Food stress

Yikes. This is what happens when I let up just the least bit on the diet discipline. I am up 3 pounds from my goal weight, which, by the way, lasted only that one week. The weight comes back right to my midriff, a ballooning muffin top that I can feel growing by the day.

I just dumped into the trash the cinnamon rolls and Pringles that my latest houseguest didn’t finish. I didn’t even compost them. They would poison the animals that check out the garbage. What possessed me to buy bread, chips, ice cream? The stress of not knowing what to feed people.

The food thing is really the biggest stress of having houseguests. This is true even when it’s our kids, whether it’s their food restrictions or ours, or the changing tastes of the little one. We develop our own eating and food prep patterns. As a good hostess I am attentive to the tastes of my guests and I don’t feel quite right just making them eat the way I do day by day.

I just read an article about Bill Clinton going vegan. He entertained the reporter, who was expecting tasteless food. Of course, some wonderful chef had laid out a feast of all kinds of wonderful salads and dips and beany things–things I know how to prepare, and also how much time it takes to do so. Sure, it is wonderful to go vegan, and you can make things taste really good as long as the people you are serving have a sense of food adventure and you have time and you don’t mind missing the mark sometimes with a dish.

But my guest for much of the past two weeks was a teenager from Congo who was accustomed to an entirely predictable diet of rice, fufu, manioc greens, meat, and fish (not so much the fish). Back home she’d also had a chance to develop a taste for soft bread and chips of all kinds, as well as sweets, especially vanilla ice cream. So after I had watched her picking at my healthy vegetables and mostly leaving them on the plate and taking her slender self away from the table to chat with her 2,000 facebook friends on my iPad, I started giving in to her tastes and let her pick her diet off the grocery shelves, rather than trying to cook up, juice, and salad-i-fy my bounty of CSA produce. In the process, I got off track myself because I don’t like to prepare two or three different dinners.

I can’t blame Deborah for those 3 pounds. My body is just trying really hard to get fat again. There is no such thing as a weight-maintenance diet for me. It is lose or gain and I’m gaining, fast. Gotta go back to losing.

But first we are getting together with my brothers and spouses this weekend in North Dakota. Most of us struggle with the weight thing but I don’t see us getting together to go on long walks. We will eat together (all healthy food of course) and sit around talking and laughing and arguing. I’ll probably pack on another pound because that’s just the way it is. A good time will be had by all.

Getting back on the bike


My neglected Bianchi

Last year after I suffered a pulmonary embolism I got scared and fat.

Or you could say I lost confidence in my body and one result was that I gained weight.

Ironically, my lungs were found to be riddled with blood clots just weeks after I had achieved a major (for me) athletic goal: I had trained for months and then biked 100 miles one chilly, rainy September day. Actually 106.3 miles.

The health crisis had nothing to do with biking but it knocked the wind out of my sails. I had been all set to buy a new bike in the spring of 2012 and get even more serious about cycling. But all that conditioning—which certainly helped me through the crisis—began leaking away in the 8 days I spent in the hospital at the end of 2011. My energy was at a low ebb by this time last year.

On top of that I was put on blood thinners for the rest of my life because I have a genetic condition that makes me susceptible to clots, and I began to worry about bleeding. You always take a few spills when you are getting used to a new bike and clipless pedals. What if I were biking alone and fell and got a concussion and bled to death before anybody found me?

I didn’t buy a new bike in 2012, nor did I get on my old one. Not once.

I told myself all kinds of stories to justify not biking. I wasn’t ready for a new bike. It was a rainy, weird-weather spring, hard to get on the bike for those 5 consecutive days you need at the start of the season to toughen up your butt. The summer was too hot. I made trips to Congo in May and July.

All that was true, but it is also true that I had lost confidence in my body. I lost confidence in my ability to prevent a fall or recover from it. I lost confidence in my strength and energy. I had long since lost confidence in my ability to control my weight. And my body responded to my lowered expectations. I lost strength and energy, gained weight, and moved with less grace.

I believe my recent bout with back pain was partly a result of this loss of confidence in my physical self. My back had become the repository of all my doubts, insecurities, and fears. Even though I had already begun to reverse the weight gain and energy decline, my back was throwing one last spasm of grief and protest against all the vicissitudes of life as a mortal being. It was at its worst in early December, around the anniversary of the pulmonary embolism.

And then it recovered. I am writing this to celebrate my mortal body, now 68 years old. It is leaner, stronger, more energetic than it was a year ago. I am grateful for my physical presence in this world.

My body will take me on adventures this year. Maybe some of them on a bike. Maybe a new one.

Weight loss and violence

The dream I’m going to report is not pretty. But it is instructive on a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time: my split food personality and how it relates to gaining and losing weight.

I have known that rats are in the house but I’d rather not think about them. Then I see one. It is slow and fat so Lalo-cat is able to pounce on it but I can see he isn’t going to kill it. So I stomp on it with my foot and hold it down, looking for something to kill it with. There is rubble around. I try whopping it with a stick but that isn’t going to work. Then I drop chunks of concrete on its head, my foot still holding down the fat body. That doesn’t work well either. But by the end of the dream the rat is looking sorrier and sorrier, maybe dying a slow death.

I was totally baffled by this dream until my spiritual director read it back to me and asked me to think about the rat as myself. Oh yeah. “Slow and fat.” “Fat body.” That’s the Fatty in me, the one I have been calling “Stuffer.” I had really been hoping to do away with Stuffer once and for all. This dream is about my latest effort to lose weight.

Over the years I have learned to know Stuffer quite well. Stuffer lives in my mouth, not in my stomach. Stuffer gets hungry but not the way the stomach gets hungry. She is tuned into my emotions, not my body. She gets hungry for stimulation when she is bored, company when she is lonely, consolation when she is upset, celebration when she is happy, calm when she is stressed, energy when she is tired. Stuffer tends to address all these needs with food (and drink), although most have nothing to do with food.

Certain foods are especially pleasing to Stuffer-in-the-Mouth. Although she enjoys a hit of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting now and then, she is basically a salty-fatty girl, not a sweets craver. Cheese and crackers, chips and dips, KFC—oh my.

Because Stuffer lives in my mouth she tends to ignore the signals of the stomach until too late. Stuffer has a lot of problems with heartburn.

Stuffer is not only hungry in all these ways; she is also afraid of being hungry. She fears not getting enough to eat so she hesitates to share a restaurant meal. At home she always has seconds, on principle. She fears going to bed hungry. She snacks all evening.

After many months or years of this, Stuffer gets slow and fat, like that rat.

And I get fed up, literally.

I put my foot down (ouch).

And I switch into Healthy Eater mode: Calorie- or point-counting. Portion control. Lots of fruit and veggies. Yada yada. We all know the drill.

After a few weeks in full-time Healthy Eater mode I have all but forgotten about Stuffer. Gone are the cravings, gone the evening snacking, gone the heartburn. Healthy Eater is tuned into the whole digestive tract, not just the mouth. Healthy Eater is more afraid of feeling too full than of going to bed hungry. She looks with horror on large plates of foods glopped with cheesy fat. Because of body awareness, Healthy Eater does a pretty good job of separating emotional ups and downs from eating. She eats when she is hungry and is grateful to be satisfied and no more.

And thus, the Stuffer pounds begin to drop away.

What happens, of course, is a shift in body chemistry as well as body awareness. When you wean yourself off of carby-fatty excess you influence that complex set of hormone signals that suggests what you want to eat, how much, and when. Willpower is involved at the beginning but the need for willpower tapers off as the hormones do their thing. And sometimes the shift is sudden, like flipping a switch. That is very cool. This happened for me on that 3-day juice fast that launched this latest weight-loss campaign, which is progressing nicely and gradually as I continue in Healthy Eater mode, with the Weight Watcher point system keeping me honest.

But my dream was showing me something else that I hadn’t realized before. Which is that all of this involves quite a lot of self-loathing. And that includes both personalities.

While I like being Healthy Eater, I don’t much like her. She is a bit of a weenie, self-righteous and judgmental; a foodie know-it-all who can’t understand why anyone would want to eat those plates piled with cheesy fried stuff; a thinning person who feels superior to all the fatties she sees around her.

And I really don’t like Stuffer. I find her disgusting and pathetic. I want to get rid of her. I, in Healthy Eater mode, would like to hold her down and drop things on her head. Like that poor chubby rat.

Whew. The violent aspect of weight loss?

I resolved to try to make Healthy Eater a little kinder. Try a little tenderness with Stuffer, who is, after all, an emotional gal.

This week at a local restaurant Healthy Eater allowed Stuffer a piece of raspberry cream pie after choosing the chicken noodle soup for herself (both agreed that neither was that good). We have stocked up on treats: Hummus to glop on thin crackers. Dove Promises (dark chocolate, 1 point apiece). Mixed nuts (good protein with the salt and fat). Weight Watchers big latte bars. And Stuffer’s favorite, popcorn—nutrient-free but harmless.

Tonight, while the husband is still out of town, dinner will be a judicious, point-controlled assortment of snacks.