Food Fights

Détente. That’s the best I can do. I will never say that I am “at peace” with my body. But after decades of different kinds of war—cold, guerilla, civil—there’s an easing of strained relations, a relaxation in the level of tension.

There are no visible battlegrounds, no fields of carnage, no memorials, even to the furious combat I have done with myself for all these years. Looking at photos of me, you would not know how consuming this fight has been: I have weighed pretty much the same, give or take ten pounds, for the past thirty years, since the shock, having been a skinny teenager, of earning the freshman twenty. I’m an overachiever and couldn’t stop at the typical ten.

When I came home that first collegiate summer, after a year of unlimited cafeteria Jell-O parfait and late-night pizza at Naples and trips to Ashley’s Ice Cream and pitchers of beer (that I still haven’t learned to enjoy), my father pointed out my excess flab. It bothered him. He told me to lose weight. Actually, he told my mother to tell me to lose weight, and like a good little over-achiever, that is what I did. I turned losing weight into an art form.

Before anoxeria was a term as common in the popular culture as Prozac is now, I found ways to starve myself into waifdom. Stimulants decrease appetite, liquids give the sense of satiation, increased protein intake leads to a loss of retained water. The scale became the barometer of my happiness, a more powerful measure than good grades or rising popularity. My weight captured my attention in a way that 19th century novels or French Impressionism didn’t—I drew into myself, studied my body, assessed its changes, appraised its progress. In this way my self-image and identity became wrapped around a number on the scale.

People, especially boys, thought I looked athletic. The most exercise I got was climbing three flights of stairs to my dorm room, and given the scant amount of calories I was consuming, that feat nearly exhausted me. The connection between exercise and weight loss was wasted on someone too lazy, too inert, too bookish to bother going to the gym.

Finally becoming an athlete transformed my relationship with my body. Even though my weight didn’t change much, when I started running the distribution and substance of it did. When muscles started announcing themselves, I greeted them with glee. I stopped paying as much attention to the numbers and started spending more time thinking about what was jiggly and what was firm. Firm felt better.

Here’s a confession that will make you think I’m a bad and shallow person: I’m not all that interested in health. I tend to care more about how I look and feel than whether I’m getting the right nutrients or if I’m eating enough orange and green foods or if my grains are free-range and my meat has had a good life. While I’ve never been a fast-foodie or chip-eater, it’s not out of any sense of moral superiority Fortune has given me an aversion to fried food, no passion for salty snacks, and a disgust with anything too slimy—butter, sour cream, coconut, okra, and especially, I’m sorry Californians for I know you take this personally, avocado.

But put a package of Oreo’s or Chips Ahoy in front of me—or a vat of mint chocolate chip ice cream or a Halloween bowl of candy or a bag of Tootsie Rolls—and you will be surprised at how much a person can consume before complaining about a stomachache and professing a need to lie down. So I try not to keep those things around. Like Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything but temptation.

If I know that I will be tortured by a bucket of Trader Joe’s tiny crispy chocolate chip cookies (which I suspect are laced with crack) calling to me from the cupboard, I don’t put them in my shopping basket. Well, sometimes I do. When I do, I eat a handful (hey—a serving size is twelve cookies!), then another, bigger handful, then I get a kind of icky feeling, and then I eat another handful. Finally I realize that I don’t want to be this way and I stop. And then I go back and eat one more handful.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. If that’s true, every time I reach for a cookie I am exhibiting my own brilliance, because I think: I really want this. And I think: I really don’t want this.

Of course, it’s not about thinking at all. It is about the emotional tug of food, about the will to power, about keeping your eyes on the prize, about a “minute on the lips is forever on the hips,” about every single cliché you’ve ever heard about self-restraint. The writer Barry Lopez said something about writing that applies to just about everything: Discipline, he said, is the highest form of self-respect. Because I’m not as confident and as evolved as he I tend to think of the inverse: lack of discipline is a form of self-loathing. Sometimes remembering that is enough to keep my weak little paws out of the cookie jar. But only sometimes.

Look, I would love to be able say that I love myself, and that I love my body, and that it’s beautiful and perfect and my life is filled with lollipops (calorie-free) and puppies (who never chew shoes or poop on the carpet) and rainbows (beyond my neighbor’s proudly waving flag). But what I’ve come to understand is that while maybe your life is like that, and if so, I’m happy for you, really, I am, mine is never going to be. I will notice the jiggly bits and I will eat too many cookies and will feel sick and keep eating them and I won’t get enough vegetables and I will yell at the dog when she chews on the carpet and I won’t run enough miles or I will run too many miles and well, right, that’s my life. And so, to me, at this point, détente seems like a success.

16 Comments
Samantha Donahue

March 09, 2012 at 9:47 am

Absolutely LOVE This blog. When my husband left for Iraq I took his leaving as a chance to focus all my energy on one thing…LOSING WEIGHT. I went down a long winding road of abuse to my body and psychological nightmare. I finally found the world of Triathlons…and although I fell in love with the sport, everyday is a struggle. Your last paragraph couldn’t have said it better. Thank you for sharing this. It makes me feel less alone in my thoughts toward food and exercise.

K Shheeehe

March 09, 2012 at 9:56 am

I love this blog post. I’m so similar, its just crazy. Crazy, I tell you. What a releif to know that someone has the guts to admit this. Thank you Rachel! I can identify with so much of her blog. I’m glad I’m not the only one…

Rachel Cavazos-Cavasier

March 09, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Rachel you rock! I went to high school real close to EWU, and that where I got my either/or attitude.I was a cheerleader that starved herself to waifdom, where running a mile was a horror story! (You want me to do what!?) Like you I found these amazing things called muscles when I took up running after moving to Hawaii. Thank you for admitting to ur downfalls in nutrition, and showing others what is possible when you start making the right decisions with ur health. I hope I am as awesome as you when I turn 50!

Sonja

March 09, 2012 at 1:28 pm

And I thought I was the only one – what a relief!

katherine

March 09, 2012 at 2:56 pm

What a relief to hear the truth. We all have our struggles. Now that I am approaching my 50s – actually I’m 51 -also add in menopause. ugh!
Making peace with who I am today is so important. I need to celebrate all the good stuff. Triathlons, trail races with my husband, fabulous kids, great job!
Thanks for the encouragement.

Mary

March 10, 2012 at 5:40 am

Thanks! for keeping it real 🙂

Erin

March 10, 2012 at 6:13 am

I, too, am known to exhibit the brilliance to which F. Scott Fitzgerald referred. At this very moment, I have a half-eaten bag of Speckled Eggs M&Ms in my car. I happily and shamelessly consumed the first 10 (OK, 20) morsels. I then kept eating, and with each one I told myself “Yes, I want this” and “No, I don’t want this” at the same time! I am comforted to know that there are others who can entertain a dichotomy without completely derailing. Thank you for writing this.

R. Shepherd

March 10, 2012 at 9:20 am

As I’ve entered my 40’s I think I’ve been better able to see beyond the cravings and feelings of guilt. I have some healthy habits and some unhealthy, self-sabotaging ones, too. I try to forgive myself and move on (not only with health and food related issues) and just try my best to make choices that are good for me. I don’t always succeed. Thank you for sharing your struggles.

Jody - Fit at 54

March 10, 2012 at 10:55 am

LOVE & like others – I so so so understand! Thank you for being so honest!!!!!

Carri

March 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Appreciate the “I tend to care more about how I look & feel” part a lot!
I wrote a similar article as well http://yoganonymous.org/yoga-food-wine-health-carrie-uranga-wellness-articles/

Candi Harris

March 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

I completely understand how you feel – this is my life too. It does help to know I’m not the only one who struggles w/ this.

Marge

March 12, 2012 at 5:29 am

AMEN. You’ve obviously been following me around my entire life!!!

Cate Epperson

March 12, 2012 at 6:20 am

Truly an inspiration to all women who feel the same, athough, we are hard-headed and determined not to admit it. Thank you Rachel for stepping it up and stating the truth. Felt amazing to read your article and the comments. It reinforces that we are not alone by any means. THANK YOU Miss Thang!

Laurie Burnham

March 12, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Loved reading this! I was laughing in recognition… like many of the others who have commented, glad to see I’m not the only one who loses my self-control (especially w/ sugar, the gateway drug!)… and then starts over again the next day. I was also inspired to read that you are going stronger than ever into your 50’s. I took up a new sport (recreational tree climbing) 2 years ago when I turned 41, and it feels really good to be getting stronger in a whole new way. Plus, the more I climb, the more chocolate I can eat 🙂 Thanks for this post!

Teri Larson Jones

March 17, 2012 at 8:49 am

Rachel, you are awesome! As I read your blog I felt as though someone was describing my own experiences with food. You are my “sugar soul sister,” I swear! Like you, I can consume a ridiculous quantity of sweets without any problem. I enjoy my sweets as I’m eating them…only to wish I could do something to burn it all off immediately. And, even when I’m feeling the post-consumption guilt, I’ll go back for more! Eat, guilt, eat. Back and forth, back and forth…. Thanks for sharing! Your honesty makes it easier to accept my food habits as a détente as well. Hugs to you!

Jill Robinson

March 22, 2012 at 7:02 am

Yep, that’s me too. Thanks for putting it in words.

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