I’ve written a couple of times on here with the issues I have with my weight and with food and, above all, with body image. It’s one of the reasons I am so determined to protect E’s natural instincts with food. If he is hungry, he gets to eat, even if that means he’s then not hungry at supper time. If he’s full, he stops eating. If he doesn’t want to eat something, he doesn’t have to. He eats what we eat, with the exception of alcohol. He obviously understands that we eat the same things because we’ve had wine with dinner a couple of times over the last week and each time E.’s pointed at the glass with noticeable excitement, saying “Ee-mi have some!” and I’ve had to explain to him that this is a drink for grownups only. There may well come a time when his eating becomes enough of an issue that Q. and I feel we have to make changes to this, but right now my main mantra with food is “It’s not going to be a battle”. We provide. He decides.
It is really interesting to watch what he eats, and how much of it he eats, and how both wildly fluctuate from day to day. Right now he doesn’t eat many vegetables, but the other day he got stuck in to the asparagus. (And I’m not hiding vegetables either. I’ve read a ton of literature that says if he’s eating a lot of fruit, which he is, he’s absolutely getting the nutrients he needs, so I’m not going to set him up to think that vegetables are something which are so nasty they have to be hidden. Q. has a bad habit of not putting vegetables on E’s plate because “he won’t eat them”, which drives me crazy because how will he ever eat them if they’re not on his plate?) One night at dinner he ate his way through almost an entire package (125g) of goat’s cheese. One evening this week we were outside playing after dinner because it had finally stopped raining, and he asked to go back inside for “Some snack!”. After consultation he decided that what he really wanted was an English muffin with peanut butter and a glass of milk. He then ate the entire muffin and downed two glasses of milk. Ordinarily he doesn’t have a snack at all before bedtime, but he was just ravenous that day, even though he’d also eaten a good dinner. Two nights ago Q. made Niçoise salad, and we had to open a second tin of tuna because E. basically ate the first tin himself (along with two of the three hard-boiled eggs….), and then ate two bowls of yoghurt with cereal (at which point his ignorant parents finally clued in that there was probably a growth spurt happening). He used to love cheese, and then he wouldn’t eat cheese for two weeks or so, and now he’s devouring it again.
I watch E. eat and I wish I could recapture some of his relationship with food for myself.
There is nothing healthy about my relationship with food.
I can’t tell if it’s actually getting worse as I get older, or if I’m just more aware of it now, or what. But I do know that I had a much better body image when I was in my late teens and early twenties, when I weighed probably 35 or 40 pounds more than I do now. I was fat then, but I wasn’t body conscious to the extent that I am now. I knew I looked hot. And that confidence made me look hot. Now I spend so much time worrying about whether I’m fat, or getting fat, or could be maybe on the road to getting fat (when I am very much not), that I can’t remember the last time I felt really good about how I looked.
My eating patterns are very disordered. I have a bad relationship with sugar. Every now and then we break up, but I always come crawling back for more punishment. I have trouble with portion sizes, with self-control. When I get really stressed my disordered eating skirts closer to becoming an actual eating disorder. I have so many complex feelings tied up with food. Q. just eats food. It drives me crazy, actually. He eats SO MUCH MORE than I do. And very occasionally he’ll eat enough more that he puts on a bit of weight, and then he’ll go for literally one run, or a bike ride, and lose it again. About every three or four months he weighs himself and discovers that he’s exactly the same weight, give or take one or two kilograms, that he’s been for the last decade. Meanwhile my weight goes up and down like a yo-yo (although the yo-yo has been much smaller for the last five years, and my weight hasn’t fluctuated by more than about eight pounds other than when I was pregnant with E.), and I am constantly thinking about what I’m eating, and how I can eat better, and what exercise should I be doing. And Q. can have chocolate in the house for weeks at a time without eating it. Weeks! Me? No way. It actually works best if I have chocolate to put Q. in charge of doling it out, since he’ll at least exercise some form of self-restraint.
Anyway. The point of all of this preamble is that it’s very hard for me not to be aware of my weight. I find it very difficult to maintain weight, and usually if I’m not monitoring the situation, I will start to gain weight. Given I’m tall, I can put on quite a few pounds before they become noticeable in my clothes. I’m sure the PCOS plays a part in this trend towards weight gain, but not an enormously large one. I don’t have any problems with insulin resistance. If I’m careful to watch what I eat I don’t have problems losing weight. Mostly the problem is I love food and I like eating more of it than I need to eat. (I don’t need to do one of those internet surveys to tell me that “my” sin would be Gluttony.)
I’ve mentioned before that I put some weight on when the troubles breastfeeding E. started, and a bit more when we weaned him, and then a bit more last summer while we were away. At one point I was eleven pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight. Over the winter I lost most of it, even though I never managed to get back into running regularly. I never got back down to the pre-pregnancy weight, but that was the lowest I’d ever weighed my entire life and it was a weight I hit only when training for a half marathon. I got back to just below my wedding weight, which used to be my baseline ‘happy’ weight, and was ok with that. I wasn’t happy with it, but I’m never happy with my weight. Even at my lowest weight while running 40+ kilometres a week I’d look in the mirror and still think I was fat. I don’t actually think I can fix this. I think it comes from having once been fat. It’s impossible for me to believe a) that I’m not fat any longer and b) that I’m not going to get fat again. Photos are actually useful for that because they’ll make me sit up and take notice and realize that I’m actually quite trim. I can’t use the mirror objectively.
I slacked off in April. There was the trip to San Francisco, and then I wasn’t paying attention, and I knew by the time I got over here that I’d put a few of the pounds back on again.
And then I got to the U.K. The first couple of weeks weren’t terrible. Yes, there were all the new temptations in the shops and bakeries, all the different treats that we can’t get at home or rarely see. I indulged a little, but I was also living alone so the dinners I was making were really healthy and not carrying high caloric loads.
Then Q. and E. got here. And Q. started making dinner every night. We talked about sharing the cooking, but he loves cooking and finds it a relaxing way to spend the late afternoon, so when I get home from the library I spend time with E. and we stay out of the (very tiny) kitchen. And given Q. is a bit bored and not really intellectually engaged with being home most days with a toddler, he’s turned his attention to cooking interesting things. Despite the somewhat spartan nature of the tools available to him compared to back home (no food processor, no rice/slow cooker, only one frying pan, terrible knives, etc.), Q. has managed to cook some amazing dishes. Veritable feasts, in fact.
And that’s where the trouble lies. Q. is, in Five Lo.ve Lan.guages-speak, an “Acts of Service” kind of guy. He shows love through doing things for people. This used to be a source of tension in our relationship, because I’m a “Quality Time” kind of girl, so I would get resentful that he spent all afternoon cooking and he would be crushed that I seemed annoyed that he’d spent all this time making something delicious, but then I read the book (I’m not normally one for self-help books, but this was a real game changer), and finally figured out where our disconnect was.
So for Q., cooking an elaborate dinner is his way of continually telling me and E. that he loves us. And Q. is an AMAZING cook.
But. Q. generally plates up the dinner. And for years now I have tried to get him to give me less food than he gives himself, because he can eat HUGE AMOUNTS of food with no consequences, and I can’t.
We were making progress, and then I got pregnant, and then I was breastfeeding, and I could eat as much as Q., or more on some days.
So. We’ve never really sorted this out in the past year. And it’s very very difficult for me to broach the subject with Q., because if I ask him to give me less food he hears, “I don’t like what you’ve cooked”, which translates in his language to, “I don’t love you very much right now”. Ditto for if I leave food on my plate (not that I can do that- I was raised in a “clean your plate” household, and I CANNOT leave food untouched as a result).
I’ve tried getting him to serve me less. I’ve tried refusing to eat seconds. I’ve tried serving myself.
The ideal would be for Q. to give me half of what he gives himself, and then I could have a small amount for seconds, and I would have eaten the right amount. It’s just too hard for me to say no to seconds when everything tastes so wonderful. But getting him to do that is problematic.
For the first week or so they were here, I didn’t worry about it too much because, after all, I was biking! Every day! And biking is exercise!
But then I started to look a bit more closely at my day. And I realized that while, yes, I cycle in and out, for a round-trip of 9.2 miles, when I get to the library, I SIT. I sit all day long. I get up to get books, but the blessing and the curse of this library is it’s faculty specific, so all the books are relevant and I never have to travel very far to get what I need. The library at home would often require me to run up and down several flights of stairs multiple times a day.
If I’m home with E., I’m rarely sitting. We’re always moving around the house. If I’m teaching, I rarely sit on those days. I’m walking from lecture hall to tutorial room to office to bus to subway, etc.
But here, when I’m in the library, I have a sedentary lifestyle.
I started to get a bit twitchy about this. I looked into buying a scale, but decided I wasn’t going to spend the money. If I bought a cheap one, it probably wouldn’t work properly. If I bought an expensive one, it would just get left behind at the end of the summer, which seemed a ridiculous waste of money just to allay my insecurities.
I tried leaving it, but I ended up getting progressively more and more agitated. I started to freak out about returning home to discover, quelle horreur!, I’d gained fifteen pounds over the summer. The whole thing started to take up far too much mental energy, energy that could be much better spent on my research. My eating started to get disordered again, which just made matters worse. I’d binge on sweet things, and then feel both emotionally and physically sick as a result, and then I’d stress about how much I’d eaten, so I’d end up bingeing again to cope with my stress. It was a vicious cycle. The only saving grace is since being here I’ve managed to stop myself from purging after binges, which I was having some trouble with back home particularly this past semester which had been so stressful on so many levels. That way madness lies and I had been determined to use the fresh start overseas as a chance to really break out of that pattern.
So I reluctantly signed up again for myfit.nesspal. I had a very brief flirtation with the site in the fall but found the idea of tracking my calories to be a) unnecessarily onerous and b) potentially encouraging of disordered eating behaviour by making me more obsessive. I don’t, for the most part, think tracking calories is the best route to weight loss. I have friends who use wei.ght wa.tchers, and I like that their points system differentiates between foods according to their nutritional value. Fresh fruit has no points count on WW, but on myfit.nesspal those calories (and especially the natural sugars) are treated exactly the same as if you’d eaten a doughnut.
When I first tried it I found Q. and I cooked too much from scratch to make the site useful. I was constantly having to build recipes. It took a lot of time. So after a few days I deleted my account and just used a written food diary instead, which served to keep me accountable.
Over here I thought I needed a bit more help since my lifestyle has changed. I know how much food I can eat back home. Here I wasn’t quite so sure.
So I set up a new account because it couldn’t find my old one but still wouldn’t let me keep my old username, put in my details, guessed at my weight, and marked that I had a sedentary lifestyle. I told it I wanted to lose a pound a week, since I know I’m up a few from where I’d like to be.
Well. That was a real eye-opener.
If a woman of my age and weight is sedentary AND wants to lose weight, she doesn’t have a lot of caloric wiggle room.
I started doing this on a day where Q. had made pancakes for breakfast, so by the time I’d built that recipe and plugged in the calories and discovered that at breakfast alone I’d consumed more than fifty percent of my calories for the day, I was more than a little freaking out.
But then things got better. I did the calculations to figure out my cycling speed and added my morning and afternoon commutes. I figured out what my average walking pace is when I’m belting into town at lunch, or if we go for an after dinner stroll around the village. Given I’ve classified myself as sedentary, any sort of exercise helps.
I’m still not being super precise. Dinners are still hard when I have to put fifteen ingredients into a recipe and then figure out how many servings it made. I often have to guess, or rely on information that someone else has added to the database that no one else has confirmed. And there are days where I don’t even try to quantify the calories I’ve eaten, such as last Saturday when we were out all day touring and had a delicious pub dinner, but just acknowledge that they were probably too many. But the main thing is it’s keeping me much more accountable. It’s really made me aware of what my limits during the day need to be, especially if I’m going to go home to a lavish home-made dinner. It’s brought an abrupt end to my eating E’s leftovers (which I’d started doing again without really paying attention to it) because I made myself calculate every single bite; this turned out to be both deeply annoying and time consuming and a real wake-up call as to just how much extra I was mindlessly consuming. Even if I don’t try to quantify calories on days where we’ve eaten out, and I’ve for sure taken in more than I needed to, if I’m generally in the right ballpark for the rest of the time, things should stay under control.
I have to admit that it’s kind of fun to plug in the exercise numbers and watch my daily allotment of calories rise as a result.
I also don’t think I’ll get obsessive about this. My disordered eating is never going to stray too far in the direction of excessive calorie restriction. I love food too much and have way too much of a sweet tooth. My problem is always with portion sizes, emotional eating, bingeing on sweet treats. And myfit.nesspal is really helping me control that, because when I’m tempted by something sweet in town I now think much harder about whether it’s really what I want to eat, or whether I’d rather have space for one of Q.’s home-made rock cakes after supper that night. And when I do indulge, having the hard numbers helps me to a) not feel guilty about having a treat because I know I have space for it and b) avoid spiralling into the pattern of “if one sweet treat is amazing, why not have two? or three? or more!” where I end up bingeing. I’m trying to be mindful in my eating, and to truly savor the treats I do have. I’ve got a long way to go, but I do think I’ve made progress, even in the week or so since I’ve been using the site.
I’m still not going to buy a scale. I’m going to go these four months without weighing myself (which is honestly going to be incredibly difficult for me). I have a pair of jeans here with me that are my ‘skinny’ jeans. They fit really well before I got pregnant with E. They mostly fit now, but they’re tighter than I’d like them to be. I want them to fit before I return home. That’s going to be my bar.