onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “food choices”

Food is not my enemy (anymore)

I am not “on” a diet. I have a diet. I find that this is a distinction that a lot of people don’t have. Most of the people I interact with see no reason to maintain food boundaries when I am in a “normal” sized body. One should only “take such drastic measures” if you are fat. Other than that, it seems crazy to them to not eat a cookie. It’s just one cookie. Because to the average person, food revolves around weight.

I don’t keep my food boundaries to manage my weight, though, to a certain extent it does manage my weight. That is just a side effect of keeping my eating under control, just like being fat was a side effect of eating compulsively. My point is that fat is not the disease. Eating is the disease. And while I have never been fat since I gave up sugar, grains, and starch, I have also had times when I was not thin. I made food changes in those times, and sometimes they helped me lose weight and sometimes they didn’t. For example, when I quit smoking over 5 years ago, I gained weight. I tried to eat lighter at that time –less bacon, smaller fruits, more salad, not cooking my vegetables in fat – though still within my boundaries, and it did not help. I did not lose weight, and sometimes gained. Even cutting my food didn’t help me lose then. The only thing that helped was time. I put my body through a lot with all of those chemicals and all that tar for so many years. I suppose it needed time to heal. But in that time, though I was desperately miserable about my body, I did not seek out some other thing to help me lose weight faster – pills, exercise, fasting, extreme calorie cuts – because I had already learned that being thin wasn’t the answer to my problems.

In my mid twenties, I had lost a lot of weight by counting calories and working out. From the outside, I looked normal. In fact, I had never looked so “normal” in my life before. But I would say that I have never been crazier than in that time. I felt insane. I made plenty of poor life decisions. And I was really miserable, partly because I felt so crazy. Look, I am not talking about feeling out of sorts. I mean I thought that I must really belong in a mental institution, and I spent a lot of time trying to hide my crazy so that I wouldn’t be found out and institutionalized. I was living in fear of somebody realizing I was so unstable. And I was so thin. At the time, the thinnest I had ever been, and certainly thinner than I have sometimes been in the past 11+ years with my eating under control.

Being thin didn’t make me happy. Food was my enemy. We were at war, and food was winning. Everything I ate was either “good” and tasted disgusting to me, or “bad” and was delicious, but made me ashamed for having eaten it. I could not win, and I still hated my body, even though it was thin.

Nothing has ever made me as happy as having a handle on my food. And I do it gently. I eat foods I love, because I am not being punished. I don’t feel the need to “detox” or fast. Food is not my enemy anymore. Food is a delight, my 3 moments of respite in the day. Food is my “me time,” where I stop worrying about the things I have to do, and get to drift away into bliss. I don’t count calories. I don’t work out for more than 45 minutes a day. I don’t treat my delicious, nutritious, abundant food like a poison I need to get out of my body before it ends up on my thighs. My thighs are going to be my thighs.

I eat my meals and only my meals. My food is my food. My body is my body. And neither one is my enemy. So I am not on a diet. And I don’t plan to ever be on one again. And that makes me happy as well.

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Not sorry, even though it sucked.

My husband and I are home for a visit this weekend. We opted for a 5:30 am flight out of San Antonio, two hours away from our apartment in Corpus Christi. So we drove the two hours the night before and got a hotel room for the night. Before we left, I made a bunch of compact, complete meals, because they are easy to pack for travel. I don’t usually expect to eat them. At least not all of them. I pack them in case of emergency.Well, our flight got cancelled, and we couldn’t get another flight out that day. So we kept our room in San Antonio for another night, flew out the next morning, and I ate the emergency meals.

And ugh! It was kind of awful. Those meals are each a third of my nutrients for the day, packed into a little cake. And by the end of dinner, I was feeling pretty sick.

But it never occurred to me not to eat them. It never occurred to me that it would be better not to finish dinner. I have never once in the past 11+ years been sorry to keep my food commitments. Not once. I have never “missed” a food I didn’t get to eat, or been disappointed that I kept my word to myself. Even when I was choking down a too-heavy brick of proteins, vegetables, vegetable substitutes, and fat. I love to eat, but at moments like that, eating becomes like working out. I don’t like doing it while I’m doing it, but I’m always grateful that I did it when I’m done. 

My food boundaries are usually awesome. I eat such delicious food, prepared in my favorite ways. But the boundaries are the important part, not the awesome. In a pinch, I will eat the plainest, grossest, least appetizing things on the planet if it means my eating boundaries are taken care of. And I will eat it when I am not hungry at all to keep those commitments to myself. 

When I was eating compulsively, I regularly woke up without a shred of dignity because of the things that I didn’t want to eat, and couldn’t stop myself from eating. 

Now I wake up with my dignity intact. Because I am willing to eat exactly what I am committed to eating, whether I want to or not.

More reasons to kiss the cook

My husband told me in no uncertain terms this week that he wants his props. And, in truth, he deserves them.

The most important thing in my life is keeping my food boundaries. This might sound strange, I know. The idea that my food boundaries would be more important than the people I love or my life’s ambitions sounds rather pathetic from the outside. I am aware. But let me offer a translation. The most important thing in my life is taking care of myself in a loving and responsible manner so that I can be present and available for my relationships and life goals. There’s that age-old idea that you cannot really love someone else until you love yourself. That, exactly, is why I keep my eating boundaries as my first priority.

When my husband and I first started dating, he wanted to cook for me. But all of the things that he was good at making were based on carbohydrates: homemade sauce for pasta or lasagna, rice-stuffed peppers, tacos. And to make it extra especially difficult, about 7 years ago, years before we were together, I realized that high-alkali foods, like tomatoes and peppers, were the reason for my cystic acne. So, I gave them up. I had basically eliminated any option for him to cook for me.

For a couple of years now, I have been fooling around with the idea of introducing a little bit of tomato product back into my diet, just for a change of pace. It seems that people who have a reaction to high-alkali foods mostly have a problem with raw foods, rather than cooked. And a friend of ours recently recommended a recipe for barbecue ribs that included a dry rub, steaming them in the oven over a pan of root beer, and then slathering them with barbecue sauce.

I figured it would be worth a shot, because that sounded freaking amazing! If I broke out, I would know that I really can’t have any tomatoes or peppers, and just wouldn’t eat them anymore.

Now, even if I wanted to try adding a little tomato-something to my usual fare, I still have to have one that fits my sugar requirements. Same for any seasoning. So instead of searching and searching for a ready-made dry rub and bottled barbecue sauce that met my needs, he made them himself. Not only that, but he let me look through the ingredients and make sure they, were acceptable, and substituted things that were not. For example, we steamed the ribs over diet root beer, replaced the Worcestershire sauce with my soy sauce alternative, and used artificial sweetener instead of brown sugar.

And Oh. My. God! They were so good! And, even better, they were so good and I didn’t break out!

The thing about keeping my boundaries is that, when I take it seriously, and when I am responsible for keeping them on the highest level, my husband takes it seriously too. He honors it, because I honor it. I lead the way, and he follows. But he could only follow because I lead the way. What he did for me was an act of love. And because it was especially for me, it made me feel particularly loved.

When I gave up sugar, one of the things I had to do was get over the fact that some people whom I loved and who loved me, were used to showing me love through foods I didn’t eat anymore, and now they couldn’t. And I had to learn how to show love to those people, and to show them that I got their love, without eating those things. I had to be grateful, without harming myself to show it. So there is something particularly heart-warming for me about my husband going out of his way to make me food I can eat on my own terms. So I am grateful. And excited! And positively quivering in anticipation of the possibility of pulled pork! Woot!

There’s no cutesy “Oh, I’ll just have a salad” to my salads…

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.

Dear Pork Products, I love you but I need some space.

My husband sometimes teases me because when he is not around for dinner, I eat “like a four-year-old.” His words, not mine, though I totally agree. Obviously everything is within my food boundaries, but my food boundaries have a lot of room. I don’t have to eat a particularly healthy diet to be within my boundaries. So while I might eat, say, filet minion and sautéed broccoli when I am making dinner for the two of us, I eat homemade sugar-free frozen yogurt, and pork rinds when I am on my own. He calls it “chips and ice cream.” And over the past week my husband had to go out of town unexpectedly, and I spent more evenings alone than I usually do.

And I found that while I was loving my dinners when I was eating them, I was feeling kind of off, maybe even yucky, about them later. Not that I was physically ill. I wasn’t. I was feeling guilty, and I was worrying about my weight.

I believe that I have a physical allergy to sugars, grains, and starches. I believe that when I put those substances in my body, I set up a craving for more that not everyone experiences. That is what makes me an addict. But I believe that there are other aspects to being an addict that stem from, but are not, this physical allergy. And of course, after 28 years of putting those substances in my body, I acquired a handful of those other addiction-based consequences. Some are behavioral, like lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, blaming, and feeling entitled. And some of them are psychological, as in obsessive thinking about food or my weight, or my body-dysmorphia.

I have been able to keep an eye on, deal with, and transform the behavioral consequences by having kept my strict eating boundaries over the years. But the psychological ones live on in me in varying states of dormancy. I don’t think I will ever entirely rid myself of them.

Honestly, I don’t think an extra day or two of “chips and ice cream” had any real or noticeable affect on my body. After all, my boundaries are not just about food choices, but are also about when, and how much I eat. I have strict portion control, whether it’s my “legal junk food” or a pork chop and roasted cauliflower. Even though I might occasionally indulge in higher calorie options, I don’t binge. Ever.

But it still messed with my mind. And that is important to note, because part of having my eating under control is having the ability to see clearly the things that are making me unhappy or worried, and to do something about them. My point is that I may be “allowed” to eat “chips and ice cream” every day, but that comes with consequences that I am not a fan of.

This has happened to me many times in the past 11 years. I stopped eating sugar-free, calorie-free condiments. I stopped baking with soy flour or TVP as my base. I cut down on, and eventually gave up, soy nut butter. Even in the past six months, I started substituting an egg for 2 ounces of fatty meats like sausage, because it didn’t feel good that I was eating so much. I didn’t quit eating sausage, just like I am not entirely giving up pork rinds. I just cut back because it was making me sick in the head. I was thinking about my weight all the time.

I’ll be blunt. I haven’t noticed much of a change in my body in the months since I cut back on sausage. But it’s not about my body. It’s about how I feel about my body. And I feel better about my body when I don’t eat as much of certain foods.

Is it purely psychological? Maybe. But I have found that there are psychological things that are worth working through and getting over, and there are psychological things that are better to simply accept and adapt to. And frankly, limiting the amount of sausage or pork rinds I eat just makes more sense. I want to save the real spiritual work for my relationships with myself and others, not my relationship with pork products.

P.S. I still love you pork products.

Resenting other people’s metabolisms is making an ass out of you and me

There is a saying among the people I know who keep boundaries around their eating: Keep your eyes on your own plate.

I have mentioned before that I don’t watch food porn. I never watch the Food Network. If one of those recipe videos comes up on my Facebook newsfeed, I click that little arrow in the corner and choose to “see less from” and “hide all from.” I don’t want to see things I don’t eat. I don’t want to see cookies and cakes, and all manner of sugar bombs.

In the beginning of getting my eating under control, I felt like the Holiday Season was hard for me because I was a compulsive eater, and there was food everywhere. But the older (and more clear-headed) I get, I realize that the Holiday Season is hard for everyone. Fine, maybe not children. (Who am I kidding? Has there ever been a single child who did not have at least one meltdown in the overwhelm of the end of the year festivities? I’m going to go with no.)

Holidays are overly emotional times of year where we obligatorily visit with the people in our lives who know best how to upset, enrage, and mortify us. I am not saying that we don’t love our families. I am saying that family is difficult. For everyone everywhere. And for many, it’s sugar (or sugar’s delinquent brother alcohol), and not music, that soothes the savage beast.

Overeating is the rule and not the exception from Thanksgiving to January 2nd. Basically everyone gains weight over the holidays. It is so pervasive it is the topic of much holiday humor and the reason practically everyone’s New Year’s Resolution is to lose 5-10 pounds.

But there is something else I want to note, that I don’t think I understood until I got my own eating under control. People who don’t have eating disorders or weight problems might gain some weight over the holiday season, they might even be doing some comfort or binge eating to deal with the stress, but most of them are still managing their food. They give themselves a little leeway, but they are not eating whatever they want whenever they want. Some do this management unconsciously, and some do it in their heads, and some might even keep a log of it. But they are actively thinking about what they are eating, and what effect it is having on their bodies.

I have spoken about this with compulsive eaters who have boundaries around their food, or I have heard them speak of it, or read their writing on it. Many of us used to think that “naturally thin” people were eating the way we were eating and not gaining weight. We decided that we were unfairly cursed. But what was often happening was we were seeing people eat the way we were eating, but we were never seeing what they weren’t eating behind closed doors.

I might pig out with someone at a holiday meal, and not realize that they were not eating the rest of the day. Or they were going home to have, as a friend’s sister would say, “a bowl of chicken soup and half a cup of dry popcorn.” While I would have another meal, plus all of the leftovers that the host sent me home with.

People with a healthy relationship with food do not “eat whatever they want and not get fat.” Or if they do, it’s because whatever they want is a salad. Or a single piece of fruit, not dipped in chocolate. Eating high-sugar, high-calorie foods and not gaining weight is not the way life works.

I suppose there are people with crazy metabolisms, but they are few and far between. If you know someone you think is “naturally thin,” chances are that what they really are is “naturally conscious” of what goes into their bodies.

As an addict, I know that I cannot handle my sugar. I am incapable of stopping at one, or a taste, or a little. And I might mistakenly think that nobody else can stop after one, or a taste, or a little either. And if I hold onto that assumption, and look around, I might mistakenly believe that life must be incredibly unfair because they are not physically large.

But that would be a lot of mistaken assumptions. So I make a point to keep my eyes on my own plate. And there is something else I do, especially over the holidays. I make sure that my food is amazing. I make sure it’s decadent and delicious and abundant. I make sure that if, by accident, my eyes happen to wander onto another plate, that when I look back at my own, I am positively enraptured.

(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.

It’s not the salad, so much as the principle…

I have been eating a lot more raw vegetables for several weeks. I have been having big salads at least once, and often twice a day. Colorful, delicious arugula salads with radishes, onion, mushrooms, bean sprouts, cucumber, and a handful of steamed broccoli and canned artichoke hearts.

I haven’t generally thought much about raw versus cooked vegetables, but I have noticed that my body dysmorphia is in what seems to be a dormant phase. And it makes me wonder if the two are connected.

I eat my vegetables every day. I have done so for over 9 years. I have been regularly consuming fresh produce like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, onions, bok choi, Swiss chard, cabbage and green beans. Mostly roasted or sautéed. But since I have started eating so much salad, I have been feeling significantly calmer about what I look like.

And I have not lost weight. That’s what makes it interesting.

I have questions about why. Is it chemical, and physiological? Is it all psychological? Is it a combination? Or is the whole thing just coincidence? Am I just in a good phase regarding my body image issues?

There is a part of me that wants to say that it doesn’t matter if the two are connected. What matters is that I am mostly well now. But ultimately, it does matter. It is the difference between peace and torment. And I need to admit that I do not believe it is a coincidence. But I don’t want to, because I love eating lots of cooked vegetables. And if I admit that is having an effect on my mood or my happiness, it means I will have to moderate how much of my food is cooked.

I am a compulsive eater. I might have my eating under control, but I will never be neutral around food. If I ever had the ability to be indifferent, that ship has sailed. And then it sank. I like my food, and I like it decadent.

It’s not that my big salads are not delicious. They are wonderful. I love every bite. But I can often forget how much I will enjoy them when I am not in the actual process of eating one. There is a kind of mental block I have around salad. And I know that I am not the only one. I have talked about this with lots of other people.

And there is that part of me that doesn’t want any more limits. Whenever I think it might be time to make a change, my first reaction is always to be a crybaby-whiner. But I already gave up sugar and grains, and I quit smoking, and I limit my coffee, and severely limit my diet soda. Don’t take anything else away from me! I mean, they are just sautéed Brussels sprouts? Can you really find fault with Brussels sprouts? Seriously?! (Can you hear the whining?)

The first thing I have to remember is that moderation does not have to mean The End. I do not have to give up my Brussels sprouts forever and always. I can limit them to, say, three or four times a week. But the more important thing I have to remember is that I don’t have to do anything. It’s one of my Jedi Mind Tricks. It takes away a lot of my initial instinct to rebel when I remind myself that I’m a big girl who lives her own life and makes her own decisions. If I want to fight and make a fuss, I can eat cooked vegetables every day on principle. Who is going to stop me? But just like every other action I take, I will reap what I sow. There is no escaping that.

In the end, I always want the gifts. If limiting my cooked vegetables means more days of peace and sanity, I will choose that. It’s how I roll. But I don’t always choose that first. Sometimes I take longer to get out of my own way than others. But ultimately, I want what I want. And I have learned over the years that I want sustainable happiness more than I want instant gratification.

I am still interested in the ways you take care of yourself and the gifts you get from not harming yourself with food. Use the hashtag #betterthanchocolate and share your experiences. I want to hear from you!

Also, follow me on twitter @onceafatgirl5.

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