Day 18: Not That Productive

The Day

Because of a freak twist in the schedule, today — and most days this coming week — is basically empty of students. Time to get a lot of work done! Of course, today I was nowhere near as productive as I wanted to be. That’s actually about the gist of the whole day. Went to work, didn’t get as much done as I wanted to, came home. Futzed around online for a while. Proposed marriage to Male Friend, who cheerfully agreed. Not sure if I’m now engaged. Not sure if I was kidding. Not sure if he was.

What I’m Eating

Breakfast was a cherry smoothie (banana, frozen cherries, milk, almond butter, agave syrup, flax) plus several cups of coffee with half and half. Lunch was a spinach burrito with rice, beans, cheese, spinach, and salsa. Dinner was a bowl of vegetable soup and some buttered toast. All in all, 1,700 calories for the day.

What I’m Thinking/How I’m Feeling

Better after yesterday. Generally OK. I don’t have much to say. But I’ll say it anyway. Hey.

Planning For the Future

No eating out tomorrow. Everything made by me!

Day 17: The Almost Binge

The Day

A little ineffective. Professional development that I left early owing to a sudden bout of headache/nausea. That passed by late afternoon, when I felt the sudden and almost irrepressible need to binge. I’ve been a little angry and sad lately, so it makes sense that this popped up, but I was able to battle it down. I’m turning in embarrassingly early now.

What I’m Eating

Breakfast was two eggs fried in butter on toast with a cup of coffee with milk and sugar. I had another cup of coffee mid morning, this time with half and half. Lunch was leftovers: pasta with zucchini, tomato, onion, capers, basil, and fresh mozzarella, plus a few Tahitian vanilla chocolates. Post-binge-craving snack was toast with mayo and tomatoes. Dinner was a piece of grilled chicken and some autumn vegetable soup. It all comes out to 1,550 calories for the day.

What I’m Thinking/How I’m Feeling

The urge to binge was crazy intense. I wanted, more than anything, a big bowl of cheesy pasta. That is my all time binge food: close to a pound of pasta, lots of butter, lots of cheese, and a massive pain in my gut. I didn’t have the ingredients but I got as far as the front door, keys in hand, before I was able to talk myself out of it. The primary feeling was anger and resentment, which is usually the attending feeling — but I don’t know what I was angry about or resentful of. As usual, I was helpless against any interruption of the binge that includes other people. My therapist wants me to call her or a trusted friend when that urge hits, but basically the feeling I get is the deep, deep need to ignore all people, and I find it really hard to try to interrupt that with reaching out. Which is probably why she wants me to do it.

Also, I’ve begun researching organic/whole foods and going unprocessed, and apparently it’s a fucking quagmire out there, folks. Nothing is not messed with.

Planning For the Future

Would like to stop all the sugar and chocolate. Or at least lessen it. But I did go two straight days eating only food that I’d prepared myself and in the past week, I’ve only eaten two meals at a restaurant/take out. Not bad!

Day 16: Quickly

The Day

Filled with people and feelings. I’m going to keep this short.

What I’m Eating

Breakfast was a smoothie of frozen cherries, banana, milk, agave, almond butter, and ground flaxseed. I had several cups of coffee with milk and sugar today. Lunch was an autumn vegetable soup (butternut squash, kale, cannellini, fire-roasted tomatoes, mirepoix, leeks, garlic, chicken broth), a salad of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber, and a grilled chicken breast with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then some Toblerone chocolate. Dinner was half a stuffed eggplant boat dressed with yogurt, some pasta salad, and two glasses of wine. Today’s food comes out to 1,650 calories.

What I’m Thinking/How I’m Feeling

Unaccountably weepy.

Planning For the Future

So many leftovers from dinner and lunch (all of which I made, by the way!) that I have packed lunches and several dinners for many days ahead.

Day 15: Cleaning House

The Day

I devoted it to cleaning up the entire apartment, which had been spiraling into filthiness after a tough couple of weeks. It’s now spotless. I took a midday break to buy a new mattress (memory foam!). And that is actually it. I’ve been watching Archer on Netflix and doing laundry all night.

What I’m Eating

Breakfast was two eggs fried in butter on wheat sourdough toast with two cups of coffee with milk and sugar. Lunch was a salad from Chipotle with lettuce, white rice, fajitas vegetables, chicken, pico de gallo, tomatillo salsa, and a little sour cream. Dinner was carrot coconut ginger soup and tomatoes and fresh mozzarella with olive oil and basil. Dessert was three peaks of Toblerone. All this comes out to about 1,450 calories for the day.

What I’m Thinking/How I’m Feeling

Utterly wiped, but thrilled that my place is spic and span once again.

Planning For the Future

No plans. Just go.

The Ever So Slow Shift to Unprocessed Food: Preface

I’ve always instinctively disliked the message, “Food is fuel.” I get why that message is important to those with serious addiction or compulsive issues who use food as comfort, drug, love, etc. Since I still deal with those issues myself, I can assure you that I get it. What I don’t like about that message, though, is that it kind of suggests that your body is a machine. You know, that needs “fuel.” Like your car. Which kind of implies that you, too, are a machine. Like your car. And while it’s nice to think of the human body as the ultimate technology and so forth, you are not a machine. You are a person with consciousness and soul and history and demons and angels and family and culture, and that changes things. You have a mind, in other words. You have a heart. Food cannot be just the stuff that fires up your body because from your earliest days, you were taught to associate food with love, comfort, care, family, correctness, communication.

I’m saying this because I’ve found that this essential idea is at the root most American fad diets. In fact, I think there’s something peculiarly American about that idea: “food is fuel.” It’s Puritan. It’s functional. It’s do-it-yourself. It’s pioneer tough. You want to lose weight? No sugar/wheat/meat/fat/carbs/dairy, then. Don’t like it? Toughen up, kid.

I remember years ago buying a “diet kit” from some snake oil salesman that promised results (this was during my first foray into 250-pound-dom). The guide book suggested that I make a big batch of oatmeal at the beginning of the week and flavor it with cinnamon only. And then eat it for the rest of the week. Oh, and boil up some eggs, throw away the yolk which we all know is the best part, and then eat the whites. No salt, because salt is bad. I made it three days before I permanently gave up on that. What I remember feeling was the shame of failing this diet — this awful, awful, unpleasant diet — because of something so stupid as wanting to enjoy what I ate.

Which brings me to what I think is the key of my own success, as rocky and uneven as it’s been: enjoying what I eat.

My father is French. His mother, my grandmother, was an immensely important figure in my life and helped raise me, and she was French, too. My mother is from New Zealand and has virtually no interest in cooking and tacitly handed them the reins of my diet. They were 100% in charge of everything I ate pretty much up until I was in middle school. So for the first ten years of my life or so, I ate like a French kid. That is to say, I learned that food is a pleasure, a delight, a way of connecting with family and friends. It’s divine. It’s special. It should be treated with care. It should taste amazing. It should be top quality. Every ingredient matters. How you prepare the food matters. Even how you eat it and with who and when matters. Basically, food isn’t just fuel; it’s one of the most special things about being alive, a necessary delight we get to experience every day, and is treated as thus.

When I was nine, for example, my father taught me how to roast a chicken. I’ll never forget how that went down. He sat on a stool in the middle of the kitchen and patiently talked me through the instructions of how to clean the bird, pat it down, prepare it with butter, spices, herbs, and lemon, roast it first at a high heat, then at a medium heat, baste often, check for done-ness, and carve. He refused to help me any more than give me instructions: I was the one who did everything, with my own little hands. It came out great, as it usually does (my dad’s chicken is to die for), and I’ll never forget the feeling of pride I had from doing well, or the feeling of pleasure from eating something truly delicious. Later in my life, my dad taught me how to pick a chicken to roast, what to look for, what to avoid. He eventually taught me how to choose all my produce and all my meat. We regularly shopped the perimeter of the supermarket only.

My grandmother had a lot to do with the way I thought about and interacted with food. She was big on ritual and table manners and table-setting (so is my mother, actually). Three meals a day and no snacking, except for possibly a little fruit or bread with chocolate after school. Small portions, but lots of different options. A big premium on vegetable and fruit. Combinations were important; complementary tastes of vital significance. Dinners and lunches in courses, eaten in a specific order — specifically, salad after the main course rather than before it, and cheese and fruit for dessert most nights. When she wanted to lose a few pounds, my grandmother simply stopped eating pasta and bread for a while — and only for a while, since pasta is wonderful and French bread is a gift from God. My sister and I were never fussy about eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, the kind that many American kids outright refuse to eat, which I understand is fairly common of most French kids. By six, I liked the taste of steamed green beans, garlic, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, anchovies, pate, and brie. The attitude was essentially this: Isn’t food great? Isn’t it amazing that there are so many different tastes? Shouldn’t we make this very special and treat it with the ultimate care?

I’ll say this. Yes, I have serious compulsive eating issues, but they only started after I began to regularly eat food that wasn’t prepared at home and only after a certain trauma that had nothing to do with food that I won’t get into happened and affected me. In fact, I credit my success over the past four years, wonky as it is, to this early foundation of treasuring food enough to only want the best.

So. How do processed foods come into play here?

Well, for me, this has to do with options. I’ve been researching a number of diets, or “eating methods” if you will, that are currently popular, and all of them seem to make sense in their own way, and all of them seem to indicate that there’s a certain kind of food you shouldn’t eat (meat, dairy, grains, nightshade plants, sugar, fat; if you mix all diets together, you basically can’t eat anything). All these diets provide what seems to be legitimate evidence to back up their claims. And all of them, at their root, if there’s resistance, seem to fall back on the root idea that “food is fuel.” Cut out the grains, because food is fuel. Cut out the fat, because food is fuel. Cut out the sugar, because food is fuel.

I swear, I’m not knocking on your choices. Some people get violently sick when they eat grain, so they shouldn’t eat it. Others can’t process dairy and get all kinds of gut problems from it, so they shouldn’t eat it. Others dislike the taste of meat, so they shouldn’t eat it. And yet others love the taste of meat and don’t get much pleasure out of eating starchy foods, so they shouldn’t eat it. Still others have moral, ethical, ecological and political reasons not to eat meat or animal products, so they shouldn’t eat it. This actually supports my theory that food isn’t just fuel: it’s so much more than that. It’s one of the main ways we engage with our world. Wheat is technically a fuel, and for some people like me, it’s just fine, and for others, it’s basically poison. Fish meat is technically a fuel, and for some people like me, it’s just fine, and for others, it raises serious questions about ethical treatment of living creatures or ecological concerns about over-fishing or just the taste of it ruins the experience of eating. Unless that person is alone in the wilderness of Alaska and hasn’t eaten in five days, he or she probably shouldn’t eat that darn fish. Just like the taste of bland, cinnamon-y oatmeal and rubbery, virtually tasteless egg whites superceded the “fuel” it would have given me.

You get what I’m saying.

What I do appreciate about most of these diets, and about the food I ate growing up, is that there’s a premium on paying attention to what goes into your food. Essentially, ingredients and process matter. And that makes sense to me. Recently, I’ve cast a more critical eye on what constitutes my main diet, and there’s a lot that’s fine and a lot that is not so fine. I eat out way too much. This wouldn’t be a problem at all if I ate out at strictly good quality places where there’s a premium on good quality food sources, but I don’t. I have impulse control issues that are most problematic when I’m around processed food. Yesterday’s Oreos, for example. I didn’t even enjoy them that much, yet I ate them because they were there. I’ve become fairly laissez-faire when it comes to shopping, meaning I get most of my produce at TJ’s (not terrible, but their packaging is wasteful and their sources a little doubtful) and will often buy prepared foods like already cooked chicken breasts to throw into a salad, which means someone else is making my food and I don’t really know how. And finally and most significantly, if choosing between two different versions of the same product, let’s say a loaf of bread, I’ll more often than not choose the lower calorie version rather than take the version that has the best ingredients. And that’s primarily because I want to lose weight. I’ve stopped drinking regular soda with the high fructose corn syrup, which is a good thing, but I’ve basically replaced that with Diet Coke and Coke Zero, so I’m still ingesting all kinds of additives and dyes that I could probably go without.

I’ve successfully lost weight eating processed foods, but I feel my best and am happiest and most content when my diet is mostly fresh, whole, tasty, doable, and with as few processed foods as possible. I’m thinking of all the times I spent in France or Spain as a kid and eating the food there, abundances of it, and coming back to the states leaner and more full of energy than before I left. This is my totally biased, anecdotal, unscientific, personal opinion and experience talking, but for me, the right diet is relatively processed food free.

This is going to mean the following:

1. Slowly phasing out most products I regularly eat that include ingredients or processes that I can’t use or replicate in my home.

2. Slowly stop eating out so much and start treating meals out as special events rather than a daily alternative to a dinner or lunch or breakfast I could prepare myself.

3. Slowly stop taking most food shortcuts like prepared chicken breasts that frankly I could do just as well at home if I plan a touch more carefully.

4. Slowly moving towards buying most of my produce from local farms and farmer’s markets that raise their food ethically and with care.

5. Slowly moving towards only eating mostly meat and meat products that are similarly ethically and carefully raised, cultivated, and butchered.

You’ll notice the words “slowly” and “most” a lot here. “Slowly” because I anticipate this is going to be a big enough shift in the way I live that if I try it all at once, I’ll give up right away. And “most” because food isn’t just fuel. I refuse to make a hard and fast rule about having no processed foods in my diet whatsoever. Let’s say I go camping in a couple of weekends with some friends, and we whip out Jet-Puft marshmallows, some Hershey’s chocolate, and some graham crackers to whip up s’mores. I’m going to go ahead and enjoy myself with the chemicals and additives. Let’s say it’s a hot day at Dodger’s Stadium and all I want to do besides cheer on the boys in blue is enjoy a Dodger Dog and an ice cold Coke. I’m going to do that (of course, that won’t be happening until next year, so….) And let’s say I’m taking a road trip one fine frosty morning and I stop off at a McDonald’s for a cup of coffee and a Sausage McMuffin because who ever went on a road trip without some Mickey D’s? The point is that some processed or fast foods have sentimental, social, even cultural value, and it’s ridiculous to imagine spending the rest of my life denying that.

This is all for me, by the way. For real. Everyone reading this blog probably has very strong feelings and beliefs about what and how they eat, and especially because I’m just an English teacher and not a food scientist, I cannot possibly make this more than a personal opinion driven by personal experience and biases. But even then, that just underscores my base point: food isn’t just fuel. The very fact that any of us have any kind of belief in what we should or shouldn’t be eating is evidence that food is more than the gas our bodies need to function.

So over the next couple of months, this is what I’ll be trying to do. Follow along, will you?

Day 14: Garlic

The Day

A good one, filled with things happening. Came home early (glorious Friday afternoon!) and set about thoroughly cleaning my entire kitchen, which it sorely needed. Chatted with some guys on Tinder, and frankly, I’m still a bit afraid of it. A nice quiet dinner, some silly fantasy movie, and an early night. Ah, the life a single English teacher.

What I’m Eating

Breakfast was a small peanut butter and banana smoothie with milk and agave syrup, plus coffee with milk and two sugars. At school, my students brought in breakfast so I had half a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin and half a bagel with some cream cheese, plus another cup of coffee with half and half. Lunch was a salad of kale, spinach, Swiss chard, tomatoes, half an avocado, and a little bit of sirloin roast tossed with olive oil and vinegar. Dinner was tomatoes and fresh mozzarella with olive oil, basil, and garlic, and three peaks of Toblerone. All this comes out to about 1,500 calories for the day, and that’s including the second breakfast.

What I’m Thinking/How I’m Feeling

Dating is scary enough without Tinder making it all arbitrary and shallow.

Planning for the Future

Making more soup this weekend! I’m thinking an autumn vegetable soup with butternut squash, white beans, and kale.