Friday, January 11, 2013

My Thoughts on Food and Me So Far

Mindful Eating Wordie
Although this is the second time I've done a detox / cleanse, I've had more time to actually think about it this time around. I remember during last year's cleanse being acutely aware of how habitual it was for me to snack while I was prepping food. A nibble of raw carrots here, a bit of apple slices there. That wasn't a problem when I was only cooking for myself, but when I thought about it as a habit, and realized that in my "normal" life, the nibble of carrots was a spoonful of peanut butter, and the bit of apple was the last bit of mac and cheese from someone else's plate, I became more aware of the unhealthiness of that habit. I vowed to work on that, and have been much better about it in the past year.   

In line with that, a part of the process involves being very intentional about what, when, and how you eat. This is very similar to the Buddhist notion of mindfulness. I have to admit that I am still not very good at this. I have a hard time "just eating," especially when I am by myself. I want to read something, or catch up on Words with Friends, or check Facebook. When I sit down to eat a meal alone, it's not just the food and me. But I'm working on it.  I think it would be easier for me to be in relationship with my food when I sit down to eat if I had not been the one to spend the hour or so preparing it. By the time I sit down to a meal that I have cooked, I am well aware of my hunger, and have been savoring the aromas for some time. I feel very connected to the food, and am aware of its textures and colors. I do pay particular attention to the "presentation" of food, and took great care with tonight's meal to use a green plate (since there was little green in the meal), and to carefully arrange the fish and the vegetables to look most appealing, even placing a thinly sliced lemon atop the salmon (which the boys promptly threw away--definitely got some work to do there about mindful eating for sure...!) But in general, by the time I sit down to eat a meal that I have prepared, I'm sick of the food itself and just want to eat because I'm "starving."

But it's more than just meals. What I've realized quite resoundingly in the past five days is that much of what I enjoy doing includes, even revolves around, eating or drinking. Spending time with a friend is usually done over a meal or coffee. A night out with Joel usually includes a meal and / or dessert and wine or beer. Spending time with the boys typically means we'll go for frozen yogurt or go to a movie, which means popcorn and soda. And even driving in the car for a few hours means a stop for coffee or a latte. Just tonight, I found myself really wanting to have a glass of wine while I spent a few hours cleaning up my studio. And oddly enough, I couldn't really get jazzed about cleaning up with a warm glass of lemon water or even a nice cup of hot tea. It's just not the same for me. Yet. 

Food and / or beverages are like the seasoning for all that I do. They enhance my both my tasks and my relationships in the same way that seasonings enhance a meal. And just like the though of eating a plain baked potato is not very enticing, the thought of going about my life without my "seasoning" seems pretty ho-hum. These past few days, I've found myself unable to get motivated to do anything since the food / drink component is no longer there. When I sit down at my desk, I want a cup of coffee by my side. When I run a few errands that I've procrastinated, I want to reward myself with a trip to Jittery Joe's or a run through Zaxby's. When I am working in my studio, I want coffee by day, and beer or wine by night. When I sit down in the afternoon to tutor, I want a hot chai tea by my side, spiced up with brown sugar and a bit of cream. And when I want to really indulge myself, I'll make some of my friend Whitney's Snickerdoodles (recipe here) and enjoy them with a cup of tea or coffee.  The thought of doing any of these things MINUS the food or drink component just does not sound as appealing, and as a result, my motivation has plummeted.  

I'm so grateful that we were never allowed to watch TV
while we ate a meal when I was growing up.
It's bound to be a hard habit to break! 
One glimmer of hope in all of this is that I don't typically eat when I watch TV, although everyone else in my house does. While they nosh on chips and salsa, cereal, or orange slices, I will catch up on Words with Friends, knit, or sleep, depending on what we're watching. But (almost ;-) all the other pleasure of life involve eating or drinking. So what is the solution? Now that I have realized this, where do I go from here? How to I disentangle the things that I do from the things that I consume by eating or drinking? How do I re-learn how to find satisfaction in date nights, family time, creative time, and productivity for its own sake, without their being tied somehow to food and drink? Or is it okay to tie them to food and drink, and just work towards healthier, more nutritious options? Somehow, though, the thought of substituting a cup of coffee for a cup of herbal tea, or a nice glass of red wine with a glass of warm lemon water just doesn't cut it. 

Thankfully, I've never had a weight problem. I can only imagine how hard this would be if I were seriously in need of losing significant weight to regain my health. It certainly gives me a greater sense of understanding for those who struggle with weight issues. And thankfully, I've never suffered from an eating disorder either. I suspect that in may ways, it is the complete reverse of my food issue, with body image and control issues thrown in as well. But both bring to mind the complex relationship that we have with eating and living, and how the two intertwine. We have to eat to live, but we also need to learn how to live without eating. As I continue on this journey of intentional, mindful consumption, this is what I'll be working on. If you have any tidbits or advice to share, I would be happy to hear them!  

How The Detox Thing All Started

So I'm far from a regular blogger--more like a quarterly blogger, I guess. It's not that things don't happen that make me think, "I should write about that sometime." It's just that "sometime" never seems to happen. However, as many do at the year's beginning, I've been giving lots of thought to life, goals, habits, etc., and in light of the second annual "detox" that I'm doing, I wanted to write down some thoughts and feelings about it. One, I thought it would be helpful in the way of some type of explanation for those who have asked me, "WHY are you doing that? It sounds awful!" And two, I want to be able to remember the thoughts I'm having when I am NOT in detox mode so that it might help me maintain better eating habits. 

This all started last year with my intern Drew. He and his wife Ellen did the Whole Living Cleanse (aka Martha Stewart) in January, and every time Drew & I were in the car together, he would give me the update. And in the midst of it, I did notice that he looked healthier. He seemed "lighter," and said he definitely felt more energetic. And he was really enjoying the food he did get to eat in new ways. It seemed to me similar to a fast in many ways, but not nearly as difficult. This time last year, I was really in need of some centering--some internal focus and spiritual discipline. Unbeknownst to my friends at the time, Joel & I were just before making a big change. He would be resigning his call at Rehoboth and accepting a call to serve as pastor of Oconee Presbyterian Church in Watkinsville, and I would be resigning from my ministry positions at Oglethorpe Presbyterian and Emory University. I saw the cleanse partly as a distraction from the stress of secret-keeping, and partly as a healthy way to rise above the eating and drinking that sometimes accompanies stress and change for me. So I made the commitment to do it myself, carefully choosing a 3-week period before the birthday months set in, as Joel's is February 20th and mine is March 4th. 

Last year, after perusing the recipes from the website, I realized that I would not be able to manage two part-time jobs AND the rigid shopping and cooking requirements of the cleanse, so I told Joel and the boys that they were on their own for two weeks. I trekked to the Dekalb Farmers Market and stocked up, learning for the first time what parsnips were, what leeks looked like, and where to find white miso. I dove in with full commitment, and was completely ready for a rough few days at first. But they didn't really come. The first day, I noticed I was slightly lethargic, but there was no caffeine headache, which truly surprised me. I missed the taste / flavor of coffee so badly, though! After a brief encounter with something called Teecino (coffee flavored tea--and yes, it's as bad as it sounds at first...), I gave in and went back to decaf coffee in the mornings, with a smidge of sugar and a drop of milk. No worse for the wear. After about three days, I noticed I did actually feel much better. My energy had returned, and didn't wax and wane as it did when I was eating sugar and drinking real coffee and sodas. I made it through the 3-week regimen, even managing to eat out (at Wahoo) and stay on track for Valentine's Day. I did get comments on a few pounds lost, but the best part was the energy that I had and the sense of accomplishment that I felt.  I maintained a certain level of "food awareness" for a few months after that, but clearly by the fall, I had fallen out of health eating's grace. 

I decided the week after Christmas that I was going to follow the regimen again because I knew I had developed some really bad habits post-move, and had also put on a few unwanted holiday pounds. My caffeine intake had definitely increased, as had my fast-food eating. And to be honest, this time around has been totally different, and a bit harder. I no longer have the distractions of two jobs to keep me up and moving, or to keep me from thinking about food or from eating when I'm not really hungry. And also, I don't have the "two-job" excuse not to cook for Joel & the boys. So I'm prepping my own foods as well as doing light cooking for the guys. I'm not tempted by the foods so much as I am tired of all the time in the kitchen. They don't expect me to cook, and would be fine on their own, but I know they eat healthier when I cook for them. It's just how we've rolled for all these years. Anyway, it's finally feeling more like a temporary way of life than sheer torture, so that's good. I thought the four-day headache and lethargy was totally caffeine withdrawal. I took four naps on Monday. Yes, four. I had plenty to do, but no hard deadlines or appointments, so I was easy on myself that first day. But on day four, I thought that perhaps the headache wasn't due to caffeine withdrawal, but dehydration. True enough, downing eight ounces of water before I eat anything has left me headache free.  Yay!  

I'm only on day 5 of supposedly 18 days, and I may not complete my original commitment of 18 days. But I do know that I have already benefitted from the hardest stage of the process, the "detox" week, and that was really what I was seeking. I will continue with week 2 eating (which adds fish and beans to the recipe options) for at least five days, then move into week 3 eating, which adds in some healthy carbs like brown rice and "hearty grains," for at least five days. These weeks are easier because I can include the guys in some of the recipes, definitely making meal prep easier for me. I know that as I move into the better-tasting foods, I'll have to focus on portion control, which has always been my nemesis. Some of the foods just taste so good after having so little variety for a few days! Also, I keep trail mix (a week 1 food) handy for when I get hungry in between meals. It's amazing what just 1/4 cup of almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries and raisins can do to hunger. 

Because I've not been as busy with life this time around as I was last year, I've had a lot more time to think about the emotional part of the process this week. In the next post, I'll write about some of the things I've learned about my eating habits and the role food and beverages play in my overall life.