I discovered my body late in life. I think I was thirty-three. I remember sitting at work one day while living abroad and realizing that I had not had fresh fruit or vegetables in at least a month. It was startling. And what was more shocking was that my body actually told me this—I was not reading an article or visiting the doctor. I was sitting at work and my body said, “Please feed me some fruits and vegetables.” That night, I went out to the store, made a lunch for the next day that was chock full of fruits and vegetables, and drank it down at my desk.
About the same time, I was doing a fair bit of yoga. I noticed while inverted in shoulder stand that my stomach (directly in front of my face) had a little extra “fold” floating downward. It felt very “extra.” It made me conscious of my body in a way I’d never before experienced. Before it was all about clothes—what size I got at the Gap or Banana Republic, two staples through the years. In Europe, the sizes were all different and it was easy to buy new clothes with the caveat that “a ten was so not a ten in the U.S.,” so those U.S. barometers soon got thrown out the window (and out of the closet).
M dad, a skinny man who can polish off a plate of fettuccine Alfredo with no belt loop at risk, is also a doctor. He used to deliver this simple message amongst his daughters and Tab-drinking wife: if you consume more calories than you expend, you will gain weight.
When you look at it that way, it makes perfect sense. It seems so simple. Who needs all these weird, crazy diets when we all know that no matter what anyone says, it’s a grammar school-level math equation? But it isn’t easy. I mean, who can really know what they are using versus what they are consuming? It all gets convoluted by where we are at the time, what we want to order, what our hormones are screaming, what we think we should order, what we are served where we are, what seems like the right portion, or what doesn’t, but tastes so damn good.
There was a time in my life where my team at work all committed to doing a juice fast together for a week. It was more competition than anything, but we all agreed to do it one night after we had over-ordered Indian food and over-drowned it with beer. The first two days were really hard—I was hungry and my stomach really wanted food. Then a strange thing happened—my hunger actually went away. I was still feeding myself broth and juice and water, but it was more out of habit. The thing that did not go away was my craving—I had a sincere and distinct craving for coffee when I woke up every morning. Looking back on that week, it is the only thing I can really remember wanting badly. In true bad form, I broke the fast Super Bowl weekend with all the toxins you could dream of—queso, burgers, chips, French fries, beer. I remember not feeling so great the next day.
That experience taught me that your body sends signals and it taught me that a lot of the battle is bringing yourself to a state where your mind is able to listen to your body. Weeks on end of drinking and eating and binging will only raise your tolerance for these things so that your threshold is skewed and your body tuning is lost. Now that I’ve found my own personal homeostasis at fleeting times, I long for it when it’s absent, because I feel so much more like myself when I’m in a balanced state. Now, when life does take me off track, I find myself starting to make small efforts to bring that balance back. I don’t employ any of the ridiculous methods of my former life: skipping meals or eating nonfat yogurt, pretzels, baked potatoes, cottage cheese, Snackwell cookies, or steak and spinach. The funny thing is, if I get on the scale at the height of my imbalance, I will only feed it more. Something about looking down at a number that does not appeal to me makes me give in to it. However, if I simply stay off the scale for a while, until I feel like I’m balanced again, the next time I weigh myself, the scale usually says something I’ve seen before and have been okay with.
I have learned a few things in all of this:
Your body is the best monitor—the trick is tuning in to it
You are not always in control of what goes into your body and you have to pick and choose the occasions where it’s worth letting someone else or an outside situation determine this. For example, there’s no reason not to drink in the wine country (unless you’re pregnant). There is no reason to go to Houston’s and not order the spinach artichoke dip. There is really no point in going to dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants and ordering dressing on the side or avoiding the lobster risotto that your butter-coated fish sits on top of. And, for all the ridiculous articles they write about the holidays, there is no reason to not have your <insert favorite family holiday recipe here.>
When you lose control, the best way to gain it back is to subtly admit it and subtly take steps to get back in balance. Harsh realities like scales and tight pants simply accelerate bad patterns. Talking about how you feel also does not seem to help—it just becomes a fixation instead of an action.
Focusing on immediate results after a binge week or two is depressing. A more empathetic way is to realize it will take as long as you spent binging acting healthfully (in whatever way your body tells you) to feel balanced again.
Creating your own breakfast and lunch five days a week is a solid start to getting back to square. This allows for the evenings to be social in a way in which you don’t need a juice fast just to get you back on track.
It’s simple but true: exercise works. Don’t sign up for extreme regimens if that’s not your style. Think about the last form of exercise you did that you enjoyed and didn’t dread initiating and put that at the top of your list. Start small and commit to once or twice a week for four weeks. This combined with the above will help.
These are all organic methodologies because I truly believe we’re all different and all masters of our own bodies. There are those people out there who just don’t have to worry about it. And there are those who seem to worry about it all the time. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into the first camp, but I don’t want to be in the latter. Thankfully, after a third of my life on this planet, I have started to pay attention to this machine that runs my day. It seems to work.