Friday, July 22, 2011

Returning to Once Abandoned Ancient Practices

I haven't counted calories since I was about 16 years old, back when I knew the calorie count of every food.  I was convinced that life would be better if I was thinner, but I was also interested in food for other reasons too, healthier reasons.  I was a long distance runner, so I knew how the body used calories, how it needed calories.  I aspired to be a vegetarian, so I had done a lot of research, since my mom said I could be a vegetarian as long as I made sure to get enough protein.

Let me pause here to sing the praises of my parents, who did their best to encourage me to be healthy.  I'm in awe of my mom, who encouraged my vegetarianism way back in the early 80's, when vegetarians were kooks and weirdos.  I'm in awe of my parents who encouraged me to cook and ate what I cooked, even when it wasn't as delicious as it could have been.  I'm thinking of one hideous dish out of Recipes for a Small Planet, which featured black beans and yogurt.  But most of my cooking led to tasty meals.  I baked bread and ran 6 miles several days a week and why I thought I was fat I can't imagine.

I'm a North American woman, so of course I thought I was fat.  I remember a high school friend boasting at lunch that she toasted the bread before she made her sandwich because that got rid of 2 calories.  At least we all had the good sense to laugh about that.  But we didn't have the good sense to reject the messages that our society beamed at us constantly, messages that told us we weren't good enough.

So, I counted calories.  And then along the way, I stopped counting calories, and started paying attention to fat grams.  Then it was fiber.  And along the way, periodically, I've been disgusted with all of it and stopped being so rigorous with myself.

And I gain weight.

So, this summer I decided that it was time to lose some weight and get a bit more fit and healthy again.  When my teaching job shifted to an administrator job, I've burned off less and less calories.  I've spent more and more time sitting.  I've eaten more, and as I could afford better wine, I've been drinking liquids that are more calorie dense.  Time for a change!

When my Wellness Center/gym introduced a Weight Loss Challenge package with a special enticement for those of us who are members, I decided that it was too good to refuse.  So, I signed up.  I met with a nutritionist who heard my goals and created a plan.  I met with her 5 weeks later for fine tuning.  I've been working out with trainers.  I've had a weekly weigh in.  I've counted calories to make sure I stay on track.

I've been amazed at how many calories I'd been consuming.  For example, I used to drink several huge mugs of coffee each day.  Each mug had half a cup of skim milk, 3 Tablespoons of sugar, and 1 Tablespoon of cocoa.  Before I even started eating each day, I drank 300 or more calories.  Yikes.

As I've kept track of calories and met goals, I've marvelled at how well this ancient-feeling practice works.  Eat fewer calories than you burn, and you'll lose weight!  Amazing.  I knew that fact, but somewhere along the way, I forgot.

It makes me wonder about other time-honored practices that work, but might have fallen out of favor (for a spiritual spin on this question, see this post on my theology blog).  I've wondered what the implications might be for our creative lives.  What practices have we abandoned?  Did they have some value after all?  Should we experiment with them again?

Perhaps long ago, you read The Artist's Way, and you tried daily pages and writer's dates.  Maybe you kept a paper calendar with goals.  Perhaps you were part of a writer's group which kept you accountable.  Maybe you wrote rough drafts on paper.  Perhaps you spent a lot of money on office supplies.

Maybe if we look to our younger years, we'll remember a time when writing brought us more happiness.  I miss those days when I didn't worry about publication, but I was writing for the sheer joy of it.  I loved to read, so of course I wanted to see if I could make books too.

I think back to my adolescent self, that girl who knew she was different from her classmates, but who carved her own way.  I logged long distances as a runner and cooked the foods I wanted to eat.  Back in the days when you couldn't get artisanal breads in the hinterlands, I made my own.  I planted a garden.

This summer, I've been recovering some of that, resurrecting that girl who sometimes goes underground for awhile.  It makes me wonder what creative practices have gone underground.

I used to write novels in my spare time, and I've rarely had gobs of free time, so my current work life is no excuse.  I used to experiment with cooking a wider variety of cuisines.  I used to write plays, and in my childhood, we performed them.  I used to do more with fiber and fabric.  Once upon a time, I used up paint at quite a pace.

I've kept much of my writing practices that have served me, although they may have morphed into new forms (journaling becomes blogging).  But other creative practices have fed me--maybe it's time to return to them too.

Maybe I'll bake some bread this week-end.  Maybe I'll pull out my paint box and coax pigment back to life.  Maybe I'll be satisfied with my goal of writing one poem a week, and lately, that poem writing has been happening on Saturdays.

I'm not sure what I'll do, but I know I'll do something!


Jim Murdoch said...

When I was young and active I could eat whatever I wanted and my weight never budged. When I fell ill a few years ago my activity slumped and, partly due to the drugs I was on, my weight increased. At my heaviest I was 14st 5lbs which I know is not terribly heavy but I felt heavy. Anyway, once I got better I decided I needed to lose weight and started counting calories, well my wife who was also dieting counted them for me but the point is I became acutely aware of just how many calories could be in small, ostensibly healthy things like yoghurt even. I got down to 12st 7lbs but crept up a little and I try and keep to what my target weight seems to be, 12st 9lbs. It’s not that I don’t have any luxuries but some changes had to be made. I don’t take sugar or milk in my coffee anymore (nor caffeine either) and considering the vast quantities of the stuff I used to sup it makes a real difference; the same for the biscuits that inevitably accompanied said coffees. When I do my sums I find it incredible that I’d never had weight problems far sooner.

My writing practices have changed too. Before I wrote when I could. I’ve always had day-to-day job that took up a lot of my time and so writing was something that got fitted in at the end of the day but despite that I still got a lot done over the years. Now I have a much quieter life, a life that revolves around writing in fact, and yet I do very little creative writing. It’s all blogs, book reviews and comments here and there, things to promote myself and promote my writing (at least that was the grand plan). A part of me though would love to give all this up, forget about being published or even read and just write because that’s what I did in the old days. I wrote things and stuck them in the metaphorical drawer because that was all I had time for. A part of me misses that despite the fact that I now have what I’ve always wanted, a life where people think about me as Jim-the-writer first and foremost, not Jim-who-works-in-the-whatever-place-I-was-working-at-the-time. That’s something. I look in the mirror and I see a writer, a writer who wishes he was younger and a wee bit slimmer, but a writer nevertheless.

Kathleen said...

It IS a random coinciday! I was pondering goals (or my lack thereof) in my blog this morning, too. I should have come here. You are wiser than I ever was!

Hannah Stephenson said...

I think there is a connection between writers and strange/obsessive eating habits, in past or present (maybe it comes from our obsession with process?).

I love this idea of the return to abandoned creative rituals...always worth trying.

Kristin said...

Thanks, everyone, for leaving comments. And Jim, thanks for sharing so much of your story! I find our relationships with food and exercise and creative practice very interesting.