Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Food, One Day at a Time

In my last posting, I included a breakdown of my nutrition for the day and it turned out I had eaten just under 2000 calories. I received a number of responses telling me this was way too low for me. Yes, I do know that, but this one was single day in the grand scheme of my life. The very next day I ate much of the same, but added soy yogurt and went back to my two, yes, two healthy bowls of cereal before bed. The point of the whole food for a whole day was to see how it would work for a day and to see if it was something I would want to continue in a reasonable manner. I've stuck mostly to it, but I'd say I'm closer to 80 - 90% whole, with some liberties for added calories and purely because there are some foods I just want to eat.

I really enjoyed eating this way. I'm enjoying it now. I like how it makes me feel and the energy I seem to have. My body isn't wasting energy processing processed foods but is efficiently working on simple foods allowing my body to use its energy elsewhere. But I'm not planning to go all crazy on this. If I started eating so little every day, then that's when one should worry. I want to be healthy and continue having a healthy mindset about what I eat. I've been unhealthy about my eating before and I never want to go back there again.

Warning: shit's about to get real. In 2002, I would say I was anorexic. Thankfully, it was a short lived bout, yet it happened. I restricted my calories like I can't even believe now. Currently, I stay between 120-125 pounds. At the time of my anorexia, I was 105...with shoes on. I looked awful and felt awful. I think about my daily diet and can't understand how I even functioned. The place I worked had lots of food in the cupboards and fridge for us to eat, so my intake began there and was well thought out for my entire day. I can still remember it.

Breakfast: 1 Clif or Luna bar, whichever was available and had the fewest calories.

Snack: 1 piece of fruit.

Lunchtime: I would either go for a run or walk to the market and get some fresh dates to eat from a fruit stand and maybe a meringue or some bread at the bakery.

Snack: 1 small bowl of veggies.

Run or work out.

Dinner: I concocted who knows what and always made sure it was less than 400 calories, the lower the better.

Dessert: one small bowl of cereal or a yogurt.

I subsisted on coffee and tea. I used sleeping pills to help me fall asleep through my hunger pains and then got up with coffee and caffeine pills. I was obsessed with food. I could barely think of anything else. I spent hours on the computer looking up recipes and figuring out how to reduce calories and fat grams. I browsed pro-ana sites. I watched Food Network like it was porn. My eyes always felt blurry and glazed. I was weak and tired and cranky. And I thought I liked it. Feeling hungry was a sign of success. That hunger headache meant it was working.

People started saying things to me and I had to come up with excuses. I was fine. I ate more than they knew. I just didn't want to fall into the typical American way of overabundance (as if anorexia was activism). Oddly, guys seemed to enjoy it...or more likely I was dating the wrong guys. Yet even the concern was reinforcement telling me that I was getting skinnier and it was still working.

Then I ran my first marathon. I had no clue what I was doing and so didn't understand the idea of needing to eat during the race...not that it would've made much difference. I doubt I would've let myself consume much. I stuck with water rather than the sports drink because I didn't want the calories. The only thing I ate for the entire 26.2 was a large tootsie roll. I have no idea how I made it through without falling completely apart during it. After I finished, I weighed myself at the gym and was elated to find I was only 103. But then I did start falling apart. I was wasted the entire drive home. I actually did want to eat, but I couldn't. Everything hurt. Food made my stomach cramp and I couldn't digest it and I got sick. Even with my sick sick brain, I knew this wasn't good.

But I continued to try to stick with it for awhile. I ran more and started to actually train for marathoning. I was so tired and absolutely starving. I found myself starting to binge. I would go out only at night to a grocery store and buy big cookies and start eating them on the way home. I would feel so high and dizzy and would want more and would go get more and eat and eat until it felt like the food was all the way up into my throat. I would be so sick the next day and happy to find I didn't even feel like eating. I tried not to follow this pattern because of how guilty I felt when I ate and how sick it always made me feel, but it continued for weeks.

I was miserable. I knew my obsession with food and losing weight had taken over. I wanted to die. One night after going to the gym, I drove home and parked in my apartment's garage. I looked over at my gym bag which held nothing more than a book and small towel. I thought about how I had to climb two flights of stairs to get to my studio (I refused to use the elevator). I started to cry. It was too hard. I didn't have enough energy to lift my little bag and go up two flights of stairs. That was when I knew things needed to change.

This, thank goodness, lasted less than a year, but it took me a long, long time to work my way back out. I did it on my own, without therapy or really talking about it much with friends. I knew I wanted to run and be healthy and so I knew I needed to feed myself. I slowly crept back up in weight and started to remember how to love food again without the guilt.

I did read part of the book Intuitive Eating. It has such a simple idea. We forget how to eat. We spend so much time worried about weight, about calories and fat grams and carbs, that we stop using hunger as our reason to eat. When most of us were kids, we ate food when we were hungry and stopped when we were done. I remember that. I remember not finishing a soda because it made me too full. I remember pushing my plate away because I didn't want to eat the rest. My tummy was full of food, so why eat the rest? Some where along the line we stop doing this. We clean our plates. We put way too much on that plate or we deliberately don't put enough on it. In Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, he discusses out we are too concerned about the nutrients and not concerned enough about the actual food so we end up eating processed food-like stuff with their health claims (Froot Loops now has more Fiber!) instead of simply eating simple food. We end up eating too much of the wrong things and don't remember what real food is any more. It's confusing and distorted and it's thrown us out of whack.

I started to try to eat healthy foods that I want to eat. I haven't always been great at it. I lose sight of my own health and fall into the Western diet. My weight has fluctuated. I spent a couple of years due to travel and injury much heavier than I'm comfortable. I was 135+ two years ago and it didn't feel good. So about a year and a half ago I started to just pay attention again to what I ate. I didn't count calories, but I switched to eating more fruits and veggies and fewer crackers and snacky foods that had snuck into my diet. I ate if I was hungry and stopped or didn't start if I wasn't. I felt better and the weight melted back off.

It's still tough for me to know what my body is telling me. A lot of people say to me "I never weigh myself" as though that's their evidence they aren't concerned about their weight. But you know what, I do weigh myself a couple times per week. I don't want to ever get back up to 135 again, but even more so I don't want to drop. I used to believe I eat my emotions, but I'm learning I starve them. When I'm blue or stressed or busy, I tend not to eat and my weight plummets. Last fall was rough for me and I ended up at the doctor. I stepped on the scale fully clothed and was only 117. No wonder I'd been feeling depleted and so tired! I upped my food intake and started feeling better soon after. I need that little extra help to keep me on track and I find it is helping me recognize my body's clues. Just a couple of weeks ago when Matt was in town I told him I felt like I was wasting away a bit. He was skeptical, but I weighed myself and sure enough I'd dropped 3 pounds in the week he was here. So I'm slowly but surely learning. Maybe someday I won't need that scale to help me know where I am, but as long as I don't start obsessing about the actual number and am using purely as a health indicator, it's going to remain a tool.

All of this is simply to say that I want to remain healthy and that one day of doing something that isn't ideal isn't going to ruin me. One day of under eating does not represent a trend. I've been through that trend and I never ever want to feel that way again. Nor do I want to end up orthorexic and obsessed with eating nothing but healthy, whole foods. If I want a bowl of puffins or two then I'm going to eat them. And if one day I eat half a tub of Trader Joe's Schoolbook cookies (nom nom nom!) then so be it. One day will not make me blow up. Matt and I are about to do a week's worth of eating from the book Thrive. I think it'll be a fun experiment, but it doesn't mean I'm going to eat that way forever. We'll see. I'm going to do the best that I can, but I'm doing this one day at a time.

Me, Mandi and Mom in Athens, Greece