My Diet: MIA

February 15, 2008

For the three of you who’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you may have noticed that my “diet” posts (ie, posts in which I talk about how my diet’s not working, posts in which I discuss how I’d like my diet to be working better, posts in which I examine how I might be able to make my diet work better, or, simply, posts in which I use the word “diet” a lot) have gone MIA.  Wherefore art thou, O Ricki’s Diet, and why has she forsaken you?

Well, I must apologize.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten about my diet (ha! AS IF), but more that I haven’t felt there was anything worth reporting or mulling over lately without sounding terribly repetitive. Given that the original intent of this blog was (at least, partly) to chronicle what I hoped would be a monumental (40-lb.) weight loss over the next year, and to share with you how I was going to go about doing that, I seem to have lost sight (but never taste, apparently, or I might have actually lost an ounce or two) of the goal. 

Honestly, it’s not because the “diet” aspect of the blog is any less important.  It’s not because writing about food–desserts, especially–is any more fun (even though it is). It’s mostly that I haven’t been feeling very worthy of writing about dieting lately, given my recent eating patterns (which, suspiciously, resemble my pre-blog eating patterns).  How can I write with any authority about losing weight when I’m not doing so?  If you’ve looked at the progress tracker at all, you’ll see that the numbers have been going up, down, up, down, up, down, even more than the Paul McCartney-Heather Mills negotiations.  I’ve been so taken lately with all the appealing, interesting recipes and food in the world of blogging that I’ve neglected taking care of me and my health.

Well, that’s all about to change.  Now that Valentine’s Day is almost over (in our house, it’s taking place tomorrow), I’ve made a resolution.  True, most people make their resolutions on January 1st; but I’ve always been a later bloomer. 

Soooo. . . I’m going to declare the rest of February a “Chocolate-Free Zone.” 

You see, since I was a wee tot (who am I kidding?  I was never “wee”), chocolate has been the bane of my existence. Like an ex-boyfriend that you can’t quite let go of, like a Canadian winter, like the Oscars–I both love it and hate it.

The “love it” part is easy:  it’s a perfect base for dessert (which, after all, is my area of specialization); it’s creamy, smooth, sweet, delectable; it’s a booster of serotonin levels; it’s a portable bite for that 3:00 PM sugar crash; and it’s my very, very favorite, “I-can-eat-it-any-time-even-for-breakfast,” food.

The “hate it” part is less black and white (or milk and white, depending on your predilection): it’s a source of sometimes uncontrollable cravings; it’s the cause of weight gain (though not of acne, as once believed); it’s a pathetically poor substitute for a hug, a phone call with your best friend, or therapy; and it’s usually not as good as you thought it was going to be (sort of like that ex-boyfriend, again).

For me, the only way to avoid the inner turmoil around chocolate is the extreme move of cutting it out entirely.  Not forever (I couldn’t live with that), but for at least a week, until the urge passes. I’m embarking on a chocolate fast.  No chocolate.  No eating it, no baking with it, no buying it, no hiding it in the cupboard for a little nip when I’m feeling down. 

Instead, I’m going to try out a week (or, if I can make it, two) of eating in a way that’s worked for me in the past: a NAG-friendly , semi-detox diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds; minimal whole-grain flours; and only stevia as an added sweetener.  And NO CHOCOLATE.  (“How about cocoa, Mum?”) No, not even cocoa. (“How about carob, Mum?”)  Carob is acceptable. I’m also going to aim for over 50% raw foods each day. 

For me, this move is part desperation and part a yearning to regain to the experience of vibrant energy and health I enjoyed during my year studying natural nutrition.  At the time, one of my teachers there followed a 100% raw-foods (or living-foods, as it’s also called) diet. She also taught cooking classes, and I attended every one.  I was amazed at how fantastic the food was–colorful, delicious, a veritable feast for the senses.  I’m hoping to share some of her recipes, as well as others I’ve discovered over the years.

Hopefully, this new hard-line regime will help me ride out the chocolate-DTs, followed by a more moderate approach to eating (and, of course, chocolate)–and maybe even a little weight loss.

I do have a couple of desserts and one or two other dishes that I’ve recently prepared and will post as blog entries over the next two weeks, but for the most part, I’ll be sharing my healthier, detoxifying, health-conferring goodies with you.  And I’m hoping that declaring it this way on the blog will help me to actually follow through!

So I hope you’ll bear with me after the recent influx of indulgent baked goods.  Like some of you, I sometimes feel that a day without baking is a day devoid of some ineffable, necessary primal “something,” something that satisfies at the chromosomal level. 

No doubt, the baking will return.  Part of my goal when I started this blog was to lose 40 pounds before my next birthday, and unless I somehow get the chocolate habit under control, I know it won’t be a very happy one.  (And speaking of birthdays, another HUGE impetus for the chocolate ban is the upcoming birthday bash for Gemini I’s husband–a massive party in the works–on March 1st.  Two weeks away; need something nice, nothing fits, don’t want to have to buy something new. Think I could lose 10 pounds by then?  Me, either.)

And so, chocolate, adieu.  It’s only for a short while, but I’m hoping that absence, in this case, will not make the heart grow fonder.  No doubt I will miss you; I may even pine for you.  Still, one day, I hope to look at you with the same indifferent eye with which I gaze at Cream of Wheat, or paisley, or Josh Groban (sorry, Josh, not a big fan). After the week is over, let’s renegotiate our relationship in a more level-headed manner. In the meantime, I’ll attempt to forge ahead on my own, without you. But we’ll always have Paris (it is, after all, home of your finest specimens).

(“Oh, Mum, you’re so histrionic.  Really, get a grip. Who cares about chocolate?  It’s not a big deal.  But, um, you’re not thinking of changing your mind about carob now too, are you?  Because, you know, we’re allowed to eat carob, and we really love that carob-date thing you make.  So we can keep the carob, can’t we, Mum? Can’t we?  Mum???”)

elsiecarob.jpg

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Driven by Distraction

January 8, 2008

I wouldn’t have believed it myself if it hadn’t happened to me personally (why, yes, you’re absolutely right, that does sound like the opening line of a letter to Penthouse Forum! But sorry, it’s not).

Two whole days, and I have consumed not one single sweet. No cookies.  No cake.  No muffins, even.  But best of all:  no chocolate! My small intestine is saying, “thank you.”  My gastric juices are whispering, “we appreciate the time off.”  My liver is chanting, “Bless you, my child.”  The scale is even winking at me in gratitude. The Girls–well, they’re not as thankful.  (“We really do miss getting the leftover bits of those oatbran banana muffins, Mum.“)

How did I accomplish such a feat, you ask? Well (like so much else in my life, unfortunately), it wasn’t a conscious choice.  I have discovered since our new semester began this week that it is just soooo much easier for me to eat healthfully when I have some distraction.  During the past two days, I’ve had distraction squared.  Exponential distraction.  To wit, dozens of students emailing with questions, numerous pieces of coursework to put into place, several meetings with colleagues, coordinators and Chairs (and chairs, too, actually), a cooking class to present in a major grocery store, a doctor’s appointment, and myriad other little errands and domestic tasks that I’ve left by the wayside for too long (hmmmm. .. why don’t we see just how long we can live without unpacking the second half of our kitchen, still in boxes from our recent move?)

On some level, I guess I know that my dietary habits are curbed by being busy, so I tend to overbook myself, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.  But hey, I like it that way; I get too stressed out when I’m not so busy that I’m stressed out.

It just seems that the ability to exert willpower over poor dietary choices is much more effective when I have many things to occupy my time and mind.  This fact tends to convince me that my eating is, indeed, emotional, as I am able to easily ignore even the most insistent rumbling of my stomach during times that I’m involved in what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (I swear, that’s his real name) would call a “Flow” activity.

I guess I’ve always been someone who requires structure and consistency to be comfortable and stave off anxiety. As an undergraduate, I was exceedingly organized, so much so that I could work part time, go to school full-time, be a teaching assistant part-time, and still have a social life.  I was one of those annoying students who elicited the gag reflex in others by always having her course readings done (with notes) before class, and always finishing essays long before the due date (though I never actually handed them in before the due date, because I didn’t want my professors to think I hadn’t used the maximum time allotted, thereby designating me a slacker).

When it comes to my eating habits, however, I tenaciously resist the idea of structure.  Why? There have certainly been times in my life when I did diet according to “Diet Rules,” whatever fashion dictated they were at the time. 

Ah, nostalgia: I remember clearly when The Nurse first explained to me (a mere tyke at the time!) about the concept of calories. The rules were easy:  it didn’t matter where you got your calorie buzz as long as your sinful activity never exceeded a certain number per day (I think it was 1000 at that time).  You could eat anything you wanted, no matter how decadent, and you’d still lose 5 pounds a week as long as you followed the rules. But if you went too far, or enjoyed too much, you’d pay for breaking those rules by growing fatter and fatter, and your friends would ultimately reject you. So we went on a chocolate cake diet, eating one slice of it for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner in order to lose weight. (Come to think of it, that was also about the time she explained the birds and the bees to me as well, so maybe I’m getting those two sets of rules mixed up.)

Later on was the “same thing for each meal” diet (not to be confused with the previous one, which is technically the “same thing for every meal” diet).  In its second incarnation, the diet prescribed a bowl of corn flakes with skim milk for breakfast, a salad and orange for lunch, and chicken and vegetables for dinner.  At that time, I was working lunch hours in the high school cafeteria, so I’d get my orange and salad for free (I know, I can get my entire lunch for free, and what do I pick?  Salad and an orange).  Back then, in my early teens, that diet also worked beautifully. I did lose weight, my first large weight loss.  Unfortunately, I also lost my period and felt pretty crappy most of the time.  (Oh, and losing the weight didn’t help me get a boyfriend, either. Bummer.)

I could go on (but I’ll spare you).  Suffice it to say that, over the years, I tried sundry and various ways to lose weight, always keeping it off for a short time (except my one big “lose,” after which I maintained my slim self for about a decade).  But eventually, I gained back the weight in the most cliched fashion, even surpassing the previous “high” weight.

Lack of success in the past may explain why I’m diet-shy at the moment and bristle at any mention of counting points, calories, carbs, fat grams, or anything else that would cause me to practise my rusty addition or subtraction skills before eating.  I am truly thankful that I haven’t felt the urge to consume anything unhealthy in the past two days, but I’m still not entirely sure why that’s been the case. 

What I’m aiming for, eventually, is to regain the power in that equation (there’s that darn math again!), allowing me to assume conscious control of whether or not I lean toward the slice of chocolate cake or the scrambled tofu for dinner.  And judging by the last couple of days, it would make sense to examine just what it is that distraction offers.  Because in the end, I think it’s far preferable to meander through your days, relaxed and aware, than to rush through a predetermined schedule just to avoid the temptation of unhealthy eating.

Well, I hope everyone out there had a Happy New Year.  Ours would have been very pleasant and laid back–after all, we were guests at my friend’s 8000 square foot “cottage” (you read that right–were we lucky, or what??), we were in a pastoral wonderland of snow, lake, birch trees, rare birds and other wildlife prancing past the picture windows between the stone and wood walls, and we spent the time with two of my very favorite people in the world, Gemini I and Gemini II, as well as their families.  Could it get any better?

In our pre-Chaser days, we used to go up there fairly frequently, and have spent many a lovely Thanksgiving or Christmas with the Gemini I family. This time, however, we discovered a tiny, heretofore unseen quirk in our (post-Chaser) Elsie Girl, something we’d never witnessed before:  she has a newfound propensity to lunge at and–if permitted–eat any of the other dogs up there (Chaser excluded).  What the–?? 

My beloved fur baby, the one I’ve adored since we got her from the pound back in 2002, the one who is consistently docile and sweet and gentle?  The one I refer to variously as Sweet Face, Sweet Girl, Honey Girl, My Darling Girl, My Little Love, and innumerable other nausea-inducing, endearing sobriquets?  The one who timorously permits Chaser to nibble endlessly on her ears like popcorn at the movies, who hangs her head in submission when I see her even walking toward the open garbage can, who lies at my feet silently here at the computer and reminds me, with a barely perceptible, feathery whisper of a touch with her nose, that it’s dinnertime? 

Yes, that one.  What on earth has gotten into her?

As a result of this sudden possession by the Dog Satan, we spent most of the time hovering over Elsie to ensure that she didn’t consume Gemini I’s new cat, or bundling up in our snow suits to accompany Elsie on the leash to do her “business” outside.  How I wish Cesar Millan lived in Canada. Sniff.

I also realized, as soon as we were on the road and past the point where it would be feasible to turn back, that I’d forgotten my camera up north.  Granted, it’s a cheap little unit (I must be the only blogger on the face of the planet who takes pictures with a camera she got for free using Air Miles), and also I have no photographic ability, but I am inordinately fond of the thing and it feels like traipsing around the house naked to post without photos of any kind. 

The final rather unpleasant discovery to greet me after the weekend (well, actually, the last two weeks) is that it appears I have gained a couple of pounds (really?  pigging out on baked goods and chocolate can do that to you?).  As a result of all these events, I’ve been feeling pretty disheartened since we got back.  Boo hoo.

Well, as Cesar himself would say, it’s the owner, not the dog, that needs training whenever there’s a problem.  Don’t I know it: time to listen to The Great Emperor of Dog Training and get my ass in gear, literally and figuratively.  Also, a perfect opportunity for some goal setting (notice I didn’t say, “resolutions”). 

Every year around this time–sometimes right on the first of the year, sometimes not until April–I sit down and write out a “Five-Year Plan,” a set of goals to reach within 5 years, 2 years, one year, and the next six months.  This is something I learned about from the original study at Harvard (I didn’t participate, just read about it) that confirmed how those people who actually write down their goals are more inclined to someday achieve them.  Some years it works better, some years worse, but it always seems to help keep me on track and steer me toward my goals, even when I immediately put the list back in its desk drawer and promptly forget about it till the next year. 

I’m also always amazed at the goals that eventually come to fruition even when I’ve literally forgotten about them in the interim.  To wit, a couple of years ago one of the goals I wrote was “Work with a business coach for free.”  Through a series of serendipitous events, I ended up with three full months of terrific coaching. Similarly, “guest appearance on TV morning show.”  Or, “Adopt second dog.”  At the time I wrote that, my HH’s response was a definite “no.” As the months rolled by, for some reason, he ultimately changed his mind, and eventually he succumbed.  Now, he’s Chaser’s greatest fan, and the two of them are almost inseparable.(“Thanks for changing your mind, Dad!  You’re so much fun to wrestle with. . .but wait a sec, Mum, if you’re not also my greatest fan, then whose fan are you–?“). 

So, to that end, I am going to list my goals.  I will say straight up that this isn’t the complete list, as there are still some things that I’ll keep private (goals related to relationship, family, etc.), but given the name of the blog, I think I should at least include all the food-related and health-related ones here. 

Of course, everyone and their cousin is making resolutions about now, and to that end, there was a humorous send up of these kinds of lists in the Arts and Life section of the National Post today.  Near the top of the list was this goal:

“Shed those unwanted pounds, or, if that’s too hard, spend some quality time with those pounds at a Wendy’s and make them feel wanted again.” 

In that same spirit, I shall not berate myself for those “unwanted” two pounds, or the fairly unstable wagon off of which I’ve fallen. Instead, I’m going to set about outlining some goals for the next while.

And So:

Five Years Hence:

  • Post and Beam.  My lifelong (okay, adult-long) dream is to own a post and beam, slightly north of the city, with my two dogs and HH (and in it, I’ll still be writing this blog, of course).
  • maintain normal, healthy weight and eating habits (continued since year one), following the plan I outlined, below, in the 6-month goal. 
  • go swimming on a regular basis (something I used to love as a kid/teenager, and have been too embarrassed to do in public since the weight gain).
  • Have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga (or other easy-on-the-joints, meditative exercise) as a weekly part of my life.
  • continue to have an easy, healthy relationship with dessert, able to enjoy with moderation without being thrown into binge mode, as outlined below in the one-year goal.
  • have a healthy, effective method in place for dealing with stress (hey, may as well reach high once I’m setting goals, right?).

Two Years Hence:

  • maintain normal, healthy lifestyle and eating habits since year one (as outlined below, in the 6 month section).
  • maintain a healthy, normal relationship to dessert, as outlined below in the one year goal.
  • have meditation as a daily part of my life, yoga or similar type of exercise as weekly.
  • go swimming again–take lessons if necessary.
  • have healthy, effective method for dealing with stress in place and almost perfected.

One Year Hence:

  • reach normal, healthy weight (about 50 pounds from now) 
  •  achieve a sense of control around desserts–that is, the ability to eat them within reason, without breaking into a binge because of one chocolate bar, or brownie, or piece of cake
  • continue to create healthy, delicious desserts for fun and profit
  • continue to eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.
  • complete an intro to yoga course, and continue throughout the year.
  • improve work on weights, to previous levels, working with trainer if necessary.
  • continue with regular exercise at least 6 days a week, as outlined below.

Six Months Hence:

  • down 25 pounds from now
  • eat a balanced, NAG-friendly diet.  (I know from past experience that this will help me with the dessert goal, above, as I seem so much less inclined toward unhealthy foods when I regularly consume veggies, whole grains, and the like).
  • exercise regularly:  weights/club at least 3x per week; treadmill at least 4x per week (I know this can be done, as I’ve done it before, for years at a time)
  • take intro to yoga or similar exercise course; begin meditation, with the help of a course if necessary.

I think these are realistic goals, especially since I know I’ve mastered some of them in the past.  I’m also giving myself a fairly lengthy period to establish new habits (I’ve read that it takes about 6 weeks of repetition to establish a new habit, but have never found that to be true for me; even after 2 years of eating no sweeteners whatsoever, it didn’t take long to return to old habits once I allowed sugar back into my life).

Now, of course there are many other goals on the piece of paper written out here at home, such as those related to my writing career or travelling (basically, I’d like to do some).  But for now, if I can focus on the physical health and psychological wellness, I think I’d have a great head start toward everything else. 

(“You go for it, Mum!  My goal this year is to earn more treats.  Oh, and I suppose not to attempt ripping apart other dogs would be good, too.’)

There’s nothing better than celebrating a special holiday with balance.  A bounty of food and alcohol may abound, but the best approach is to simply eat well, eat with a level head, and enjoy the abundance without going overboard.  Wake up the next day feeling great, ready to take on the day as if the previous night’s festivities never happened.  Hmmm. . . too bad I wasn’t able to accomplish that this year.

I’m guessing it will likely take a few days before my body feels like itself again.  Despite the best of intentions, I must have taken the wrong cue from The Girls, eating as if I might never again have the opportunity to fill up on any of this stuff (and really, some of it wasn’t even worth having again!  “Dump Cake“??  Whatever possessed me to acquiesce to my HH’s wishes for that thing?  And then–eating two portions of it?  Even if I did buy organic cake mix in a meager attempt to convert it to something a smidgen more salubrious. . . Gak.)

(“But Mum! Everything was wonderful–we just loved Christmas!  And what’s wrong with eating something special once in a while?  Or on every occasion you can get it? Turkey, Mum–Turkey.  We. want. turkey.”)

The ideal experience at a holiday feast, for me, would be to enjoy a moderate portion of everything, including dessert, and possess the innate ability to simply stop when I’d had enough.  (Forgot to use the small plate/two item trick at my own holiday dinner–did that have something to do with it?).  Instead, yesterday, I found myself drawn to the least healthy elements of the meal–repeatedly. Today, I don’t feel so hot.

Perhaps that’s a good thing, though.  For “normal” eaters, the “STOP EATING” switch goes off much faster than it does for those of us with a propensity to overindulge.  But I can honestly say that, finally, my own switch has tripped, and I am craving–seriously, craving–vegetables.  It may have taken me a lot longer than it took my honey, but I got there.  In the old days, I might have gone on a binge for days, finishing up the dessert leftovers in one afternoon. Today, I’m at the point where all I’d like to do with that Dump Cake is dump it in the garbage can.

One of the principles that keeps coming to mind is Newton’s Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Since the law applies to everything governed by the laws of physics, it would, of course, also include the way we eat and how our bodies react to the way we eat.  In other words, overdo it one way, and your body will subtly suggest that you underdo it the next.  This is a principle that my friend Karen, in her book Secrets of Skinny Chicks, documented well. As her subjects told her, when slim women pig out at a special occasion, they always compensate the following day, either by eating less or exercising more.  I suppose this is a variation of the approach I adopted when I skipped dinner after overdoing the Halloween chocolates.  And today? Treadmill, here I come.  (Oh, and my Holidailies entry, of course).

Another facet of this principle is one perfectly summed up by Sally in her great blog, Aprovechar.  In her post, Sally compared the patterns of eating/overeating to the financial principle of opportunity cost.  In other words, every opportunity brings with it a certain cost, and if you assess the cost beforehand, it can help you decide whether or not to take the opportunity.  I knew that last night’s dinner would cost me today (perhaps not quite as much as it seems to be doing, what with the backflips in my stomach, but still), and I made a conscious choice to eat anyway.  For me, true progress will be achieved once I learn to make a better choice, with a lesser cost.

Still, today’s craving for veggies is progress of a sort.  And while it may be difficult to find something positive in overeating, I am determined to let my body learn what it can and cannot comfortably do when it comes to food.  The initial mistake was allowing the unhealthy food into the house in the first place, but the ultimate goal remains the same: being able to enjoy a variety of foods (including dessert) at a multi-course meal, and naturally stopping when comfortably full.  That kind of action will signal a huge milestone in the way I approach food.

In the meantime, I’m off to raid the fridge for some broccoli and carrots.  And  I’ll just glance away as my HH polishes off that Dump Cake. (“Did you say carrots, Mum?  Because we love those.  Especially with turkey.”)

It’s Not Okay to Be Fat

December 23, 2007

Am I a glutton for punishment?  (or maybe just a glutton).  No, I’m not talking about Holidailies.  What I’m referring to is a topic so highly polemical that I am probably setting myself up for all manner of excoriation by discussing it.  But this issue has been weighing on my mind, and the rest of me.  May as well just spit it out: I may BE fat, but I really don’t think it’s okay to be fat.  Let me explain.

I am an avid reader of Kate Harding’s blog about fat acceptance.  I love the quality of the writing and its bang-on tone, with just the right mix of snark and smart.  I almost always laugh when I read it,  and I definitely always come away with something interesting to think about. I may not consistently agree with what’s being propounded over there, but that’s perfectly okay with me.  I believe we can all agree to disagree. . . and isn’t that what acceptance of any kind is all about?

I am also fully aware there’s a powerful movement toward fat acceptance out there. And on so many counts, I am right behind it.  I come from a long line of women–mother, aunt, older and younger sisters, cousins (and let’s not forget me!)–who have all struggled with a lifetime of overweight and have all been technically obese at one time or another.  Did their girth make me love any of them less?  Respect them less? Value them less?  No, of course not. 

Do I concur that society foists an unrealistic and virtually impossible standard upon young women today, primarily through the media but trickling down through essentially every other aspect of our lives?  Why, yes; yes I do. And we’ve become so accustomed to these edited, nipped and tucked, revamped versions of women’s faces and bodies, as well as the unrealistic expectations from (mostly) men, that we begin to forget that the perfection we seek is not really “normal.”  I believe we’re wrong to judge someone because of her looks, or tease her, or reject her, or fire her, or not hire her in the first place, or insult her, or devalue her, simply because of excess avoirdupois.  At the same time, does that make it okay to be fat? Sorry, I don’t think so.

To paraphrase Cher (or Sophie Tucker, depending on how far back you want to go): I’ve been slim, and I’ve been fat.  Slim is better.

Now, I do not mean this in a subjective, what-I’ve-been-brainwashed-by-the-media-to-believe sense.  I mean this in an entirely objective, what is actually better for my body, sense.  (Which, by the way, still may not coincide with what my mind finds preferable).

I’ll put it this way:  when I was slim, yes, I thought I looked better, and well, yes, men objectified me more.  I enjoyed being able to wear mini skirts and fishnet stockings without irony. But that’s not why it was better.  It was better because my body moved more easily and fluidly, my aches and pains went away, I could climb stairs without panting, I didn’t have heart burn as a constant companion, my back didn’t go “out” on me every fortnight, I woke up feeling light and capable most mornings, and, in addition, I liked the way I looked.  But even if I’d been unable to look in a mirror that entire time, I actually felt better.

I am well aware that it’s possible to be overweight and still be healthy (as I mentioned, I do read Kate’s blog).  But I have to tell you, most of the overweight women I know, unlike Harding herself, do not eat nutritionally sound foods, exercise regularly or do yoga backflips. When I gain an unsightly amount of weight, it’s not because I’ve acquired too much muscle from my workouts or ate too many brussels sprouts. No; when I’m overweight, I am keenly aware of my excess heaviness, in my legs, my stomach, my back; in the way I lumber across the parking lot in winter, the way I have to maneurver out of a cozy chair, the way my thighs rub uncomfortably together in summer; in how my waist oozes out over the tops of my pants (and woe betide, sometimes even my elastic waist pants); and by way of so many other lovely indices. It’s just not a fun way to live. 

But what’s worse, for many of us, fat can bring with it devastatingly bad health consequences.

Oh, my.  I can almost feel the portentous clouds as they gather, the skies about to slice open with a jagged bolt as it makes a beeline for my very heart.  But let me reiterate:  I am NOT suggesting that fat people in any way are deserving of the derision to which they are so often subjected, that overweight people are not “okay” as human beings, or that they ever deserve to be the target of constant ridicule (as I was, mercilessly, when I was a teenager).  No; that’s not what I’m talking about at all.  But I think we need to clarify just exactly what it is we’re accepting when we recommend fat “acceptance.”

Years ago, my therapist tried repeatedly to get me to “accept” that I was fat.  And I just didn’t get it; I could never bring myself to say it was okay.  “But I don’t WANT to be fat, so how can I accept it?” I’d whine, then go home and eat a pound of chocolate brownies. 

These days, I finally recognize that I misinterpreted what she meant by “accept.”  Accepting one’s excess bulk doesn’t necessitate also enjoying it, or embracing it as good, or liking it.  In other words, I can accept the FACT that I am fat, choose not to berate myself about it, yet simultaneously wish that I were slimmer, and even make a concsious effort to achieve that goal. 

After many years of struggling with my weight, these days I acknowledge the current reality that I am overweight; it’s who I am (right now), and I don’t want to put my entire life on hold until I do, or do not, lose the pounds.  I’ve lived that fantasy in the past:  just lose 20 pounds, and I’ll get a boyfriend; lose the weight, and I’ll have a book published; drop a couple dozen kilos and I’ll travel; and so on, and so on.  In the past, when I finally did lose a whack of weight in my early 20’s, I was bitterly disappointed to find that life did not suddenly become perfect, and even when I DID find a boyfriend, I still had the same emotional problems I’d always had before meeting him, despite my svelte body.

Like anything else, if you wait to achieve an imagined goal before beginning to really live your life, you’ll be putting life on hold for something that might never happen.  Not a good strategy, especially if you aren’t convinced that there is something else after this life. So I believe in doing what I can, now, to the fullest extent possible.

However, if you are carrying extra poundage and kidding yourself that it’s okay, that’s another story entirely.  I can’t help but think of my mother, for instance, and her older sister, both obese, and both Type II diabetics.  My mother never accepted her weight, and struggled her entire adult life against it.  She was filled with self-loathing, was an emotional eater, and continued to regularly eat foods that didn’t have her body’s best interests at heart.  My aunt, on the other hand, also ate unhealthy foods, but never suffered psychologically as my mom did, as she had an equally hefty dose of self confidence and self esteem to carry her through life.  Did my aunt live a happier life without all that angst?  Yes, she certainly did.  Did she even live several years longer than my mother?  Yes, again.  Did they both ultimately die of complications of a chronic, degenerative disease that caused a protracted, achingly slow and gut-wrenchingly sad demise in the intensive care unit as their devastated families looked on, helpless?  You betcha.  And quite simply, that’s not okay.

My dad, on the other hand, has never been overweight, exercises regularly, and at 87 is in great shape.  He has always walked for about an hour a day, engaged in fairly strong physical exercise, and, long before it was fashionable, ate a low-fat, whole foods diet. He is one of the only men in his “Golden Agers” club who can still trip the light fantastic with his (second) wife, and he maintains an incredibly positive outlook on life.  And here’s another irony: even with my excess pounds, my last visit to the doctor’s office for an annual physical proved the theory that fat doesn’t equal “unhealthy.” My cholesterol levels, triglicerides, blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar levels, and all the other test results were stellar (thank God).  I am relieved to know that I’m not killing myself the way my mother did, at least not now. But still, at this weight and size, I just don’t feel my best.

I realize this is an age old debate.  And really, if you honestly feel okay with yourself just as you are, whether that’s with a BMI of 25 or 35, slim or chubby, overweight or not, who am I to suggest otherwise? I applaud you. In fact, I’m entirely envious.  I just know that for me, looking good is bound up with feeling good.  When I feel good, it extends to both physical and emotional realms.  So aiming for a slimmer, healthier physique, even if I acknowledge it’s not the one I’ve got right now–well, that’s something I can accept. 

Eat Dessert First

December 21, 2007

Years ago, during one of my very first visits to Toronto (and long before I lived here), my best buddy Ali and I spent an evening at the famed Pickle Barrel restaurant (in fact, the last time I went there was during Ali’s most recent visit to Canada from England, last summer–when I was rather unpleasantly surprised to note that the restaurant still offered basically the exact same, unappetizing, menu that it had in 1981). 

But back then, we were hyper, we were chatty, we were callow twenty-somethings who really were more interested in catching up with each other than any food we might consume (ah!  if only I could recapture that mindset. . . ).  We scanned the menu, chose something for dinner, and ordered.  We already knew that we wanted the killer chocolate layer cake for dessert, so we ordered that, too.  With the server still standing before us, we realized that dinner might take a few minutes, at least, and what we really wanted was that chocolate cake anyway–so we asked her to bring that over first.

After she recovered her composure (very professional of her, I thought), she nodded and trotted away, soon to return with two huge hunks o’ chocolate cake, which we consumed with lip-smacking zeal and thoroughly enjoyed before starting on our main courses.  In other words, we chose to eat the best part of the meal first.   No deferred gratification. No saving the best for last. No self-denial in the name of good health.  And then, because we wanted to, we still got to eat a darned good dinner, too.

One of the things I’ve always had trouble with is “living in the moment.”  Years ago, as a way to deal wtih anxiety attacks, I took a course called “Mindfulness Meditation.”  It was terrific, really, and I’ve written about it before.  It allowed me to be present with my body for those 45 minutes or so as I meditated, and it worked wonders.  Problem was, once I returned to the “real” world and incompetent drivers; cashiers who can’t count if the register’s computer is broken; telemarketers who don’t understand “I’m not interested, thanks”; sour (soy, or any other kind of) milk, already poured over your cereal; automatic parking lot payment machines that swallow your Mastercard whole; malevolent ice patches hiding under that soft, thin patina of snow; puppies who eat kleenex and then vomit all over your hardwood floor–and about 7,352 other daily annoyances–I lost all my Eastern calm and was thrown immediately back into a welter of Western, frenetic living, anxiety and all. So how to recapture those wonderful feelings of mindfulness?

One of my goals this year, as I attempt to lose my superfluous 50 (oops, forgot: 45.5) pounds, is to gain a sense of inner peace (okay, I’d settle for a sense of inner not-freaking-out-daily) and purpose, by identifying the things that are truly important to me.  I’ve been working away at my little organic baking business and teaching holistic cooking on occasion, setting aside time to spend with my HH and beloved Girls, writing at every possible opportunity, and making a very concerted effort to pay more attention to what is going on in my life (especially during the month of Holidailies).  This latest house-move seemed the perfect catalyst to start afresh, in so many areas.

chasereatcup.jpg So I’ve decided to try to adopt more of the same approach that Ali and I fell into that faraway evening at the restaurant, only this time, I’m going to make a conscious decision to “eat dessert first.”   I don’t mean this literally (well, not every time, anyway), but simply as a way to ensure I do the things that are most important to me; that will bring the greatest sense of satisfaction and gratification; that, years down the road, will make me smile when I remember them–first.  If at all possible. 

In terms of dieting, this philosophy logically extends to literal eating of dessert first as well. If what you really want is the slice of chocolate layer cake, and eating it will effectively remove the desire for anything else, why not have that cake, and eat it, too? I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the standard diet advice to “eat something else and wait 10 minutes” when you have a craving to be totally useless.  I eat something else, then go have the thing I was craving, anyway.  By eating the cake first, I omit the second course.  Is that really so bad?

As we enter the final phase of the holiday tempest of parties, buffets, dinners, open houses, brunches, cocktails and all other manner of food-related gatherings, it may be the perfect time to pay attention to what you really, truly would like, right now, in this moment, and then just go for it. 

In other words: march on over and stand proudly under that mistletoe.  Take off those heels and just boogie. Send that heartfelt card to you-know-who. Or, if it’s what you are really craving,  just dig right in and enjoy the fleeting, sweet satisfaction of a tall piece of chocolate layer cake, right this minute.

*Or, “Everything I Know About Eating, I Learned From My Dogs”

As we all know, dogs are great role models for living in the moment.  And boy, do they love their food.  In fact, sometimes I think I’m nothing but a food dispenser for my Furry Girls.  (“That’s so unfair of you, Mum, really.  Don’t you know that we also rely on you for shelter and walks?).  

From what I’ve observed living with two dogs, this is how they eat:

  • Be Willing To Eat Anything.  In other words, if it’s organic (I mean that in the “derived from living organisms” sense, not the “no-pesticide” sense), they will eat it.  In Chaser’s case, she’ll even occasionally eat something that isn’t food at all, such as thrown-out tissues (“But they were in the garbage beside the food, Mum.”). Lesson for People:  Go out on a limb and be willing to try new foods once in a while.  My HH is totally open when it comes to anything made of animal parts, for example (such as organ meats or more exotic forms of sushi), but has become less willing in recent months to try some of the vegan ingredients that I love (such as teff, or a sprinkling of nutritional yeast over pasta).
  • Eat fast.  Dogs just hoover up that chow as quickly as they can; no mindful eating here, no taking time to appreciate the subtle flavors of the P-Nuttier biscuit versus the Freshwater Trout  one. After all, you never know when another cur will drop in and want what’s in your bowl, so better be sure there’s nothing left for them when they arrive.  Lesson for People: If you live with dogs, you’ve surely been exposed to the various smells associated with that kind of guzzling and its effects on digestive systems. Do yourself a favor: avoid the same rumbling, bloating and eau du flatulence by chewing food properly and eating more slowly.
  • Eat it all. No leftovers with these Girls. Since you never know when you’ll next be fed, better eat it all now. This rule may not apply as much for domesticated dogs, as my Girls seem to be keenly aware of dinnertime. I can always tell when it’s 4:30 PM, more or less, from the rhythmic poking by a gentle wet nose against my thigh as I sit at my computer around that time of day (“Well, we’re just being helpful, Mum, just in case you forget.”Lesson for People:  Since we have the advantage of being able to tell time and we can head to the cupboard any time we please, it’s better for our health to stop when full, rather than continue eating until stuffed.  (Reminder to self: Must. Work. On. This. One.) 
  • Eat with Gusto.  Dogs put their all into dinnertime, as if every bowl is the last meal they’ll ever ever eat.  They focus entirely on the food, and attack it with enthusiasm.   Lesson for People:  Here’s where we can definitely learn something of great value from our canine companions. Eating with alacrity and paying attention to all those wonderful sensations we experience while feasting is the perfect way to appreciate our food.

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I recently read something somewhere (sorry, I’ve forgotten where, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on Holidailies ) that linked binge eating to anxiety.  In other words, bingeing can be interpreted an outlet for the anxiety, and one that occurs due to fears about whether we’ll have sufficient food in the future.  On some level, this theory does make sense to me; if you’re subconsciously worried that the universe will be insufficient to provide for your needs–emotional or otherwise–you may be inclined to use bingeing as a release (and a way to “stock up” in case you’re bereft later). 

Since dogs don’t have control over when or what they eat, for the most part, and since they aren’t aware of our (humans’) reliability as food dispensers, could it be that they eat that way to allay their own anxiety about foods?   

Possibly; but I doubt it.  Even when my dogs are calm, submissive, and totally anxiety-free, they are apt to gorge themselves on whatever is around. They just want to eat, and eat, and eat.  Take Chaser, for instance, who was rushed to our vet’s one afternoon a few weeks ago after consuming the entire contents of our mini-composting bin in the kitchen, which, on that day, contained the remains of some chocolate birthday cake I’d made for a customer, blue frosting and all.  Agave-based or not,  that called for immediate action. I whisked her to the vet’s and they did whatever was necessary to void her little tummy. 

Luckily, I had caught her in the act, and, apart from a few moments of whining, she was back to normal in no time. (“Oh, right, Mum.  I also forgot to mention earlier that we rely on you to save our lives whenever we do something  stupid, too“).

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[“Sorry about that cake thing, Mum.”]