diet recovery · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 570: Too Sweet

Yesterday I woke up with that leaden feeling in my limbs. My brain was fuzzy too.

“Are you okay?” Mr. December wanted to know. “This has been happening a lot lately.”

He was right—I have been feeling fatigued a lot lately. Thinking back over the last few weeks, two major things stood out for me:

  1. We’ve been going to sleep later than we used to.
  2. We’ve had a lot of sweet treats in the last little while.

There’s no good reason for number one; we haven’t prioritized sleep enough, although we talk about it all the time. We just need to accept that none of the things that we do late at night are so urgent that they can’t wait ’til morning. We also have to stop being the kind of people who say things like, “Just as soon as I’m done this chapter, sweetheart, you can turn out the light,” and then surreptitiously flip into the next chapter and keep reading. “Yes, it is a really long chapter. Sorry about that… but I really want to get to the end of it!”

With all the Jewish holidays, N’s very-belated birthday party, and R’s upcoming birthday, there have been plenty of sugary treats around here. It seems like every day involves a “special” treat, and because I’m currently in diet recovery, I’m deliberately not restricting my eating. I don’t know for sure that the sugar is making me feel icky, but if true it would certainly explain all those times I crashed on a Saturday (i.e. the day after Shabbat dinner with all its sweet challah, kugel, and dessert.)

By the time I was upright and dressed yesterday, I’d decided to avoid sugar for a while and see how I feel. That lasted until about 2:00 p.m., when K made a lemon cake for no particular reason and we all sat down to have some. One small piece of cake in an otherwise no-added-sugar day isn’t a big deal, I suppose, but it underscored just how impossible it is to turn around in this house without confronting another delicious source of added sugar.

I’ve often been resistant to elimination diets because I like food and can’t stand the thought of eating nothing but salmon, rice, and almonds (or, as a friend recently quipped to me, “I don’t want to live in a world without bread.”) Once or twice I’ve been desperate enough to try eliminating certain foods, though; Seven years ago, I gave up dairy in hopes that my asthma would improve as a result. My asthma was the same as ever, but one thing did change—I got pregnant (with E.) I’m not jumping to any conclusions, but the only thing that differentiated that month from the eighteen that preceded it was the lack of dairy. It kinda makes me wonder… but I digress (surprise, surprise.)

I explained to the kids that I’ve been feeling groggy and I think sugar might be the culprit. I hope I chose the right words to use: it’s very important to me that we not make any foods “bad” or “forbidden.” At the same time, I want them to learn to be mindful of the fact that food does affect their bodies, for better or worse, and to adapt their eating accordingly. I’m ignoring all the various studies (some of which contradict each other) about healthy eating; from now on, in this house, healthy food is whatever food makes you feel healthy.

With that said, let’s see how I feel this week before jumping to any conclusions.

bikes planes and automobiles · diet recovery · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Worldschooling

Day 569: Ten days more…

I’m having a bit of trouble accepting that we leave for our trip in ten days. It doesn’t feel real. We’ve been planning for months, and we’re still planning, and right now I can’t imagine getting the six of us on a plane and going anywhere.

Part of my brain does seem cognizant of the timing, though, since today I sat down and organized our first aid kit for the trip. To give you a sense of the kind of first aid kit it is, I’ll tell you that of five pencilcase-sized pouches, one holds such useful tools as a stethoscope, thermometer, otoscope, pulse oximeter, and peak flow meter. The other four pouches contain ointments and creams; medications; gauze and tape; and six different kinds of adhesive bandages including steri-strips. If it sounds like a lot of stuff, that’s because it is. Most of the time we don’t need these things, but when we do, we need a lot of them; if we’re suddenly struck with a stomach bug we’ll need to hunker down next to a bathroom—not run to the store to get more Immodium and Gastrolyte.

On a more upbeat note, I’ve been shopping for bathing suits—bikinis, to be precise. Since I’ve finally accepted that a bikini body is just having a body and putting a bikini on it, I figure I should take advantage of what two-piece swimsuits have to offer: namely, easier trips to the bathroom and no more cold, wet midsection.

I’ve been ordering bikinis online with the intention of trying them all on and keeping one or two. So far the frontrunner is a hot pink high-waisted number with a top that’s both secure (i.e. I won’t fall out of it) and just a touch sexy. I still have to try a couple more that should arrive this week too, but I’m already feeling good about my bathing suit situation.

As for homeschooling supplies: it’s hard to strike a balance between how much work we’d like to do in a perfect world and how much work we think will actually get done (Mr. December estimates that we’ll do about ten school days on our sixty-day trip.) My current plan is to load up my Kobo with books on different subjects that I can read aloud and discuss with the kids, and for each of them to take their writing notebook to write about either what we’ve read or what we’ve done each day. I’m also bringing things like a monocular for wildlife-watching and a pocket microscope. Oh, and sketchbooks and drawing supplies. That’s it.

On second thought, I’m not as oblivious to our looming departure as I thought I was. I’m sure I’m forgetting something basic—while I’m busy planning for pulse oximetry and microscopy—but what?

Five different-coloured zippered pencil cases with transparent sides. They contain adhesive bandages; pills in blister packs; gauze and first aid tape; medical instruments; and creams, ointments, and sanitizer respectively.
diet recovery · Jewy goodness · parenting

Day 544: Yom Kippur

I’ve been reading Honey From the Rock, which is essentially an introduction to Jewish Mysticism, ever since my screen-free Rosh Hashana ten days ago. The very first section touched on my absolute favourite biblical analogy: the wilderness after the Exodus from slavery.

The story goes like this: after being freed from bondage in Egypt, the Children of Israel wandered the desert. They complained a lot. A LOT. They wanted to return to Egypt, where they had meat and onions to eat instead of manna all the time (they seem to have had a pretty short memory when it came to the brutally hard labour and the killing of their babies.) They were pretty insecure when it came to God, too—and as soon as Moses was absent for a bit longer than expected, they went back to the idolatry they’d become familiar with in Egypt. They couldn’t conceive of a God with no physical representation. As a consequence, nobody who had been alive during the Exodus was allowed to enter the Promised Land. They were all fated to die in the desert.

This resonates with me on so many levels. I feel like I’m in a wilderness of sorts these days, having escaped from the oppression of diet culture. Like the Israelites, I’m not really sure what to do now. I’m so confused about what to eat, when to eat, how to eat, how to live without constantly thinking about my weight and appearance. I don’t know what a life outside of diet culture looks or feels like. I often feel like it would be easier and simpler to return to diet culture, where at least I know what I’m supposed to be doing.

It might actually be easier for me to just go back to the endless cycle of dieting; it’s scary out here in the wilderness, where anything can happen. It’s wide open and full of possibility, but let’s face it—not all possibilities are good ones. More importantly, I don’t want my children to grow up surrounded on all sides by diet culture. I might die (not now, eventually) still wandering this wilderness without a clue, but my children will have a chance at a life that I can’t even imagine, where their bodies are valued for how they feel and what they can do instead of for how small they can become. To paraphrase Max Planck, body acceptance will progress one funeral at a time.

Going into the Yom Kippur fast tonight, I’ll be reflecting on how I intend to strengthen my resolve, stay the course, and explore this wilderness in which I find myself.

To everyone who is observing Yom Kippur (in whatever way you observe: not everyone can or should fast) I wish a Gmar Chatimah Tovah—may we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life this year.

diet recovery · parenting

Day 521: Control

I have issues with the word “control.” I mean, yes, I’ve called myself a control freak, but there are definitely some things for which “control” is inappropriate at best and damaging at worst.

A century and a half ago, men would talk about controlling their wives.

Plenty of people complain about parents who “can’t control their kids.”

And—of course—we talk about control when it comes to food. As in, “I have no self-control, I just ate that whole bag of chips.”

I heard someone say that very recently, and I winced. I feel that just as when parents try to control their children, if you’re trying to control your eating you’re fighting a losing battle.

And yet it’s so pervasive in our culture, the fear of losing control of our food and our body size, the obsession with controlling portions, especially of “bad” or “unhealthy” foods.

As I started my diet recovery efforts, I spent a lot of time thinking about how a natural process such as hunger and eating had become so unnatural for me, to the point where I felt paralyzed about what I “should” eat, and incompetent at judging my own hunger and satiety levels. Shouldn’t it be as simple as, “Eat when you’re hungry”?

There seems to be some scientific consensus that food restriction leads to overeating. If that’s true, this is a problem we’ve created for ourselves. If you’ve been told your whole life that you can only have two cookies because that’s a serving, and you like cookies, anytime you’re given unfettered access to cookies you’ll eat as many as you possibly can—after all, this chance doesn’t come around often. On the other hand, if something is constantly available to you and has a neutral moral value (i.e. it’s not good or bad, it just is,) you’re unlikely to overeat it… after a period of adjustment, of course.

I find it fascinating that we seem to understand this concept as it relates to alcoholic beverages—first-year university students who’ve never been allowed to drink often drink themselves sick, while those whose parents allowed a beer or wine now and then don’t get drunk as often or as badly—but we don’t seem to connect it to our relationship with food; when we eat too much we then double down on “control”, which then makes us overeat whenever we get the chance, which makes us lament our lack of control… and so on.

I can already see a difference in my own habits. There’s ice cream in my freezer all the time now—something that hasn’t been true for me since I left university—and I used to eat it every single night, but now I’m starting to not bother because I don’t feel like it. Last night we took E out to dinner and then to Baskin-Robbins for dessert; in the past I would have gotten ice cream anyway because it was a rare treat, but last night I was already full from dinner and didn’t really want anything else, so I didn’t have any.

I’m not trying to say that not having ice cream is virtuous—I don’t think we should attach moral value to food—but to observe that my eating patterns are already shifting. It seems that the less I control my eating, the less my eating controls me.

diet recovery · Kids · parenting

Day 518: Speaking of Food…

After my last post about the way we talk about food, one of my commenters said this:

“I’d love to hear about your approach to talking to kids about food! I’ve got lots of baggage when it comes to food, but our doctor said really early on “kids are born knowing how much to eat – see if you can manage not to break that” and I think we’ve done a pretty reasonable job…I think…”

Ask and you shall receive, dear reader!

How do I talk to my kids about food? What about when they seem to be gorging themselves on sweets? What if they’re eating way more than humanly possible? What if they’re starting to look pudgy around the middle?

Food is fuel for our bodies. If we’re hungry, our bodies need fuel. If we eat and are still hungry, we either need to eat more or to eat something different (i.e., our bodies are crying out for nutrients we’re not giving them.) So if a kid has eaten a lot of crackers and complains that they’re still hungry, I might say, “Maybe your body is asking for nutrients that crackers don’t have. Try some other kind of food that gives you some fat or protein, and see if that helps.”

I try to convey that it’s fine to eat something for pure enjoyment. If a kid is scarfing down their ice cream in a rush, I remind them to sit down and really enjoy it instead of rushing through and not really tasting it. Mr. December, who is constantly finding the teachable moments, has taught the kids the economic principle of Diminishing Marginal Utility—in other words, the first bite is the absolute tastiest and best; after a few helpings, the taste barely even registers. Makes total sense to really slow down and enjoy those first few bites, doesn’t it?

I try to talk about how food makes our bodies feel: “Ugh, I feel kind of icky. That happens when I eat a lot of ____.” I make it clear that I’m speaking only for myself, but I’m modelling an awareness of how the foods we eat affect how we feel (which is a very individual experience, so they need to learn to be aware.) One of my kids has slowly learned to pace themselves because of many experiences where too much dessert made them feel vaguely ill. That child doesn’t eat themself sick anymore, because of how it makes their body feel… not because of what we think about eating that volume of food.

We’re coming into the teenage years now. If you’ve never seen a teenager eat, you’re missing something spectacular. The “hollow leg” theory is the only one that makes sense, because nobody’s stomach is big enough to hold the amount of food that a teenager consumes. This is a real challenge for those of us steeped in diet culture: it can’t possibly be okay for the teen to eat that much, can it?

Well, if the teen has a decent sense of their own body’s needs, it absolutely can. It’s hard for me to trust my kid’s understanding of her own satiety level, because I’ve been taught for so many years not to trust my own; but if I want my kids to be free of the food issues that I have, I have to bite my tongue.

As for the “what if they’re getting pudgy?”… my policy is to NEVER comment on anybody’s body. Period. It does more harm than good. We prioritize active play for the kids (we have swings and a huge “running-around” space in the attic,) we ensure that they get appropriate medical and dental care, we see that they get enough sleep, and we make sure that they’re getting plenty of time with their friends—all of which are much more relevant to their health than the shape and size of their bodies are.

diet recovery · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 513: Let’s Just Stop.

“I was bad yesterday—I had three slices of cheesecake!”

“It’s my ‘cheat’ day, so I can have pizza.”

“Oh! You’re eating broccoli! That’s so good!”

“He eats almost nothing… I wish I could survive eating like that!”

“I think you’ve had enough to eat already.”

If you don’t hear this sort of thing on a regular basis, you’re either:

a) a hermit, with little to no human contact;
b) blessed with family and friends who’ve broken free of diet culture;
c) Deaf (although if you’re not hearing it you might be seeing it in ASL); or
d) dead.

Since my kids were little, I’ve been insistent on one point: nobody is to discuss weight or diet in front of my children. But you know what? That kind of talk isn’t good for anyone at any age—and it’s bad for pretty much everyone. Can we just stop?

For one thing, the whole discussion is rooted in a fear of fatness, not to mention judgment of people who “allow” themselves to be fat. I think it behooves us all to test our beliefs against the available data; I’ve read enough studies and literature reviews of the research to be extremely skeptical of everything we’ve been told about weight and health. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. Reading that stuff left me feeling like we’ve all been lied to.

But back to the food talk. Can you imagine if an alien race were listening in on our conversations? They’d confidently report back to their leaders that we are a small-minded race who think of nothing but food: conversations always seem to come back to what was served or eaten, what shouldn’t have been eaten, what will be eaten tomorrow to balance out today’s intake, and how yesterday’s excess energy intake will be stored as adipose tissue. Bo-ring. People, we are better than this.

Let’s talk about something else. Anything else. What’s everyone reading these days? Has anyone travelled? Can someone explain the rules of cricket?

(You know what, forget I asked about cricket.)

I started this blog post intending to discuss how I talk to my kids about food in a way that won’t give them the neuroses that I was given. But how most adults relate to food is dysfunctional at best: if we’re enjoying our food we have to talk about how we shouldn’t be eating it, and if we take second helpings we have to remind ourselves and everyone else that we’ll pay for our transgression with unsightly weight gain. Let’s stop it. We all need food, we all deserve food, and we should all be able to enjoy it without shame, apologies, or guilt.

diet recovery · family fun

Day 512: Bikini Body

Surprisingly, I had an asthma attack this afternoon. Usually I have difficulty at night, so my puffer is on my bedside table and not in my pockets where it probably should be.

We were at Wet N Wild with the kids, having a fabulous time, when I walked through a cloud of somebody’s cigarette smoke and started coughing… and couldn’t quite catch my breath. I sat down in the shade and sent Mr. December off with instructions to find me the most highly-caffienated drink available (apparently caffeine can help if you find yourself without a puffer.)

I started to feel chilly, so I took off my long-sleeved sun-protection shirt and spread it out to dry. The black sports bra underneath looks just like a bathing suit top, so it was fine. But after a few minutes I was still cold, and so I peeled off my bike shorts, stripping down to a black bikini bottom.

And there I sat in what was essentially a bikini—and not a tankini that covers my tummy, which is something I might have actually worn—in the middle of this busy waterpark. Mr. December brought me a giant Pepsi and I sipped steadily until I started to breathe more easily.

Then E needed to be taken to the bathroom. “I have to go badly,” she insisted. So I jumped up and took her… still wearing a two-piece bathing suit that certainly did not cover my middle.

You know what? It felt good, and—get this—NOTHING BAD HAPPENED. Seriously. Nobody looked twice at me, nobody said anything, the fashion police didn’t write me a ticket. I don’t know what I thought would happen if I wore a bikini, but I certainly got the message loud and clear when I was growing up that bikinis are only for certain shapes and sizes of bodies. I still see plenty of ads for gyms and diet systems that say, “You can have a bikini body this summer.”

Of course you can have a bikini body this summer. Get a bikini and put it on your body. That’s all.

It might seem like a tiny thing to you. But to me, this was huge. So I captured it in a selfie. Yes, that’s E playing my belly like a drum. If she loves my belly, then goshdarnit, so can I.

Image description: Me in sunglasses and a black bikini, with E sitting next to me and drumming on my tummy. We’re both smiling.
diet recovery · DIY · family fun · Kids

Day 496: How she sees me.

E and I stopped by my parents’ place to take care of the pool in their absence. By “take care of the pool” I mean “dip the test strip, look at the reference chart, try to figure out which bottle of stuff I should be using to fix whatever’s wrong, and then dump in a few kilograms of whatever it is I think the pool needs.” It feels like I should be a bit more scientific about it, but my way is working so far.

(Although yesterday and three days ago I dumped in, like, twelve kilos of salt and today when we swam I was floating more easily than usual and a scrape on my arm was burning, so that might have been a bit much. Oops. It’s still not as salty as the ocean.)

We decided that before adding the Alkalinity Increaser that the pool apparently needed, we’d take a short swim. At first I figured only E would swim while I watched her, so I said, “Oh, don’t bother with your bathing suit. Just jump in naked. It’s only the two of us here.”

(Don’t worry, the pool is not in any way exposed such that anybody can see us.)

A few minutes later, though, I decided to dip my toes. The water was deliciously cool; I decided to join E for a while.

“You can skinny-dip too, you know,” E said.

“If someone’s kind of chunky, can they call it chunky dunking instead?” I mused aloud.

E huffed, “No, it’s still skinny dipping.”

“But I wanna go chunky dunking!” I protested.

“Eema,” she said with all the patience usually reserved for reasoning with a two-year-old, “You’re not that fat… for a grown-up.”

“Fine, call it whatever you want,” I said with my dress halfway over my head, “I’m coming in!”

It was fabulous.

I will pause here and say that yes, the fact that “you’re not that fat” made me feel good is problematic in itself. Fat is an adjective, like tall or short. That it affects my self-worth is unfortunate. I’m working on it. And for those of you reading this, don’t say “you’re not fat” to someone, unless you’re trying to reinforce the fact that fat is a terrible thing to be.

Anyhow, it was what I needed to hear after last night’s musings. If only I could always see myself the way my kids see me.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with this picture of me, a wrecking bar, and a pair of wire cutters. Anybody want to guess what I was doing today?

Image description: Me (woman with a ponytail and glasses) facing away from the camera, holding a pair of wire cutters in one hand and a wrecking bar that is wedged in between two pieces of trim in the other.
diet recovery · family fun · Good Grief · waxing philosophical · weight loss · whine and cheese

Day 494: It Was “Only for Now”

I cried when I got this text message:

“Good news/bad news. It looks like I have a neighbor who can host our trampoline! She’s just measuring and checking on moving cost before she commits. Could you remind me of your address?”

Maybe it was PMS, or maybe I was bound to cry because I had a coaching session earlier during which I was holding back tears. But cry I did, over a trampoline.

“When the kids come home,” I blubbered into Mr. December’s shirt, “the trampoline just won’t be there. It’ll be, like, a giant gaping hole in our backyard.”

“It was never ours to begin with,” he reminded me, rubbing my back.

He’s right, of course. We’ve always said that we were “fostering” this trampoline until its family had space for it again. We were incredibly lucky to get it in the first place: it essentially fell into our laps at the beginning of the COVID lockdowns, when it was impossible to buy one because they were all backordered. I’m trying to remind myself to be grateful for the time we had with it, and not bemoan the loss. But it’s hard.

And re-reading the last paragraph, I’m feeling like there’s a bigger life lesson here. Is anything ever really ours for ever and ever? Or is it all, as Avenue Q said, “Only for now”?

Remember that coaching session I mentioned? “Only for now” would be an apt summary of what we talked about. I’m working on what some people call “diet recovery”—essentially I’ve been on so many different weight-loss programs, all of which worked temporarily, and binged so much in between, that I don’t even know what and how to eat anymore. Hunger cues? What are those? After overriding my body’s instincts for so long, I’m not sure what’s left. What I do know is that I could try to lose weight again, but in two years I’d likely be right back where I am now. Yo-yo dieting is very bad for your health, as it turns out; I have no desire to wreck my body any more than I already have.

Anyhow, my coach and I talked about “grieving the thin ideal”: accepting that my body doesn’t want to stay thin and won’t unless I punish it. I need to make peace with that. Being slim was definitely better than being fat, whether because of our society’s fatphobia or because of actual physical limitations, but it’s not really something I can maintain in the long run. I need to say goodbye to that dream of one day finding the perfect “lifestyle change” (because “diet” is a dirty word, you see) and getting and remaining slim forever more.

“Listen,” my coach pointed out, “our bodies are only for now. We age, we gain or lose weight, we slow down. We have to get comfortable with constant changes, because otherwise we’ll just be miserable. And we have to accept what our bodies are right now, instead of always dreaming of what they could be, if only there was a magic wand to wave.”

She’s right. It’s just really damn hard. And losing our trampoline on the same day didn’t help matters. But as the song goes, everything in life is only for now.