E is for Eating (not, as I had hoped, Expectations and Eeyore)

EThis is my fourth attempt at today’s blog. I have three drafts that remain unpublishable, not one of which has anything to do with food, but all of which try to parse the meaning of Expectation. No matter what I write, none of them meet my expectations, so I’m going with this blog instead:

I admit it—I run so that I don’t have to watch what I eat. After many years of struggling with my weight, I have finally found a solution that works for me. Instead of dieting, I run five miles five or six times a week.

I have a strong aversion to most healthy foods—not a fan of much of anything green and leafy, and I truly love my carbs and fats. I’ll eat the occasional salad—I don’t mind a green salad with tomatoes, avocado, carrots, green onions and the like, but don’t make me eat beans, broccoli, cauliflower or, god forbid, brussel sprouts.

I think I spent too many long and lonely nights at the family dining table with a plate of cold vegetables in front of me. Before we could be excused from the table, we had to clean our plates. These nights of eating cold congealed vegetables scarred me, as so many childhood experiences do. Tall cold glasses of milk only do so much to disguise the nasty taste of cold canned spinach or to cover the texture of frigid canned peas.

So, you can keep your kale, your asparagus, your squash, yams, cabbage, and lima beans. I’ll take a long run and a big bowl of pasta any day. I’ve tried to go dairy and gluten free, but I would rather run another lap than put soymilk in my morning cup of coffee instead of half and half, and I really don’t want to have to drink that beer that’s brewed without wheat.

On the other hand, I don’t eat much of anything that’s processed and I never eat fast food, or drink soda, diet or otherwise. So while I may not be the poster child for perfect food pyramid eating habits, my body is not a dumping ground for the food equivalent of toxic waste either.

I eat to live and
run to eat. I Expect that
this will have to do.

G is for Gym (will make more sense if you read E and F first)

About four years ago, I joined some work colleagues and started hitting the gym three to four mornings a week. I didn’t change my eating habits right away, and in fact, one of my mantras about working out was that I was working out so I could eat and drink beer, so that I wouldn’t have to change much.

I did not ever think I would be one to get up at 4:30 in the morning in order to be at the gym by 5:30 so I could be to work by 7:30, but there I was, generally, Tuesday through Friday, in my shorts, sweating before the sun came up. I loved that each morning was a different workout—Fridays we did yoga, Thursdays was spin class, Wednesdays power (weights), and Tuesdays cardio—lots of stepping and moving.

The changes were not dramatic—I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but the small shifts motivated me to continue, and, ironically, I began to want to eat differently. When I went out with friends after work—and I went out often—I became more conscious about my choices, drank fewer beers, ate less fried food, more salads. I started eating breakfast.

My clothes fit better, and for me, there’s nothing more reinforcing than clothes that fit. I dropped a pants size.

And then I moved back home—I changed jobs and took one closer to home, one that wouldn’t require me to live in another city during the week. I stopped going to the gym because I was now leaving for work at 5:30 a.m. and not getting home until after 5:30 p.m. For six months I just went to work and came home. And the pounds started piling back on.

I was miserable, and when a friend on Facebook offered to pay half of a membership to anyone who wanted to join her gym, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t care if I had to go straight from work to working out—something had to change. Again. My friend’s gym turned out to be a sort of cross-fit, extreme fitness kind of place, a far cry from the kinder, gentler yoga/spin/cardio gym I’d left behind. But I was desperate, and I gave it all I had.

I crawled across the floor using only my arms, dragging a weight with my feet. I perfected my 24” vertical jump. I tried and tried to do a pull up. I even tried to climb a rope. I ran and did burpees, lifted weights, threw tires, swung kettlebells, played tug of war, lunged, squatted, pushed up, crunched, kicked, ran hills, did stairs. And again, the pounds came off.

While I was at the gym, The Little Woman started running class, and pretty soon, I—who had sworn off running—started running with her. Eventually, we were running 5 Ks together. We went from being the people who laughed at the runners at running events on Saturday mornings, to being the runners at running events on Saturday mornings. I dropped the gym membership.

In the past two years, I seem to have reached an equilibrium between exercise and eating. And while many friends have opted for diets (paleo, skinny bitch, cabbage soup, grapefruit, blood type, hormone, Weight Watchers), I’ve just kept running. Running works for me—the more I run, the better I want to eat. I’m still not pulling up to a plate of vegetables at dinnertime, but neither am I eating unconsciously anymore.

I wouldn’t say I’m exactly ambivalent about food, and I certainly do enjoy eating whatever TLW whips up when she’s home to cook (she’s now working away from home during the week). The trick seems to be in Gaining awareness, Getting perspective, and Going the distance. G is not so much for Gym anymore for me, at least, as it is for Go. As in Ready. Set.

F is for Food (read E is for Eating first)

I like to think my history with food is fairly innocuous, but as I write about it, I’m discovering that’s not exactly the case. For example, I don’t care much for vegetables (aside from standard salad ingredients) and so exist mostly on carbohydrates. This disdain for green things can be traced to my childhood where I spent many nights alone at the dinner table with a plate of cold, congealing vegetables and as much milk as I needed to wash them down. Canned spinach, stewed tomatoes, canned green beans. I loathed them, but because “children were starving in India and China” my eating those vegetables became imperative. Waste not, want not. Or something. I threw up all over my dad one Christmas when forced to eat Brussel sprouts.

I don’t care how much cheese you put on broccoli or cauliflower, I’m not going to eat it. Go ahead and oven roast the hell out of the Brussel sprouts and the green peppers, and use all the EVOO you want—I won’t change my mind. I still hate spinach and while I will occasionally eat asparagus, I don’t seek it out. I realize that my dislike of all things green is probably irrational and that, ultimately, most likely not healthy, but I’m not one to eat something (any longer) because I’m “supposed to.”

Other than the nightly battle over the vegetables, there wasn’t much more personal drama around food when I was a kid. Overall, we ate pretty healthily—mom never served us anything out of a box, she canned fruit and veggies, forbid soda and sugared cereal, made her own bread and even churned her own butter for a while. We drank raw milk, ate locally raised beef, and never went for fast food.  But there were family issues around food—and without going too much into it, my parents had conflicts around food—both of them vying for control over what the other ate, how much, how often. As a result, I think I resolved not to care so much about food.

Then, during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school I went away to camp and came back about 20 pounds heavier. As a kid who’d never really paid much attention to my weight, I was astounded that my pants no longer fit. I didn’t know about eating disorders then, but I now know that I developed one. My mom’s Calorie Counter book became my best friend. I’d heard about girls who vomited after meals as a way to control their weight, but since I was not one for throwing up, I gravitated toward laxatives and became addicted to them and to eating raw bran (I know—nasty). I didn’t overeat or binge and purge exactly, but I figured the less time the food stayed in my system, the less chance it had to turn into fat.

The laxatives wreaked havoc on my digestive system, and I spent many years breaking my addiction. It wasn’t easy—in fact, even though I’ve not been addicted in many years, I’d say that it’s taken the better part of my adult life to get to a point where my digestive system functions normally all on its own.

 ***

When I found myself needing to lose weight as an adult for the first time, I knew I needed to return to a place of ambivalence about food. I couldn’t diet and I couldn’t rely on TLW to stop feeding me. I wasn’t going to return to using laxatives. I had to find a way to stop caring about food. No easy task. It’s like trying to stop caring about Christmas—I may no longer want to celebrate it or believe that it’s the birthday of the true lord and savior but that doesn’t keep it from coming around every year and taking up all kinds of psychic space.

One of the most difficult parts of cutting back on eating was convincing TLW that it had nothing to do with her. That not wanting to eat her amazing meals didn’t mean I no longer loved her or that I was rejecting her. As much as I have food issues, she does too, and historically for her, food equals love.

The best and simplest thing I could do was to start exercising. So I did. I joined a gym. Working out regularly not only sped up my metabolism but made me less interested in eating. After spending an hour at spin class, the last thing I wanted to do was eat something that would pile the calories back on.

Tune in tomorrow for G is for Gym. I hadn’t intended for this to be a multi-part piece. Funny how things work out.

E is for Eating (read this before you read F)

Posting two today–one to make up for missing Saturday, and one for today’s letter, F.

I’m fairly ambivalent about eating and food. When The Little Woman asks me in the morning what I want for dinner, or worse, when she asks me on Thursday what I want to eat over the weekend, I usually roll my eyes and shrug, the same way I do when my mother asks me in October what I’m planning to do for Christmas. I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care.

Do you live to Eat or Eat to live? I fall into the latter category, usually. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a fine meal or appreciate a lovingly prepared feast, but overall, food does not excite me the way it does some people in my life.

I’m married to a foodie. When we met, I weighed about 20 pounds less than I do now. Of course in the intervening 14 years I‘ve grown older and my metabolism has slowed considerably, so part of the change in weight, I’m sure, has to do with aging. But still. I now weigh about 20 pounds less than I did four years ago, and that has mostly to do with exercise and the fact that The Little Woman is not cooking for me daily any more. If my math is correct, that makes for a 40-pound weight gain in about 10 years. Not insignificant.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to blame TLW for my weight issues. I’m not. She did not hold me at gunpoint and force the fork into my hand. I simply got caught up in her enthusiasm for food, and eating, and the celebrations and socializing we did around food. And, when someone puts as much love and thought and delight into preparing a meal as she does, it is damn difficult to apply any sort of meaningful self-restraint or portion control.

And then TLW went to culinary school and spent a lot of time practicing. I was a very willing participant in her epicurean experiments. We had people over often. We had big parties and lots of food (and drink).  We ate and ate and ate. One weekend, Mother was visiting and she opened the refrigerator and exclaimed, “No wonder you girls are chubby! There are seven pints of heavy cream in here!”

No wonder indeed.

I was working away from home during the week in those days, and before I left on Monday mornings, TLW packed me grocery bags full of amazing food to get me through the week. I was the envy of everyone in the lunchroom where I worked. At lunchtime, I’d pull out perfectly grilled pork chops (with the grill marks) and garlic mashed potatoes made with heavy cream and lots of butter while my colleagues dined on frozen NutriSystem or Healthy Choice entrees.

And suddenly I weighed close to 200 pounds (at 5’ 6” tall) and even my fat pants were tight. How had I, someone who had never really had a weight issue, gotten to this place? Something had to change.