Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
- Anthem, Leonard Cohen
I am pretty pleased with myself yesterday and today. At last night's gathering, I was able to limit my drinks (and happily, there were no snacks to tempt me --- but in preparation, I ate an on-plan dinner later than usual, so I wouldn't be hungry). When I got home, very late, I wanted to munch, but it really had more to do with the social situation than being hungry. So I just went to bed; but not before I laid out my gym clothes and prepped my bag and my lunch for the next day, and wrote my food plan.
Despite a very late night last night, I got up and went to the gym and put in my hour on the elliptical. Again, it felt great, inside and out. The feeling of satisfaction I got from having done it first thing in the morning is immense. It sets the tone for the rest of the day.
This evening, I ate off plan for dinner --- that is, I ate healthy food, but I switched meals at the last minute because what I'd planned simply didn't sound good. Because of my schedule, I'd had what I call my "kindergarten lunch" --- carrot sticks, apple slices, and a bag of dry cereal with nuts --- and I was ready for something heartier. It's not something I would want to get in the habit of doing, especially when I am working hard on losing more weight, but once in a while, as a conscious decision, I think it can be a healthy thing to do. I'm not talking about trading salad for pizza with extra cheese --- I'm talking about a nutritionally even trade for something that is more satisfying. If you find yourself doing it on a regular basis, you need to revisit your food plan.
At the gym, I was reading an old issue of O Magazine, and there was a very interesting article about how traditional soul food is actually very healthy and, quite often, vegan. Now, when most people think of soul food, they think of fried chicken and cornbread and mustard greens made with ham hocks, but as the author points out, back in the day you got fried chicken once in a great while, as a treat, and meat was used more as a seasoning than a main course. It makes a great deal of sense and harkens back to the Real Food movement. There is nothing inherently wrong with eating red meat, real butter, even fried chicken. The problem comes about when we continue to eat them as if we'd put in a full day of hard physical labor, or eat highly processed versions of these foods, or eat them too often. Our former special treats, our once-in-a-while indulgences, our luxuries, have become everyday foods.
And that is one reason why we get fat. Plain, real food is best on a daily basis.
This has been driven home to me a bit here in Syracus. Syracuse is a perfectly nice town, and the people are really friendly and polite, in a way which frankly, I have never experienced outside of the South. They are hospitable. But the town itself seems half deserted and depressed. The downtown area has some spectacularly gorgeous buildings (like the Niagara-Mohawk Power Building, circa 1932, a paen to Art Deco architecture), but much of it is abandoned. We joked about there being periodic zombie sweeps that cut down on the population, but honestly, much of downtown could be the setting for a post-apocalyptic horror movie.
What does this have to do with food? Well, this: you cannot find a coffee house to save your life. Oh, they're there, but they are few and far between, and not easy to get to, and forget about driving through. At first this made me very cranky, and then it made me realize how ridiculously dependent I am on getting my designer coffee when I want it. I do not need that much coffee, and I certainly don't need to be dropping two or three bucks a day on it. It should be a treat, and it's become a habit.
Eating fancy, rich food at every meal was once a habit of mine. I sulked inwardly if I didn't get a "good" meal. I "compensated" for it by pigging out later, and not always on something I really wanted --- I just felt entitled to eat more because I hadn't gotten something "good" the first time. Now, this is one reason I feel it's very important not to deprive yourself of foods you love. No food should be 100% off limits, unless it's something you absolutely cannot control yourself on and eating even a little with start you on a downward spiral to overeating everything. This isn't an issue with me --- there are foods I don't keep in the house because I will eat too much of them if they're at arm's length --- but I have yet to find a food that triggers die armageddon. However, some people do have that issue, and if you do, you might just want to avoid that food entirely.
But I think that for most people, a more realistic scenario is this: the more you learn to eat plain, real food, the more your tastes will change, and the more you will come to like the taste of food that is close to its origins. And you may find that you don't even miss those other foods. You may find, when you do have one as a treat, that they are not what you remembered. It's not a bad way to eat.
I also think that it's very important to realize that none of us should be striving for perfection in our eating, which only leads to beating ourselves up when we inevitably lapse. Instead, learn to see lapses as a part of the process, a necessary and in fact unavoidable sidestep in the never-ending journey. Knowing that you are going to have lapses, accepting that they will happen,frees you from the onerous and impossible burden of perfection. It is not license to lie to yourself about what or how much you're eating; it's not a license for a free-for-all. It's simply acknowledging that you are human, and that you don't have to accept punishment for doing what nature designed you to do. What's important is that you recognize the lapse for what it is, refuse to beat yourself up, and immediately get back on track.
Let that light in.