I've had eating on the brain, or not eating. I've been fighting a cold for a week, and often one of the signals that my body is fighting something is that I lose my appetite. Anyone who knows me knows how unusual it is for me to forget to eat or to be listless about it. I'm the type of person who wants every meal to be a festival. When we're done with one, I'm immediately anticipating the next.
When I'm fighting a bug, I think, so, this must be how normal people eat. A simple meal does the trick. If I'm bored or tired, I don't turn to food when I'm fighting a cold. I take a nap. I'd probably have better control over my weight if I had a work life that let me take more naps.
Before my week of cold fighting, I was at Mepkin Abbey, another place which shows me a different way of eating. For more on that, you can read the post I wrote this morning about what the monks can teach us about eating.
Even before my Mepkin trip, I've been more intentional about weight loss since early October (I'm always wishing I could lose weight, but I'm not always as intentional as I need to be to lose weight). There's a group of us at spin class who took a challenge to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks, as we prepare for the holidays. Each Wednesday, we weigh in, something I've never seen as a group activity. I'm surprised at how well this weekly weigh in has been working for me. I want the group to be proud of me, especially my supportive spin instructor. I had always thought that having a weigh in would feel more icky, in a judgmental kind of way.
I just finished Geneen Roth's Women Food and God, a book which I both admired and found irritating. I'd read excerpts, and it sounded really good. But it fell short in terms of ways to really change attitudes. Or at least, I found those portions of the book lacking. I do a very good job of recognizing my hypercritical inner voices. I do a less good job of ignoring those voices, even as I'm knowing that I should banish them from my head.
Here's a paragraph from early in the book, which made me excited about the possibilities of the book: ". . . our relationship to food is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life itself. I believe we are walking, talking expressions of our deepest convictions; everything we believe about love, fear, transformation and God is revealed in how, when, and what we eat" (page 2).
But the book doesn't really talk much about God, so if you're looking for the spiritual angle, this is not the book for you. This quote is about as close as she gets: "To discover what you really believe, pay attention to the way you act--and to what you do when things don't go the way you think they should. Pay attention to what you value. Pay attention to how and on what you spend your time. Your money. And pay attention to the way you eat" (pages 16-17).
Those of you who have been wrestling with weight issues (and likely reading a lot about it) won't find much new here, but much of it bears repeating, like this gem: "Dieting gave me a purpose. Bingeing gave me relief from the relentless attempt to be someone else" (page 23).
I have found that when most other areas of my life are going well, it's easier to eat like a sane, healthy person. When something distresses me, I eat for comfort. I don't eat junk. I eat delicious, calorie dense things I've made myself. So at least I haven't developed a junk food habit through the years. But as I hit midlife, it's really time for me to look for non-caloric ways to comfort myself.
But knowing that trigger isn't enough. I also eat to celebrate. I eat when I'm bored or tired. I love to cook, either by myself or with friends. I eat because I don't want to hurt the feelings of people who have cooked for me.
I'm hoping that this year can be like last year, when I lost weight during the holidays, something which had never happened to me before. I usually gain a few pounds and then some. But last year, I had a hectic schedule, where I was racing from one commitment to the next. I had no time to do my regular, highly caloric holiday baking. Some days, I hardly had time to eat regular meals. And unlike a lot of people, I can't eat and drive, so on the days that I had no time for a meal, I went without. Let's face it, I have plenty of calories stored in reserve. I can miss a meal here or there and not suffer.
I spent much of yesterday thinking about Moby Dick and modern day equivalents. What foolish quests do modern people take on our individual Pequods? What events put us off course?
I've always thought that women become ensnared in weight/image issues and housekeeping issues. I have friends who obsess over their appearance but who won't let anyone see their homes, for fear of letting people see how they've let the house go. I have friends who obsess over cleaning tasks, but make no concessions to fashion (no make up, severe haircuts, clothes that can survive five thousand rounds in the washing machine).
You'd think that the feminist movement would have set us free. I remember once one of my lesbian friends who told me that the joy of being a lesbian was being set free from patriarchal expectations. We both exploded into laughter when I said, "For someone who is set free from patrirachal expectations, you sure do spend a lot of time ironing."
I wish I had some pithy way to end this post, some tried-and-true technique for wrestling our true selves free from the lies our societies have fed us. I do know that awareness is an important first step, and vigilance an important second step. We need to think about what will make us happy on our death beds and what will make us feel regret. I will not feel sad if you cannot eat off my kitchen floor--I have pretty plates for you to use. But I will feel sad if I give up on my writing so that I can mop the floor. I will feel sad if I never invite you over because the house isn't as clean as it could be. The house will never be as clean as it could be, and no amount of effort will change that. We live in the house, after all.
Balance. That's the word I return to again and again. The Mepkin monks seem to have worked that out. Their lives are balanced, with times for worship, time for study, times for work, times for meals, times for sleep. I'd like the abilty to realize sooner when my life has spun out of balance and to correct my trajectory sooner--that's my task for the last half of my life, since I haven't mastered it yet.
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