Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What the Big Girl Eats

As I type this, I sit surrounded by boxes of Girl Scouts cookies waiting to be delivered to my daughter's customers. The dining room in our big old condo is so large that it also doubles as my office, and our temp storage area for items like thin mints and samoas. I'm not 100% sure what they were doing in dining rooms in 1915, but I know it required some elbow room. It also required servants, if the maid's quarters that we have converted into our daughter's bedroom and bathroom are an accurate indication. My 2014 lifestyle does not require this much dining space, but I'd be willing to try a live-in housekeeper, you know, as an exercise in historical exploration.

When it is cold and you are stuck in the house a lot, slow-cooking, braising, and baking become not just a way of making meals, they become a participatory activity. If I were asked what the best thing a new cook could learn would be, I would probably say how to braise an inexpensive cut of meat. It's so forgiving, and so tasty, it would give the brand new cook the confidence to roast a chicken, or root vegetables, and eventually to sauté. If I were running my own home-cookery course in this climate, I would start it in January, and give everyone a pork shoulder, a good dutch oven, and 5-8 hours of cocoa-drinking and novel-reading while dinner turns into its succulent self without much work at all. Then I'd charge money for all the knowledge I was imparting, and drink some cocoa myself, and maybe bake another batch of cookies with my daughter, claiming that we were using the time to practice fractions.

With the rare winter we are having—so many days below freezing, so many days of snow and difficult driving—the amount of melted interstitial fat in our diet has gone up to epic levels. Even though my brain says stew-soup-slowcooked meaty goodness, my brain is starting to say salad, please God, give me a salad. When I eat salad, it tastes exactly like one would imagine it would in six-degree weather: refreshing, but not appropriate.

I mentioned last week that one of my goals was to revert back to more fruits and vegetables for snack around here, and that was a minor success. Grapes were tasty to the kiddo while I was eating them, too; when asked for as a snack the next day, they were left out in a bowl that I did not see until they were semi-raisined a day later. Apples are happy snacks when accompanied by peanut butter; they are "brownish" and "not quite right" without the protein punch for dipping. And while I munch very happily on pickled veggies—cucumbers, asparagus, mushrooms—the kiddo will try each once, tell me, "That's pretty tasty!" then reject them at every additional offering.

It will be a wonder if we make it to March without developing scurvy or rickets. That's right, we'll be the ones suffering from something Mayflower passengers called common.

I've been paying more attention to my eating as of late, not just because of all the time cooking, and all the time at home in the blessed kitchen (where is that 1915 housekeeper again?), but because I have been feeling yucky. Dizzy. Uneasy. Not myself. I'm going to attribute it (as I do every year) to the February blahs, but it requires attention and a dietary kick-start. As a certified obese person (You didn't know there was a certificate program? Oh yes, everything comes with a certificate these days!), a large percentage of my life typically surrounds thinking about food. The process of becoming fat, as every late-night comedian would suggest, isn't simply because I eat all of the time. ("Those fat people! They are hilarious! They just shovel food into their faces like giant out-of-control disasters! It is the funniest!")

If only it were that easy. When my obesity-related symptoms are raging, a whole range of dietary stuff goes haywire. Sometimes I barely eat. Sometimes all I eat is junk. Sometimes I eat way too much of the healthy stuff. Sometimes I go hours and hours without eating, other times, I can't seem to stop myself every 15 minutes. When I am not eating, though, a good chunk of head-space involves worrying about what will happen when I must eat, or what might happen if someone sees me eat, or sees me pick out a meal for myself. Will it be healthy? Will they think me unhealthy? Will I become a joke for them moments later? 

That is the disease, it is not a disease of eating, it is a disease of thinking, with eating (or starving) as its coping mechanism. 

I posted yesterday about my busy mind, and my sweet aunt told me I needed to do meditation. I do! When I let her know that, she told me I must need more, and I laughed. The truth is, despite years of yoga, I really learned meditation during a clinical trial to help me deal with—you guessed it—obesity. Counting calories only makes the thinking worse, but mindfulness, being present, getting centered in the body, breathing—that's the stuff that helps make the thinking, thinking, thinking quiet enough to make the eating something not so scary.

So it is not without fear, trepidation, and a healthy dose of dread, that I approach examining my personal diet (again) because I am feeling crummy. I have a referral for a new nutritionist, and I am working not to be defeatist or cynical before approaching that appointment.

I'm inspired to eat more consciously because I know it can change me, and I know it is the best model for my daughter. She's a great eater, a fan of healthy foods and eating the rainbow (as the First Lady would encourage), and not one to overindulge, but she is just as likely as the rest of us to get the February blahs, and want baked goods in lieu of carrots. If I don't keep eating those carrots with her, what hope does she have? If I just skip meals and snacks, or then eat crunchy/crispy/vacant food to fill up that void, what does that show her? I only want her vibrant health and good eating habits to continue; doing the right things is the only way to prove my conviction.

With that, as we approach temperatures at freezing as a warm up—wrap your brain around that, approaching freezing is WARMING UP here—I will continue to do the things that feel unnatural: have a meal schedule, have healthy foods stock our pantry and fridge, have choices that support our healthy family. I don't have to always like it, and I don't have to decide that I really think that lettuce tastes like potato chips, or that eating at regular intervals is what I would prefer. When my obesity does the talking, it says, "Let's hide out and eat whenever we want whenever we want it, let's skip meals for days, then only eat salty meats and rich dairy, let's use the feelings of hunger and fullness to drown out the thinking." When I do the talking, I say, "Salad, with a little goat cheese and some nuts, please."

I also say, "Can we get these thin mints out of here, already?"


  1. Interesting. If I start feeling dizzy, uneasy, not myself, it would never occur to me to change my diet. Not saying that's the wrong approach, just saying I would never think to blame that. I think when I feel that way I blame stress, and I would probably attribute it to not being able to get out and exercise in the fresh air. Which I guess is another way of saying February blahs.

  2. I hear you and I feel you. I'm learning as my daughter gets older that I am what I eat, and she is what I eat. She sees me eating a cookie, and guess what? She wants a cookie. Winter has always been the hardest time for me, eating-wise. There are the natural cravings that one has - the hearty stews, foods that are warm and filling - but there's also the bit of SAD I get each winter. And oh, this winter has been tough for that - and you have had it much worse than we have, weather-wise. Hang in there, and keep on trucking on. Good luck with the new nutritionist, too!