my meals at the same times (ish) every day as a reminder that whatever else I am doing, that is important and needs to get done.
I don’t have to have a routine to do these things. But for me, not having one was the perfect excuse for not doing things. Like I talked about with my food a couple of weeks ago, I wanted freedom, but freedom always led to the day “getting away from me.” Let’s say I was supposed to work out 3 days a week. I wouldn’t even consider it Monday through Wednesday. And then I’d consider it Thursday, but would never get around to doing it. So I would decide that Sunday could still be counted as “this week,” even if it wasn’t. I would then know I “had” to do it 3 days in a row, but would certainly put it off all day until the evening. And by the end of the day, the chances of me exercising were 50/50 at best.
There is a saying among people who keep their eating under control the way I do. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Of course, there are emergencies and moments where I have to fly by the seat of my pants to keep my eating boundaries, but I make those the exception, not the rule. Those are situations to be dealt with, not a way to live my life. That is so many opportunities to make mistakes and create chaos.
I am bad at planning. I think it’s why I love my routine so much. For me, there is not enough room in my head to remember that lunch is at noon today, but 1 tomorrow, or even to remember to check a calendar all the time. I work out at 5:30. I eat lunch between 12:15 and 12:30. I know that. It’s easy.
Obviously, sometimes life doesn’t work that way, and I have to change things around. I can be flexible when I need to. And I enjoy a little change from time to time, like a friend coming to visit, or planning a date with my husband. (And thank heaven for smartphones with notifications and alarms for those days!) But I never miss the “freedom” of doing whatever I wanted wherever I wanted. I may have been free, but mostly I was just free to cheat myself out of doing things that would make me feel good about myself. I was never as happy as I am when I do the things I need to do, not the things I want to.
I used to have a life coach who used to say (and probably still does) “If you really want to be a rebel, follow the rules. Nobody else is doing that.”
I was talking to some friends the other day and one was saying that she always thought she was so valuable that the rules didn’t apply to her. I know this feeling. Not the valuable part. Maybe I would say “precious.” Or “special.” But I was always clear that rules were for other people. They didn’t apply to me.
When people both “go on diets,” or try to change their lifestyles, they are talking about making rules around food (and often exercise.) One reason diets don’t work is people decide the rules don’t apply to them. Even when they make them up themselves.
There are always good excuses. Or sometimes pretty weak excuses. But for some of us, any excuse will do. And we play dumb. Like we don’t know how feeble our reasoning is.
I was guilty of this for a long time and on many levels. Lying to myself about whether I *could* follow my rules. Lying to others about whether I *did* follow my rules. Lying about why I gained weight, coming up with far-fetched stories. I even believed a lot of them.
Getting off of sugar and carbs was hard. It sucked. And I will tell you why I was finally able to do it.
1. I *really* got off of sugar and carbs. As in entirely. As in no cheat days, no special occasions, no eating things out of obligation. (I loved my Gram very much, but I never ate her lasagna again.) Just plain no sugar ever. And that meant no cravings. And no cravings meant I stopped feeling out of control around food. 2. My rules are so specific that I know if I am following them or not. I am either in my boundaries or out of them. There isn’t a lot of grey area in what I do. There isn’t room for doubt. And 3. Since I know exactly what I am supposed to be eating and exactly what I am eating, I could finally be honest about it.
It’s not that I was incapable of being honest before. But I had often been dishonest about what I was eating and how much. But also, I kept everything ambiguous on purpose. I wanted “freedom.” Really I wanted grey areas. I wanted wiggle room. I wanted to be able to do what I wanted, and then I wanted to blame something besides my eating for my weight. I might blame the diet. I might blame my genes. I might blame circumstances, like too many parties in a week (because how could I go to a party and not eat?) or that time of the month, or that I had a hard week and I deserved to treat myself.
Now, I love rules. I love to follow rules. I love when things are clearly spelled out and I am fully aware of what is expected of me, and what I can expect in return.
I always wanted “freedom” in my diets. But sugar was controlling my life. I was a slave to it. I had freedom to eat what I wanted. What I didn’t have was the freedom to not eat. When sugar cravings told me I was going to eat, then damn it, I was going to eat. I didn’t have a choice.
By following strict rules, I have freedom that I never had in all my years of wiggle room and grey areas. Freedom to not eat.
My husband has been on a cooking jag lately. We eat very differently. When I cook for us, I generally make us the same protein, like steak, pork, or chicken. But while I may have broccoli or Brussels sprouts, he will have corn on the cob and potatoes. I don’t eat corn or potatoes.
And when he wants the kinds of things where you put food in your food, well, I’m out. My food boundaries require that my portions of protein be separated from my portions of vegetables. At least when I am measuring them out. Of course, I can, and sometimes do, mix them up later.
So last weekend he made a Sunday gravy complete with wine, braciola, meatballs with breadcrumbs, and sausage (with sugar, because, as you already know if you read this blog, it is nearly impossible to find an Italian sausage without sugar in the grocery store.) It’s the kind of thing I already could not eat, even if I wanted to put it on spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti.
And last night he made steak fajita quesadillas.
But wait! I can have steak fajitas. I can have the homemade salsa he made that has the whole kitchen smelling like heaven. No, I can’t have the tortilla. And my cheese portions are too small to make cheese worth it most of the time. But it got me thinking. I want tacos! I want lettuce wrap tacos with cilantro lime (cauliflower) rice and meat with homemade taco seasoning, and sautéed peppers, and my husband’s salsa! I want that!
So when I am done writing this blog, I am going to the store to pick up some ingredients. Because when I gave up sugar, I did not stop loving food. I still loooooooove food. I still get excited! I still look forward to every delicious meal. And I am a great cook, so I make sure every meal is delicious.
It sometimes takes some creativity to eat the things I want and have them fit my boundaries. I like simple foods very much. I can be deliriously happy with a nice portion of steak with some roasted vegetables. But I will tell you that a “fried rice bowl” of riced cauliflower sautéed in sesame oil with garlic and ginger topped with soy sauce is positively transcendent! And fits my food plan. And feels decadent. And doesn’t set off food cravings, or fuel my self-loathing.
So I am going to make myself some “tacos.” Yes, I know that to some people, lettuce wraps are not tacos. And cauliflower rice is not rice. I got it. But when you haven’t had corn products or rice or starch in over 12 years, it doesn’t matter. It’s good nourishing food with an abundance of complimentary flavors that are satisfying and pleasurable. I promise, my “tacos” will make me just as happy as your tacos make you. And significantly happier than your tacos could make a sugar and carb addict like me.
My husband and I are in a town outside of Indianapolis for the next month or so, and I am having a hard time finding some of the things that I love to eat. So far, I have not been able to find Italian sausage that doesn’t have sugar, but that’s nothing new. However, I can’t find bacon without sugar here either. Ugh! Let me say that again. Ugh!
I cannot tell you how it makes me furious that companies put sugar in everything. Not only because I can’t eat them, but also because I believe that they are eroding our palates and our minds.
When I gave up sugar, my palate shifted. A lot. As a little kid, I loved Brussels sprouts. I loved cauliflower. As an older kid, teen, and young adult, I hated them. Hatred. Passionate, unyielding hatred. When I put down sugar in all forms except artificial sweeteners, and some fruits and vegetables, I gradually came to love them again. Now I also love chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, and mushrooms. I also enjoy carrots and squash, winter or summer.
By adding sugar and starch to everything, I think food companies are doing us a huge disservice. They are creating a culture that equates food with a “rush.” They are getting us addicted, as a society, to an additive that is cheap to them, but incredibly expensive, health and well-being wise, to us. They are setting us up to eat more than we know we need, and more than we want. They are getting rich off of giving us diseases and disorders.
I want to say clearly that I believe in personal responsibility. I don’t want to imply that I don’t. But doing what I do is hard. Seriously difficult. Worth it every time and in every way, but not simple. It takes a kind of determination and individuality, the ability to disregard the pull of “normalcy” in a culture that has taken up the mantle of pleasure over contentment, instant gratification over long-term fulfillment. And food companies are using our own survival/evolutionary instincts against us. They want profits to grow exponentially. How can they do that if we eat their food in moderation? The fatter we are, the fatter their profit margins are. Frankly, I think it’s sick. Morally bankrupt.
I know that many people can eat junk food in moderation. Bless them! To them I say, “Enjoy every bite!” But the rise of obesity in the western world shows that the way food is being produced, processed, and marketed is making most of us fat and sick.
And it’s making a girl who can’t find bacon she can eat annoyed and cranky. I don’t expect this to change any time in the near future. But I am going to make a recommendation to you. Read your labels. Even if you don’t change what you buy. Look at what these companies are offering. Notice them change. I have had to give up things I ate for years because someone decided to add sugar or starch.
But I will say this too. About 4 years ago, a company that made wheat germ changed its ingredients to add sugar. In that time, people who do what I do sent out the word to one another. We all stopped eating it. Now I am not saying that my small group was the reason, but less than a year later, the company changed back to the original, sugar-free formula. My guess is that the kind of people who eat wheat germ are generally people who care about what goes into their bodies. And when they saw that they were now getting sugar, they switched brands. Just like myself and others in my food community.
So remember that you can eat what you want, but also. you can vote with your wallet. And I highly recommend that.
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.
I fly relatively often. It’s part of my life on the road. And even when we are not flying home from my husband’s job for a family visit, I still go to New York about once a year.
I have noticed in the past year or so that I have been getting stopped by TSA and they have been swabbing my bag every time. Every single time. Even after I got TSA Precheck. I have asked why, but in general, TSA is not very forthcoming about the reason for these stops. I get it. They don’t want to make it easier for people to do bad things by telling the public what they are looking for.
But thankfully for me, one woman at the San Antonio airport, before my most recent flight to Chicago, told me that my food looks like explosives in the x-ray machine.
I have mentioned before that I tend to travel with complete meals made into compact little loaves. They are generally made of eggs, wheat germ, pumpkin or carrots, cinnamon/spices, sweetener, sesame oil, and sometimes sesame seeds. And when I cook them in the microwave, which I usually do (as opposed to a conventional oven) they become a chewy, rather wet muffin of sorts. And I can imagine that in an x-ray machine, they look like the kind of thing you would see wires coming out of in an 80’s terrorist movie like Die Hard.
So when we left Chicago to fly back to Texas, I decided to try an experiment. I opted against easy to carry, compact loaves in favor of slightly more bulky and cumbersome meals of cooked vegetables and proteins packed in leak-proof Tupperware.
And I did not get stopped at all.
I had been thinking all this time that I was doing myself a favor by having these tiny little meals that were easy to carry. But every time I got stopped, I was frustrated, And more than that, I was afraid that someone was going to take my food away from me. (I know. I need to get a doctor to write me an official letter stating that I have special food needs.) It was slightly less convenient to pack a meal of cooked vegetables and protein. But the benefits of not worrying about losing my precious meals far outweigh the extra prep time and carry-on space used.
I am not saying that I will never get stopped again. I have been stopped for other things as well. My food scale, and my knitting needles and crochet hooks all come to mind. But it had been worrying me that I was being stopped every time I flew. And that is a stress I don’t need. Any stress is stress I don’t need.
And to be honest, I was packing those particular meals because I thought they were convenient, not because I found them particularly delicious. (Not that they were terrible…But they were dense. A lot of food in a little loaf.) I eat different things when I am at home than I do when I am travelling, either by plane or car. Some foods just don’t travel well. But I now know that those little loaves are not as convenient as they seemed. And now that I have that information, I can adjust accordingly.
Because of the trouble with the hurricane in Texas, we had to come back to Chicago for a stretch. We were told on a Tuesday and had to fly out on a Wednesday. And we thought that we would be here for another week at least, but found out we will end up having to head back to Texas sooner than we had planned. No complaints. Chicago is cold right now. But the quick turnaround has meant being able to fly by the seat of our pants. It means being able to be flexible.
When we got here to our home in Chicago, we noticed that we had some stray kittens living under our deck. They had been abandoned by their (stray) mother, and were starving. They were not going to survive long, and most certainly not a Chicago winter. So I fed them until a friend of mine could help me capture them and take them to a shelter to be taken care of until they were old enough to be adopted. It meant being able to do something that I had not expected or planned on. It meant being able to fly by the seat of my pants yet again.
I hate flying by the seat of my pants. I like plans. I like routine. I do not get bored easily. I can read the same book over and over. I can eat the same foods every day. I can listen to the same song on repeat. I can find something new in old things. I like nuance; I am interested in fine distinctions. I understand that variety is the spice of life for some people. I very often find variety to be the source of anxiety, and worry. But I have my food under control, so I can go with the flow. Or roll with the punches, but I prefer flow to punches…unless it’s zero calorie fruit punch. That I like a lot…
If I were in the food, I would not have had the energy to take care of those kittens. I would not have had the wherewithal to deal with them one step at a time. First feed them, then call the shelters, then catch them, then bring them in to be taken care of. I would have gotten 500 steps ahead of myself wondering how I was going to get them to the shelter, would have gotten completely overwhelmed, and I wouldn’t have fed them in the first place. It’s not that I am a more caring person now that I have my eating under control; I am simply much much better at dealing with unexpected situations.
Then, as I said before, on Friday, my husband called in the middle of the day and said that we had to head back to Texas a week earlier than we expected, as in, we had two or three days to be ready. I told him I would be ready when he needed me to be ready.
I can do that because when I have my eating under control, I can do one thing at a time, and take care of the next right thing. I can think straight and think ahead, without getting ahead of myself. So I am writing this blog, and then I will go to the store and make sure I have enough food for my trip back.
It turns out that life does not particularly care how comfortable I am with change, especially at a moment’s notice. And I don’t have to take that personally. But I do have to deal with it. And I am grateful that I am able to do that now.