In the past 12 1/2 years, since I gave up sugar, my weight has fluctuated many times. Sometimes by a lot. When my beloved grandmother was dying, I lost 20 lbs, eating exactly the same as I had been. When I quit smoking I gained 30, eating significantly less than I had been at my thinnest. When I was eating sugar and carbs, I was morbidly obese. But since I have given them up, I have been in regular sizes, but not one regular size.
Now that we have been in Texas for over a week, I have been getting used to the changes. Of course, a lot of the changes have to do with food. One of the biggest changes is that I have been eating big salads. And really enjoying them.
I will tell you that while I always eat a lot of vegetables every day, and have for years, I don’t always eat a lot of salads. But there are three things that have come together that have made salads an exciting prospect, rather than a “healthy choice” I make reluctantly. The first two are hot weather and great produce.
It’s one thing to eat a bag of lettuce and call it a salad. That’s not for me. I don’t like lettuce, and I never have. Perhaps it is because in my head it is “diet food” from a time when I was fat and I was supposed to eat lettuce to not be fat anymore. But it is something entirely different to take arugula, radishes, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, and maybe a little steamed broccoli or green beans, chop them up and toss them together with some olive oil and vinegar for a cool, refreshing meal on a hot day. I love the way the different flavors come together, the tang of the onions and radishes with the umami of the mushrooms and the tartness of the vinegar.
The third thing is that my new apartment is small, doesn’t have windows or screen doors, and quite frankly, smells when I cook pungent vegetables, which is pretty much any vegetables. The deal is that this alone would not have stopped me from cooking vegetables. That’s what candles and air fresheners are for, after all. But having great produce and wanting something lighter in the heat made it easy to put aside my favorite go-to veggie choices for something different.
When I left New York to be with my husband, the first place I lived with him was also Texas, though a different town. And then I ate a lot of salads too. And I probably would have continued except that the next few places we lived fell short in the fresh veg department. And I also happen to be a person of habit. If I am eating a lot of, say, riced cauliflower cooked in sesame oil with scallions, garlic and ginger, then I am probably going to make it again and again. I know that many people get bored with eating the same things, but I love it. I like predictability. I can sometimes eat the same things for months or even years. But when the time comes to eat something new, for whatever reason, I generally enjoy that too. Or at least, if I don’t, then I won’t make that mistake again.
For me, knowing that I am only going to eat three meals a day means I am careful to have them all be delicious, because I love eating, and more than that, I am still not, and never expect to be, neutral around food. I might even still be obsessed, except it does not haunt me, or make me hate myself. When I was eating compulsively, I was obsessed but miserable. And I would eat anything. (Well, anything except a vegetable.) It mattered less that it tasted good, and more that I could shove it into my face and it would get me high. I lived as if I might never eat again. But since I put boundaries around my eating, I have come to a point where I know I will eat again. In fact, my next meal will be lunch, in about an hour.
I like that I want salads. They are making me feel good, and it has occurred to me that I may lose a little weight. But they may not affect my weight, and that is not why I am eating them anyway. And I don’t want to make them about my body. I want to enjoy them because they are delicious. And if I stop finding them delicious, I want to be able to go right back to eating riced cauliflower in sesame oil and not think twice about my body.
It is very rare that I get hungry. It happens maybe three or four times a year. I eat multiple pounds of fruits and vegetables every day. Plus eggs, dairy, olive oil, butter, and a few times a week, meat. But for many weeks now, I have been hungry. I don’t know if it is emotional or physical. But either way, I have been afraid to do anything about it because the scale says I’ve been gaining weight. And my body image disorder brain has a desperate fear of getting fat.
My food boundaries are just boundaries. There is a lot of room within them. For example, how often I eat meat, or how much fat I want in my dairy products is absolutely changeable. My boundaries are not about deprivation or “dieting”. I never eat sugar, starch or simple carbohydrates, but I have plenty of options. I have plenty of room with the foods that I do eat to make sure I do not feel like I’m being punished. There are ways to eat within my food boundaries that can compensate for being hungry or feeling like it’s too much. One of the ways I can do that is with the size of certain fruits and vegetables. And sometimes I forget this.
When I was first getting control of my eating, I ate positively ginormous fruits and vegetables. I would go from market to market in search of the biggest and the best.
As the years have gone by, I do that less. It eventually started to become too much food. (That’s crazy to me, by the way. That I have reached a point in my life where there is such a thing as too much food! I’m a food addicted compulsive eater. That’s a freaking miracle!) So I generally stick to the basic fruit and veggie quantity. Like I said, it’s still multiple pounds every day…
But I’ve been hungry for a while now. When I have finished my meals, I have not been feeling satisfied. But I have been afraid to go out and find the biggest and the best like I did in the beginning. Because I want to get back to being 133 lbs and not 140. And because I already eat huge meals. I have been feeling like I should be satisfied. Like it’s shameful to want more. Plus the whole thing has seemed damned unfair! I quit smoking and I get punished with both being hungry and gaining weight!?!? Ugh! How am I not supposed to take this personally, God?
And then a good friend said “Stop thinking about it. Forget about your weight and enjoy your food.” And I said yes. I agreed. But in the back of my mind, I was thinking about enjoying fresh and delicious on the lighter side. Because good Lord, I weigh 140!
And then I was at the farmer’s market, and I saw giant cantaloupes. My body said, “Want! Want!” My terrified-of-getting-fat eating disorder brain went. “Tsk tsk. Better not. 140.” And then I heard my friend’s voice say “Enjoy your food!” And I bought a giant melon. Bigger than my head. Half for dinner last night and half for breakfast this morning.