If the best laid plans can be torn asunder, a half-assed one can really get turned upside down by the minorest of things.
In this case, the minor thing was a 24 flu that turned into 72 hours. I’m fever-free for 24 hours now but still wobbly. I’m up for early morning writing group and work at my favorite cafe, one concession I’ve made to my grand plan, and it’s not just rationalizing, it’s fitting.
A couple years ago I asked if they would be interested in selling any of my cartoon magnets. The magnets had been selling like hotcakes with sweet, sweet maple syrup and.. but I digest. The proprietress took a look at the selection and chose a few, omitting some of the diet-related cartoons that had been very popular elsewhere.
“They’re very funny, but we’re trying to foster a healthy relationship with food,” she explained pleasantly. I got it. Right toons, wrong place. But the term healthy relationship also got into my craw. It’s come back to haunt each time I fall off or even break the wagon.
My brother-in-law has been on what most of us would call an extreme diet for the better part of twenty years. Realizing, just after he finished med school, that he’d put on more weight than was healthy, he disciplined himself to exclude sugar (except for fruits) and artificial ingredients from every aspect of his diet. When he visits, he brings his own food. He lost fifty pounds, kept it off as he saw our niece and nephew through adolescence, and our family has gone from bemused tolerance to grudging and now admiration at his discipline.
Ironically, his discipline has been bolstered by his own recognition of needing a healthy relationship with food. Knowing certain foods trigger bad behavior and vice-versa, early on in his redefined relationship, he negotiated a truce that involves an annual day of indulgence (a whole birthday cake once per year).
I’m thinking about that as I look forward to a day of creativity and work and indulging in solid food that’s flavored by atmosphere and healthy behavior. There won’t be any drive-by burger looting, but there will be a flavorful salad prepared by people who really care about food and about the people they’re serving it to. And when my experiment ends, I’ll remember that its ultimate goal is to hit reset button, to renegotiate my relationship with food and, ultimately, life.
Most of my diets start out with the best intentions. The night before the diet, I intend to eat the best foods — and by best foods, I mean best tasting, not necessarily best for you — as I think about the foods that will or won’t be on the menu next to the chart of exercises I swear I’ll start on the same day. They usually end about 12 hours later, right about the time I congratulate myself for not hitting the snooze button at 5AM.
Day one of my breakup with solid food was only slightly different. It was Memorial Day. The Big Guy was working, but I wasn’t. I stayed up till three in the morning the night before finishing a novel and managed to sleep in until 8AM when Thing2 — fully apprised of Mommy’s diet plan for the day — came in to see if, like many holiday mornings — I would be exposing them to a balanced American diner breakfast starring sugar, fat, and more sugar. And salt.
“Is this a test?” I asked as I sat up.
Thing2 looked confused for a second and then grinned. “Oh yeah. It’s a test.” Then he disappeared, skipping down the hall to see if he could rope Thing1 into helping me get this diet nonsense out of the way bright and early. He reappeared its the unsurprising news that Thing1, whose autoimmune disorder has redefined dietary discipline over the last year, was uninterested in indulging. He thought I should stick with my plan, Thing2 reported.
“Yeah,” we both said at once.
I ended up getting Thing2 a new box of cereal and mixing my first shake for breakfast. A second shake at noon before Thing1 and I headed to the Kmart closing sale and I was feeling more than a little cocky.
The day was still young.
Shopping trips are usually like a pillow smothering my discipline. Whether I’m manic or depressed, shopping is the rush. Food is the opiate. Even scoring a purely functional $3 swimsuit for Thing1, whetted the appetite for the nearby drive-thru.
But, determined not to disappoint Thing1 who is a model of nutritional maturity, I drove past it.
We got home and promptly retreated to the sectional to enjoy the rest of the day off.
Then I saw a notification on Facebook about a petition that needed signing before Tuesday. I knew grabbing the keys, heading out for a drive to blow off steam that hadn’t had a chance to build up on a day off, would break the straw that broke my diet wagon’s wheels.
I grabbed them anyway.
I was driving to sign the petition. Really. And then I passed by the petitioner’s house. And fifteen minutes later the car pulling into a fast-food parking lot.
I knew I was disappointing Thing1 and Thing2. I knew the Big Guy would forgive. I knew I was disappointing myself and starting the best intentions all over again, the best being there would be a clean slate in the morning.
And still I ordered and indulged.
As I drove home, I debated if I should write about it. Should I tell the truth like a recalcitrant child when I got home? On one hand, why not? It wasn’t as if this was the first time I washed out of a diet. It probably won’t be the last.
Usually, however, this stage of the diet happens in secret. I say nothing and then next day I’m off it. No one says anything or even looks at me disapprovingly. But I know Thing1 worries his mom won’t be around for his college graduation. He worries I won’t be able to hike with him on his eighteenth birthday. I know I have some early signs of pre-diabetes, and the only ‘cure’ is control.
So I decided to be honest. On my blog and when I got home.
“I had fast food,” I said as soon as I got in the door.
“That’s okay,” said the Big Guy.
“I’ll start again,” I said as Thing1 said, “You can just start again. It’s a day off.”
Tonight I’m going through the intentions. I’m back on the wagon before I go to bed, and, with any luck, I’ll stay on tomorrow.
It won’t be the first battle that wasn’t won with a single skirmish.
Food and I go way back. Almost fifty years now. We’ve had a great relationship. I mean, don’t all great friendships include an all-controlling dominant half (food) and a sycophantic lickspittle (me) or, in my case lick-whatever’s-left-on-the-plate?
I have started to question that relationship in the last few years. I’ve tried to take the upper hand by counting calories, cutting out certain kinds of food colored chocolate with labels like ‘Abandon all self-control here, ye of little self-respect’. A few years ago, I started to dominate the relationship to the point where I’d lost fifty pounds, which helped my five foot three frame look more like a short pear than a cantaloupe.
I controlled intake. I exercised. It lasted a few months.
A broken foot knocked me off my fitness routine, and soon I was back on the Bernaise sauce. And the steak and asparagus. And don’t forget the garlic mashed potatoes. Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff..
Last week I had an inkling a depressive phase might be setting in when the mental call of the country store round table took on a decidedly fried sound. My day of work and deep-fried self-medication wasn’t the first over-indulgence, but as I got home feeling sick from over-eating and somehow still willing to eat more to feel ‘better’, I realized, my relationship to food was more like an addict’s to a pusher.
Yesterday, online, I caught the headline of an article in the Guardian about not just changing the relationship with food, but breaking up with it for a few weeks. By taking it out of the equation.
After read the first few paragraphs (always a good idea when making a healthcare decision) about using traditional meal-replacement shakes that have been around since the 60s and 70s to turn food from emotional balm into pure function, I knew what I have to do. I headed out the door to our favorite British-style diner for a last supper.
Okay, maybe today will be the real last supper.
But I didn’t have to read the rest of the article to know that this sounded right. I need to break up with food. I need to get the upper hand and find another, more constructive emotional outlet like writing or painting (I hear some people swear by it).
So today, like the dozens (maybe hundreds) of Sundays before every diet I’ve ever broken, might be a free-for-all (okay, it will be), but tomorrow, we’re breaking up. I’ll make sure the calorie count is sane and that a bottle of multivitamins is handy, but for the next eight weeks, food won’t be what’s for dinner or for celebration or inebriation.
Food, I’ll call you in a couple months, and if you want to be friends, things are going to have to change.
Thing1’s impending graduation has prompted a bit of cleaning inside and, since snow no longer covers the mess we call a yard, the outside too.
I used to have gardening problem, but recovering from a broken foot made digging uneven ground a tough hobby for a few years. I’m back to digging this year, huffing and puffing and trying to remind myself I ran a 12k a few short years ago. It also reminds me that my coveted, brawny gardening physique, and not a bikini body that won’t get used in Vermont anyway, is what I should have been more disciplined about chasing on the treadmill all winter.
Fortunately, a shovel and a patch of dirt still make a cheap gym.
That is all