How Best to Love a Body

bannanaI stepped into winter in jeans that fit perfectly. They did not require a belt, but they had just the right amount of give. These jeans were, in fact, the best fitting pair of pants I’ve ever owned.

Now, on the other side of winter, these jeans are uncomfortably tight. In fact, all of my pants that once had give are now uncomfortably tight. And so it’s time to address the situation and choose a strategy. But I get stuck, tangled in the fine line that separates self-care and self-deprivation. Sometimes it seems less like a line and more like a web.

The way I see it now, I have three options:

Option 1: Buy new pants. I ask myself if this would be the most self-loving choice. After all, I’m pushing forty. I can’t hang onto my current pant size forever. Twice already in my life I’ve had to pack away clothes I know will never again fit me. I expect this will happen again and again and again if I am lucky enough to live to be old. So the answer might have been, yes, self-love = new pants, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been neglecting nutrition. Over the winter I’ve fallen deeper and deeper into the rut of pasta and bread. When I gaze into my refrigerator, I pack a lunch of what I have, and often this simply looks like two tamales, a hard-boiled egg, and some crackers. Nothing green, or orange, or red. With this in mind, I’m not ready to give up on my pants just yet.

Option 2: Give up things. Two years ago I gave up gluten and dairy and then spent a long summer living in the mountains. In the photos I look lean and tan, and I remember how my ailments stopped ailing me. I consider cutting wheat and dairy out of my diet today, and I think also about what it would mean to eat no sugar. As in none. Not just no pastries, no candy, but also no Thai food, no ketchup, no honey in tea. I don’t think of myself as someone with a sweet tooth, and yet I get the feeling that this would be a revolution for my body. My appetite would be ruled by hunger, not cravings.

And so I’ve been weighing this option, and watching myself eat. I’ve been noticing how I do things like eat extra helpings at dinner to make up for the fact that I’m not sitting down. Or I notice how after lunch I still feel frantically hungry, but that if I keep eating I slip into a  food coma. These observations have led me to my third option.

Option 3: Eat mindfully. In preparation for maybe giving up sugar, I’ve been eating less sugar. In preparation for maybe giving up dairy and gluten, I’ve been eating less dairy and gluten.

The other day, on the back of a cereal box, I finally paid attention to that healthy plate graphic which I think has replaced the old graphic of the food pyramid. I rarely pay mind to the government’s suggestions for my health–I like to think that I’m too savvy for that, or at least too much of a hippy–and so this was the first time I really looked at it. Half of the plate was staked out for fruits and vegetables, a quarter of it for grains, quarter for proteins.

Half of the plate was for fruits and vegetables. Michelle Obama is totally right. What the hell have I been doing?


I read somewhere recently that you crave what you eat, meaning that your body adjusts to your eating habits and adapts its demands accordingly. And so I’ve been making every meal with that Michelle Obama plate in mind, trying to work towards 50%, trying to train my cravings. Though I’ve never been fond of bananas, I’ve been trying to talk myself into them. They seem like a kind thing to put into my body at ten a.m.—better than Cliff bar or a donut.

Oh, a banana, I tell myself as if it’s the kind of thing I’ve always liked. And then I think about how maybe it will help me feel full without feeling heavy, how it will move through my system leaving behind only energy and potassium. Oh, a banana, I tell myself with every bite, and I’m starting to believe myself that I like it.


  1. Very astute! This year I’m trying something new for my return from deep winter overeating, which is using one of those wearable devices that count your steps, allow you to monitor your sleep patterns, and make it easy to log the foods you eat on a computer or smartphone. I’m using a Fitbit Flex and. love it. I’m very motivated by aesthetic things like color and graphic design, so the bright colors of the user interface energize me.

    • I’m intrigued by those FitBits. I’m kind of obsessive about numbers, so maybe it would inspire me to top my own records. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • You’re welcome. Another thing I like about the Fitbit is that each day is just a single point in the picture. Yesterday we had family over for dinner and I ate a special meal with loads of fat. But today, I’m back on track, and yesterday is just one blue line on a bar graph. It’s higher than the other blue lines, but it’s not overwhelming.

  2. Haha I’ve also been holding on to pants specifically to lose the weight rather than giving in to the unhealthy lifestyle. I don’t like option 1. Sure… later on in life perhaps. But while I have option 2 & 3, I should take advantage of them. Getting bigger from eating more and exercising less is something we can help. I’m almost 2 weeks in to a big diet and exercise change and although I don’t see the difference in the mirror yet, I feel it in my body in a positive way. Best of luck with your efforts, I hope you’ll be feeling great in those pants soon!

    • Thanks for the encouragement! Yes, I think pants are such a useful motivator. When they’re tight I get that reminder all day long to move more and eat mindfully.

  3. I’m very proud to say that my family eats healthy. We’re slender people in a notoriously obese city, and we get noticed for it. I receive comments about the lunches I pack, and though I think of my diet as normal, I like to go the extra mile when I pack because I get noticed. Some food for thought.
    You should try fried bananas once. I use real butter when I can, but you don’t have to. You can try olive oil or margarine. Just grease the pan and cook the slices until browned on medium heat. You’ll like bananas after that 😉

      • I used to microwave bananas in the Watertown kitchen when I was at Mass Art. No butter needed. It was surprisingly satisfying, and I’m not the biggest banana fan either.

  4. That plate is a great visual — so different from how most of us eat, so far removed from restaurant meals. I’m 50 and can’t count the number of pants I have in varying sizes. I’m glad I kept them, though, because now I’m shrinking!

  5. I enjoyed this post, and it got me to look more closely at The Plate. Is that a rib-eye in the protein section? How about beans, soy or any of the other plentiful protein options that don’t also come with the worst kind of fat? From your description, I think it would be a lot harder to cut out sugar than meat — practically speaking. You can get your protein from other protein-rich foods, including some grains and vegetables, be good not only to your own body, but to animals and the environment at the same time. I’m really not a proselytizer. It’s just another option. And you can still cut back on sugar, if you need to.

    • Now that you mention it, that rib-eye is kind of hilarious (er, ridiculous) isn’t it? And that’s a good reminder about meat–though I try to eat very little processed meat, I think that’s crept into my diet more than I’ve really acknowledged.

  6. I’m old enough to have given away the smaller size pants and moved up quite a bit, but still liking Michelle Obama’s graphic and will pay more attention to it. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and move back down to a size 14, or maybe not, but I’ll feel better, I know that.

  7. I have found it to be much healthier (mentally and physically) for me to focus on adding more fruits and veggies like you are doing instead of trying to cut sugar or other foods. And after a while, my taste buds really have changed a great deal. I crave things like collard greens, cantaloupe, turnips, salad etc. The key (and the hard part) has been making time to cook a variety of different vegetables in a variety of ways so that I stay interested. I think a lot of people give up on veggies and diets because all they know to eat is steamed broccoli (that used to be me!) Learning new recipes and always loading up on veggie heavy recipes has been a game changer for me.

  8. I realize that we have to accept we will never be 22 again but I sort of resent when people tell me to accept my “new normal.” No. No thank you. I guess the reason I resent it is that when people were saying that to me I wasn’t doing too much to take care of myself. I was eating too much junk and I wasn’t moving my body. So no sorry- that is not going to be my new normal. I think as women we have and as feminists we can sometimes have a difficult or conflicted relationship to wanting to change our bodies. So conflicted that we can actually have it backfire and them we neglect them. So I want to be clear-love my body as it is- I still feel sexy-but yes I also want to be more svelte and more fit. I noticed that you didn’t mention exercise in your list of options about your pant size. I highly recommend it. Something that makes you feel powerful and something that makes you sweat. I love your thoughtfulness around these issues. Your blog is great.

    • Yes, you describe that conflict so well. I think that is exactly why I’m often torn about how to approach any change in my body that I want to enact. And yes also to exercise. Food feels like the easiest place to start, but I know I’d feel great if I could move more.

  9. This is what goes on in my head Jenn- I’ve been thinking a lot about my own diet and how I’ve had a love/hate relationship with food– there is a definite disconnect for me happening. A few years ago I went on a sugar cleanse to see if I could and it changed my life. But after that I would eat according to what I thought would keep me lean as opposed to what my body wants/needs. Lately I’ve been exploring what would I enjoy eating and what can I eat that I won’t feel bad about eating later- more mindfulness, as you say. Thanks for beautifully, as always, tracking your inner life and sharing.

    • Yes, I think that sense of self-deprivation I get when giving something up entirely is one of the things that makes eating and body image so complex for me. So far, limiting sugar is feeling great. I’ve got no rule that I can’t ever eat a cupcake, but so far I haven’t needed to.

  10. when i was about ten my mom and my step dad started puting me on diets and excersize plans – they called me Baby huey- a cartoon character who was a big fat duck! I began to wear over sized clothes to cover my body and hide my face behind my long thick hair. I learned to think of myself as fat and ugly. The image stuck with me sadly – tho I was a pretty young girl – tomboy. When I got older I just got angry at this idea of image and what girls are supose to look and be! So I eat real food and incorporated excersize into my life style – bicycling! It’s toughest for girls I think so i just decided ignore all that and just go out and have some grand adventures! Food Is a blessed,beautifull and wonderful thing! It’s how we celebrate and sustain life It brings us together – and to balence it out we just need to get out on the floor and dance our asses off!!

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