I just ate a small coconut ice cream cone. And now my stomach hurts. Which makes me think of a friend.
That didn’t quite come out right, did it? Let’s try again.
My friend is a nutritionist. She has, for as long as I’ve known her (many decades) eaten like a rabbit. A vegetarian, she does not touch eggs, chocolate, processed sugar of any kind, simple carbs—I could go on, but I’ll spare you. She is the picture of health. Fit, radiant—a triathlete and long-distance biker/runner who scales mountains like you climb the stairs to go to bed.
And no, I don’t hate her. You can, I guess. You don’t know her. Go ahead. Get catty. I won’t tell.
She asked, several weeks ago, why I thought it was so hard for people to eat healthy. “It’s so simple. I just don’t get it,” she complained. “You pick up a carrot instead of a cupcake.”
I did not mention to her that she has a food addiction, just to healthy foods. She is as obsessed with crudités as most people are about chocolate chip cookies. There are no exceptions. Ever. Not a single cheat ever. And her workouts? They also satisfy a compulsion for her. She is no less compulsive than most overweight folks. They just channel their compulsion into food while she channels her compulsion into more “socially acceptable” things. Is it normal to do a 20-mile bike ride with a fever? I rest my case.
Regardless of her issues, the rest of us need to be cut a little slack. The honey ginger salmon and kimchi I had for dinner? That brave effort was overshadowed by the coconut ice cream cone, despite my best intentions.
It’s NEVER about just the food (unless you’re talking about homemade pasta and crusty bread—then, it really is about the food. It’s too damn good to pass up). If it were simply about the food, we’d alter kale to taste better and be done with it.
As someone who has never struggled with her weight, I am now facing a thyroid that is behaving badly. The result has been (gulp) a 25-pound weight gain over the past two years on my not so towering frame. For the first time in my life, no matter what I seem to do, food seems out to get me.
I hate it.
I’ve always been able to eat what I want, when I want, with no consequences. I was tiny for most of my life. And while I did not eat unhealthily, for the most part, I did not worry about dessert after dinner or cheese on my appetizer.
As my body seems to betray me, I’ve had to take a hard look at why it bothers me so much to forego some of my favorites. Other than my natural hedonistic tendencies (see here), I’ve determined that eating is sometimes about how I feel. This, coming from a girl who knew, as she watched her father down a half gallon of chocolate almond ice cream, that it had been a less than pleasant workday for him. And could not understand why the ice cream made him feel better.
Truth is, it didn’t. Two heart attacks later, he was still struggling with a love of food and the sense that it was a reward. When the boss is inconsiderate, your daughters are acting up, your wife loses herself in her work and your life is not what you thought it would be—chocolate almond ice cream just sits there and lets you do what you want with it. It fills a void for a while, at least.
My own food habits did not become apparent until they mattered to my weight and overall health. Let’s see—there was breakup #1, which resulted in a Gilmore Girls marathon and too many bacon cheese fries. Breakup #2 was more of a wine-and-cheese affair that went well with too many episodes of Mozart in the Jungle. I’m avoiding my next relationship and the potential for Breakup #3 because I see pasta as the sure winner—and am just not sure what Netflix show pairs with that.
Do I exaggerate? Perhaps a bit. But as a divorced working mother of two boys, as a head of household who supports a family and works a lot of hours—there are many “chop wood, carry water” days. Days in which deadlines come and go in a blur, boys are cranky and ungrateful, client egos must be massaged. Days in which little ‘ole me feels she is supporting the picture, but not really in it. Not even as an extra.
Food can then be an easy “reward.” In a world where little is controllable, what you put in your mouth is your choice. And on the tough days, you want those meals to be GOOD, dammit. Good not necessarily meaning healthy. Just something that satisfies a craving to treat yourself.
Here’s the silver lining. I recently wrote about the changes I’m making in diet for my overall health, given my thyroiditis. And those of you who read me often know I’m a seeker, so it will come as no surprise that I’ve found food does not really cure what ails me. Oh, it can probably cure my body. It just can’t fill the void at the end of a long day that has nothing to do with calories or taste.
The coconut ice cream may have been channeling my father after a long day, but it no longer works. All I walked away with was the realization that dairy really does upset my stomach. Did it taste good enough to “reward” me? Not really.
What rewarded me at the end of this long day was the soothing scent of diffused essential oils in my bedroom. A comforting bath. A heartwarming book. The sound of my dog’s snoring and my son’s singing in the shower.
And, if I must admit it, the scale. Two pounds down. Not much. But perhaps my body will work with me again—forgive me my past sins—if I show it I’m approaching food in an enlightened manner.
I will not pick up the carrots versus the cupcake every day. But somehow, I think that’s ok. Compulsion in any form—even a healthy one—no longer attracts me. Sanity lies in the balance.
In the meantime, hand me a cupcake—dammit, I mean a carrot—won’t you?