food

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?

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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.

Biscuits and Gravy and Other Small Comforts

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My partner just got home this week after working in California for a month. A month is a long time—long enough that I had to try to remember what it was actually like to have her around, and that was an eerie feeling.

In general, when Kellie’s gone I revel in the space she’s left behind for the first two nights. Some of that is literal—the half of the bed she usually occupies is very useful to me when it’s empty. But also it’s sometimes nice to have one less personality since we’re a family of four strong-willed humans in a 900-square-foot house. But always, by day five, chaos descends. All of a sudden, the trash needs to go out, the chickens need water, the dogs are out of food, there are dirty dishes and crumbs on every surface, and everywhere I go I step on a Lego or trip on whatever kitchen implement the baby was playing with. Since Kellie was gone for over a month, there were at least twenty-six days like that.

When Kellie came home, she cleaned the house. She mowed the lawn. She changed the sheets on the bed. And then on Tuesday, while I was at work, she called me from the grocery store. “What do we need?” she asked, and I told her if she picked up a roll of biscuit dough I’d make biscuits and gravy. Oh, and wine. Couldn’t she stop by our local wine store on the way home and ask Jim, the owner, what was good for less than ten dollars? (As much as I would have liked a glass of wine during the month that Kellie was gone, there were no casual trips to The Wine Loft.)

That evening my son came home from preschool with a model helicopter kit, which he was intent on building immediately. I chopped mushrooms while Kellie uncorked the wine. The baby was up to his usual business of finding order and disassembling it. My son was having trouble with gluing the propeller, so he let out a whine, and Kellie immediately sat at the table with him. They finished the model together. I was amazed by how functional we were all of a sudden.

Had it been a week earlier, I would have panicked the moment my son unpacked the helicopter kit. He would have started the model, cried when he got to his sticking point, and we would have escalated from there. It would have ended with me packing up the kit while he screamed. By then, the baby would have been screaming too, and the entire kitchen would have been in disarray: floors, sink, counters. We all would have been hungry, and tired, and nowhere close to eating.

As it turned out, this particular evening wasn’t perfect. We were out of tahini, which is an essential ingredient in my mushroom gravy. I threw extra nutritional yeast in to compensate, but it wasn’t as creamy. But it didn’t matter. The biscuits were warm, the gravy was salty, and we had a ten dollar bottle of wine and a finished model helicopter.

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If you look closely, you’ll see the helicopter.

Kale’s Opposite: In Praise of Pigs in Blankets

ImageI live in a community where, at any given potluck, you can count on finding no less than three varieties of quinoa salad along with several dishes that feature kale. We take our kale seriously, and did so even before it was fashionable. We know the difference between Lacinato Kale, Red Russian Kale, and the more common Curly Kale; we know which kind works best for a kale salad, and can identify on sight whether our kale has been locally grown or shipped from California. Though I am always happy to pile my plate with these healthy offerings, I will sheepishly admit that, for me, part of the fun of a potluck is trying to get away with something. I prepare for a potluck with two goals in mind: 1. To bring something my kids might actually eat. 2. To put less effort into the potluck dish than I would into a regular evening’s dinner.

As it turns out, my favorite solution is an hors d’oeuvre that is as far from kale as possible: pigs in blankets. Though this food seems to make many adults wax nostalgic, they were not a feature of my childhood. We were deviled egg people. I didn’t discover pigs in blankets until a few years ago when a friend of mine brought them to a party and all of the guests wolfed them down before they’d even had a chance to cool properly. I will share with you now her method.

1. Mix some mustard with some honey.

2. You will need two packages of crescent roll dough and one package of refrigerator mini-sausages. My friend uses li’l smokies. Those are good. I like Aidell’s chicken sausages, mainly because when I say “pigs in blankets” I want my “pigs” to be figurative, not literal.

3. Lay out the dough and cut each triangle in half. Each piece of dough gets a nice little spot of honey mustard and one mini sausage. Toddlers and preschoolers are really good at rolling them up.

4. Bake them before you leave, or, if you can cook them off at the potluck that adds to the dramatic effect and anticipation.

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As an example of how ubiquitously loved they are, I offer you this: I have a good friend who swears by her organic whole foods diet. Her skin is radiant. She bikes everywhere and drinks kale smoothies. She’s fifty-two, but if you just met her you’d probably guess she’s thirty-six. In general, if anyone offers her food, she wants to know what’s in it and where it came from. More than half of the time, she’ll politely decline. But let me tell you something: she will eat my pigs in blankets. She does not ask me what is in them. The reason is pretty obvious, I think. Who knows what’s in those crescent rolls? She knows that if she knew, she would not eat them and they are too good not to eat.

So it goes with the rest of my community. My pigs-in-blankets offering sits happily on nearly every plate between the quinoa, the kale, and the beets. No one asks me what’s in them or looks at me askance. I like to think they’re all secretly happy to eat something with zero grams of dietary fiber. Oh, and one more thing: by the end of the evening, the pigs are always gone.

Image credit, actual pig in blanket: cutepicturesite.com

Like Christmas in January: Four Day Enchiladas

When I was a pre-teen, my mother once suggested that we should celebrate Christmas in early January. We could grab a tree from someone’s trash and buy all of our gifts on sale. At the time I must have given her a look like she was deranged, but as an adult, I think she was onto something.

One of my favorite things in the world is when I am rewarded for my own laziness, like when a friend returns my favorite scarf a week after I left it at her house. I may have had vague notions that it was missing but hadn’t taken the trouble to look for it yet, and now here it is, returned before I’ve bothered to worry. This is so much better than the alternative, which is also possible in my world: tearing apart my entire house looking for the scarf, driving myself crazy and checking every place multiple times.

My laziness was again rewarded this week when I planned to make enchiladas but wound up, due to my own lack of motivation, with a series of dinners that progressively led to enchiladas and fed my family for three nights, with enchiladas to spare for future lunches.

Day 1: Soaked beans. Went shopping for chicken thighs, tortillas, and canned enchilada sauce. Ate sandwiches for dinner.

Day 2: Put beans in slow cooker in the morning. By afternoon, decided I was too tired to deal with chicken—all that rinsing and dealing with a wet and stinky package. Resorted to standby meal: beans wrapped in a flour tortilla with sour cream. Bonus: the five-year-old was willing to eat that.

Day 3: Put off dealing with chicken until the end of the day. At 5:30 pm, realized that we could just eat chicken for dinner. Threw a few pre-cut veggies in the pan for good measure and made some white rice.

Day 4: Finally, enchiladas. Assembly took twenty minutes because all ingredients were ready. Remembered a lazy and useful trick: layer tortillas with the other ingredients rather than rolling them into individual enchiladas. Voila: enchilada casserole.

ImageIf I were ever to write a cookbook, I would title it “Put an Egg on it” because that’s pretty much my cooking philosophy. Most dishes are improved when topped with a fried egg.

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In the case of this enchilada casserole, once it comes out of the oven you’ve got ten minutes to kill and if you’re like me you’re antsy, so you might as well fry an egg.

ImageTo be honest, these weren’t the best enchiladas ever. But consider how disappointing that would have been if I had slaved away on them for an entire day. By now, the enchilada casserole had become a fancy way of serving leftovers, and on those terms it was a success.

The Word of the Day is: Uh-oh

I think that “Uh-oh” must be every baby’s fifth word. It’s easy to say and they hear it so often—when they drop food from their high chair, when they scramble for the Legos on the floor, when they attempt to climb out of the bathtub. Uh-oh.

My baby learned this word yesterday, but he doesn’t quite get the proper usage yet. To him, uh-oh is a conversation starter. We’ve been passing it back and forth all day. He climbed on top of the storage bin and announced himself: uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh. He pushed open the door to his brother’s room: uh-oh. He’s uses uh-oh to unwittingly announce his misbehaviors because to him uh-oh has nothing to do with accidents, it’s just something we say when he’s in the midst of doing something really, really fun, like dumping a box of cereal all over the floor.

Image(Our first uh-oh of the day. Sorry this shot was blurry; I was tired. After taking this, I noticed that my older son is acting equally crazy in the background, and there’s a plastic guy on the floor along with the rejected food.)

In Response to Maria Kang’s ‘Apology’: Moms Need to Eat

ImageSo, I may be coming into this discussion a little late, but I recently started reading about Maria Kang. She’s the one who posted the above image on Facebook. After it went viral, she posted what she called her “First and Final Apology”, addressed to her so-called “haters”. I’ve included it below.

I’ve been getting an influx of new followers, emails and comments (on my profile pic) recently. Some saying I’m a bully, I’m fat-shaming and I need to apologize for the hurt I’ve caused women. I get it. SO here’s my First and Final Apology:

I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way. I won’t go into details that I struggled with my genetics, had an eating disorder, work full time owning two business’, have no nanny, am not naturally skinny and do not work as a personal trainer. I won’t even mention how I didn’t give into cravings for ice cream, french fries or chocolate while pregnant or use my growing belly as an excuse to be inactive.

What I WILL say is this. What you interpret is not MY fault. It’s Yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to OWN the thoughts that come out of your own head. I didn’t create them. You created them. So if you want to continue ‘hating’ this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life. You can either blame, complain or obtain a new level of thought by challenging the negative words that come out of your own brain.

With that said, obesity and those who struggle with health-related diseases is literally a ‘bigger’ issue than this photo. Maybe it’s time we stop tip-toeing around people’s feelings and get to the point. So What’s Your Excuse?

(Here’s the original post on Facebook.)

First of all, um, that is not an apology.

Instead of apologizing, Kang is basically claiming that anything offensive we might see in this image reflects our own self-loathing and has nothing to with her message or the image itself.

Maria Kang, you are acting as if you posted an inkblot and inside that inkblot we saw the darkness of our own souls.

But that is not accurate. You posted an image with a clear message. The clarity of that message is what makes it effective. It’s what made it go viral and no doubt jump-start your career. Here’s what the image + words say to me:  

  1. You are incredibly fit and incredibly thin.
  2. You are a mother of three.
  3. Because you are incredibly fit and incredibly thin, and a mother of three, other women have no excuse to not be similarly fit and thin.

A and B are fine, but C has some implications that offend me.

C implies that if my body doesn’t look like yours, I need an excuse; I need to defend myself, to ask forgiveness. Why? Is it my job to be small, to take up as little room as possible? Is it my responsibility to be as beautiful as humanly possible at any cost? For whom?

C also implies that no excuse that I can offer is valid. It suggests that your body, as pictured in the photo, is an achievable goal for most women. The discussions I’ve seen online reveal that plenty of people share the view that all women could achieve that level of thinness without significant risk to their health. (When I look over the comments that follow your apology, I note that many of your fans dismiss your critics (you prefer to call them “haters”) as lazy and fat, e.g. on January 19: “FAT ASSES got angry ahaha Keep inspiring people Maria. And keep making fat asses angry. After all it’s a good sign that they get angry although they express it in an un-healthy (again) way by hating on you lol!” ) Beyond that, they assume that thinness itself is a sign of health; the thinner you are, the healthier you are. I question that assumption.

And yet it’s true that my interpretation of your photo reflects more than the image itself and the words you chose to accompany it. It also reflects a lifetime of cultural messaging that my body will not be acceptable until I’ve tamed it, until my legs and underarms are hairless, my stomach is flat, and no part of me jiggles (except of course, my boobs). But I did not “create” this reaction, as you suggest. No, my reaction is the tension between the knowledge that these messages are wrong and the reality that they still have the power to affect me, to make me feel inadequate.

Still, I don’t want to be stuck in that negativity. I want to be free of it. I want to eat until I’m full—healthy delicious food that contains fat, calories, protein, and nutrients. I want to make cookies with my kids AND eat them. I want to run in my tight pants without worrying if my ass looks too big to the people behind me.

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