Food Intuition

curious me

Why is food such a challenge? I’m not sure when marketers started getting involved but I suspect that’s when we all became confused. We believed what we heard because [mostly] men in white coats were telling us what to do. Celebrities who looked amazing drank diet soda and ate lettuce for dessert, so we did that. No fat, all fat, no carbs, only carbs, no meat, lots of meat. It’s much more conflicted now. Information is moving quickly and the desperate need to get it in front of the right people has created a whole new business culture involving metrics and algorithms. Plus, those with the most money win. The meat and dairy industries throw an enormous amount of capital at advertising – and often misdirecting and making false claims – while the little organic kale farmer can barely pay crop insurance, let alone extol the virtues of cruciferous vegetables.

But then again, maybe it’s all genetics.

But beyond blaming the big guys (or maybe because of them, but let’s take responsibility back now, people) we have lost touch with our body intuition. I know I have. Mostly. As a teenager, Weight Watchers and Seventeen magazine directed my dietary needs. Then came Dr. Atkins and Scarsdale. Then joining a sorority at a southern university and eating the cooking of an amazingly talented southern black woman who cooked with passion, love and lard. Then all the alcohol that comes with college. Then vegetarianism, veganism, paleo, Mediterranean… I’m getting exhausted just typing this.

I needed someone else to tell me what was good for me. I lost trust in my gut.

So, it will probably come as no surprise that I just completed the Whole 30 plan (I just can’t use the word diet anymore). It was good. It is how I normally eat when I am behaving and when I am capable of listening to my body. It follows my particular blood type. (Yes, I did that one too, maybe the only one that really made sense and felt good. So why did I give it up?)

In the end I lost maybe 6 pounds. A small win, but a win nonetheless. I attribute that entirely to no sugar and no alcohol. Mostly no sugar, I had all but given up my red wine habit months ago, opting only for special occasions. Like a normal person.

I didn’t move enough. I have a million valid reasons but really that’s just a pretty way of saying excuses. If I had moved more that weight loss number would likely be higher. But moving is coming.

I have learned throughout this year so many valuable things about my tendencies and my experience of life in general. One of those is: Life will always get in the way. In other words I will always have a valid reason NOT to do something. No sleep, disrupted schedule, travel, sick pet or person, but so what, that is life.

Life cannot interrupt life.

It takes commitment and self-prioritization. And I know that once I get just a few days into a healthy routine of the gym or yoga or walking, my body will beg me to keep going.

Back to intuition. I like the premise of the Whole 30 diet as I do almost any elimination plan. If it’s taken seriously and done correctly it can offer a lot of information about your body’s capabilities to digest and assimilate certain types of foods. It creates and environment of forced intuition that can help rebuild that innate muscle.

It’s as simple as this: Pay Attention.

How do you feel when you eat certain foods? Energized, sluggish, asthmatic, itchy, bloated, nauseous, calm, jittery? These are solid clues.

I know my body is not fond of grains – in particular wheat. It does not take kindly to legumes and it gets very congested on dairy. It LOVES sugar, or maybe that’s all in my head. To be honest, even juice can make my heart race, so sugar isn’t so much my friend as my energy dealer.

But I have discovered that I can tolerate a small amount of any of those things once in a while. I can have a fully loaded cappuccino on a rainy afternoon every so often. A piece of birthday cake does not affect me if I’m not eating wheat and dairy on the daily. Black beans in my burrito bowl are quite tasty, but less is better. Cheese is seductive, but being able to breathe and, well, perform other natural functions, now wins. No cheese. I have also learned that there is such a thing as too much meat for me. I would love to be able to be a vegetarian but without legumes or soy it’s very difficult to find a worthy protein source. Instead I limit my animal protein to eggs from a friend’s happy chickens and some responsibly, humanely, organically raised beef and chicken from a local farm. If I had to catch and kill my own dinner I would live off eggs or learn to like fish. Perhaps a plan for the near future.

Oh, wait, Ayurveda…

 

 

Sex, Drugs and Lots of Food

me on the gator

The photo purge continues. It may, in fact, never end. It’s part trip down memory lane and part making up stories of the lives of relatives I have never met.

While the story making up is endlessly entertaining, at least to me, the personal history part is the most informative.

As I look at photos of myself over the past thirty-some years, I notice one thing: I have never really been thin. As an adult, beyond college, I have always carried more weight than was necessary. And more than I wanted.

Oddly, this is a revelation. I mean, I kind of knew I wasn’t my ideal weight, but what surprises me the most is this: Since somewhere in my twenties, until this very moment that my fingers are striking these letters to make these sentences, I have been trying to get back to ‘that weight’. What weight? I made it all up. Somewhere in my memory I have constructed the perfect sized adult me. She’s about a size 8, not too thin, but not heavy. She’s athletic-ish, maybe she dances or hikes a lot. Her clothes are awesome, pretty simple but well-fitting and not boxy and concealing. Her movements are smooth, her way easy. And she is a figment of my imagination.

I may as well be making up stories about the photos of me.

There is a girl, about 14, that is very thin with legs that appear long and lithe, but that was clearly a growth spurt and before she understood what was really happening at home. Before she started eating her feelings and building her protective coating of fat.

This is not to blame my parents, but I kinda blame my parents.

At 15 I decided I was obese, about 130 lbs. – actually probably my perfect weight, maybe even a little thin for my age and body structure now – and I wanted to go to Weight Watchers. My mother agreed immediately. At least that’s how I remember it.

When I was combing my memories a number of years ago I pinned this whole unhealthy obsession with food and diets on my father. He liked thin women, it was known. So I was going to do that, get thin. I’d get his attention and love that way. (He did not, not love me, he was just one of those dads that preferred alcohol to emotion. Or daughters). Then after processing that, and resenting him for a few years, a light bulb went off. Wait a minute, I thought… Why did my mother agree so quickly to Weight Watchers? (I was the youngest one there, by the way, and the only one who could not drive herself.) It occurred to me that she could have questioned my motives or told me I was perfect the way I was. Isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? But she just packed me into the car and sent me in with enough cash to cover the meeting fee each week.

There’s way too much neurosis on everyone’s part to tease that riddle apart here, but suffice it to say that some damaging seeds were planted that got watered with unrelenting rains a year later when our family unit began to dissolve in angry and quiet ways.

The blame crown was now hers to wear for a while. But it really wasn’t her fault either.

My father, just out of reach emotionally, treated my mother like a doormat. He was condescending and rude at best, verbally abusive at worst. He never hit her, instead he withheld, brooded and shot the house full of threat without saying a word. There was never any reason to fear him, yet we all understood we were to be worried.

In the years between Weight Watchers and going off to college my mother surreptitiously planned her escape. She had been hiding a few meaningful things at a neighbor’s house, squirreled away some money and not so elegantly taken up with a friend’s husband. All the adults seemed to know. I was confused but understood what was at work on some level.

Aside from the affair thing I had encouraged her to leave my father.

At this point my weight was normal. Not healthy necessarily. For a while there I subsisted on an apple and a pint of milk a day. Period. Until grandma came for Christmas and baked her way into my heart and back onto my thighs.

I had firmly researched and implemented all sorts of self-inflicting shaming practices. I was not as thin as my mother and if my parent’s relationship was falling apart, then why should I bother becoming that perfect specimen of thinness? Crazy, right? But somehow this must be the thinking that coalesced and dropped even more seeds into my already tattered psyche.

I left for school when I was 19, opting for community college for that first year so I could continue to spend time with my boyfriend who was a year behind me. Even so, we opted for different universities that would cause us to be apart. He went south to the tidewater area of Virginia, I went one state further to East Carolina University.

As my tires crossed from Virginia into North Carolina I somehow knew I would never go home again. Not to any home I had known.

I immediately pledged a sorority. It was a calculated move – instant friends and a plethora of parties. Distraction became my medication. Food, alcohol, a few other unsavory, but very fun at the time, substances and sex all kept me even somehow.

Then mom came to visit and announced she was marrying her friend’s husband.

After that I gradually lost interest in the school part of school and engaged fully in extracurricular fun. I did play a few intramural sports, miniature golf (I know) and soccer, but otherwise the fun was centered around dark hours.

There’s so much more between then and now, but it seems this period defined so much of what would follow.

The weight and the desire to control everything around me didn’t fully manifest until I moved home from school and had to ask permission to stay somewhere with my mother or father. It was at this time I concluded that I was the only one who could take care of me and so I did. I stayed with my mother for less than a month, felt like a stranger in someone else’s house – because it was someone else’s house – and moved in with a new friend.

The coping mechanisms I had employed during college were still readily available and close at hand. I am fortunate to not have an addictive personality (whatever that truly means) so I never held onto any of the panaceas for long. Except food. I struggled forever to control food. Always failing, it seemed. Sometimes winning, but not for a sustained period of time.

The food struggle continues, but it has been channeled in a healthier way, through education. But it’s still at the top of my brain almost always.

I am not unhappy in my current state. There is some tension between where I am and where I would like to be, but the chasm is small and there is very little stress in that tension. And now with this new information that there’s not really an ideal me to return to, I can relax and realize that as I am is just fine, maybe even perfect. This does not mean I will not continue to engage in healthy practices or even push a little harder, but that fantasy ideal?

It’s gone.