I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Body Image

Saying No to Botox

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Beauty of a Certain Age

Newsflash!  According to the New York Times, the holy grail for beauty for executive women is “eternal early middle age.”  As if working women everywhere did not have enough to worry about, it is now crucial to achieve the “cosmetic sweet spot:  old enough to command respect, yet fresh enough to remain vital.

Phew, I am on trend.  At 50, I am situated right smack in the middle of the ideal 45-55 age range.  But I am closing in on 51.  Only 4 more years left to remain vital!  Only 4 more years to chase whatever elusive career goal I have been chasing.  I still don’t have a corner office.

Maybe I never will.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

When I first started working in the business world, I was very proud and eager to succeed.  I worked hard and moved up quickly.  I started managing people well before I was 30 and felt I needed to look older in order to command respect.  At 25, I was sometimes the only woman in the conference room which usually meant there was an expectation that I would clear the coffee cups.  I was determined to look the part of a successful executive woman and not be the one waiting on the older executive men.   Hello shoulder pads!

When I moved to a glamorous company in a senior managerial role, at 35, the first thing I did was makeover my image to be more sophisticated.  Perhaps if I looked the role, I would prove that I belonged in the role.  I bought new clothes with the help of a personal shopper and updated my hairstyle and took care with my makeup.  My anxiety about whether or not I would be successful in this job was fixated on “looking right.”

When I was brave enough to ask for and talented enough to get a 4-day workweek after the birth of my son, I made the mistake of not cutting back on my shopping.  You see, I was still ambitious for the corner office.  Still optimistic that I would get promotions and salary raises, advancing in my career and paying for my shopping crutch.  Still anxious that I needed to look a certain way in order to succeed, I filled up my insecurity with expensive clothes that the saleswoman picked out for me, because I did not trust my own taste to find my own style.  As I spent more money, I became more secretive with my shopping expeditions, hiding the packages in the back of my closet.  Of course this story ended badly.  My husband found my credit card bill and was shocked.  Rightly so.  It was shocking.  I had to take out a loan to pay it off and return to a 5-day workweek.  I jeopardized my marriage and squandered my precious time, precious time with my children, just to “look right.”

When “early middle age” hit (newsflash, it’s not eternal) and I realized that I was not going to achieve the corner office (and didn’t really want to chase after it any more anyway), and that it mattered what I did not what I wore, and that my kids were quickly growing up, I went to the other extreme.  Rather than cover up my gently sagging skin with more makeup and rejuvenating injections, I now wear less makeup than ever, barely managing a swipe of lipstick.  I don’t want to spend money or time on extravagant trendy clothing or weekly manicures.  What little disposable income I have now goes to the college fund.  And my gray hair?  So far, I don’t have a lot so I don’t color it.  I refuse to color it.   I’ve spent my whole life dressing up as someone I thought I should be.  Now I just want to be me.

I feel sad and somewhat dismayed by how much time, money, effort and energy we women spend on our appearance.  When young, we are so afraid we don’t deserve our job.  When middle aged, we are so afraid we will lose our job to a younger, more stylish and up-to-date competitor.  We are so preoccupied with other women and their appearance, judging them on how they look and not always on what they accomplish.

I am not naïve.  I know attractive people tend to be better liked and more successful.  I know that feeling good about how I look can help me feel and behave more confidently.  I know that if I had the money and the time and the corner office, I might gladly be swayed to spend it on rejuvenating treatments.  And who knows what I will do when I hit “late middle age.”  It’s easy to be defiant, even disdainful, when you still feel in your prime.

But surely there is something to be said for a woman of a certain age.  She has lived and loved and learned who she is.  She has experience to share.  She has earned her gray hair, her wider hips, her worry lines and her laugh lines.

I remember when Botox first became accessible for cosmetic use about ten years ago and thinking how strange it will be if no one’s face ages and no one’s face shows emotion.  At that time I decided I did not want to succumb to Botox but wondered if I would be able to stick with that decision as I got older.  My mother had a facelift after surgery left her with an ugly scar on her neck.  I was surprised that my beautiful-to-me mother felt the need to look younger and prettier…more vital.  If my mother couldn’t stand “late middle age,” how was I going to cope with it?

For now, the role models I admire are many.  Annie Lennox baring her face and her soul, when she was 48, on her solo album Bare.  Cyndi Lee embracing her gray hair in May I Be Happy.  Jamie Lee Curtis writing empowering children’s books on self-esteem and discussing body image with More.   Hillary Clinton, whose hair is still making the news and whose accomplishments are truly impressive.  Perhaps the best role models of all are my beautiful middle-aged friends (early, middle, and late) who still dance at the ballet barre or ace their serve on the tennis court or stand on their heads in the yoga studio or rule the executive suite or cherish their families.  My beautiful middle-aged friends awe me every day with their love, courage, resilience, intelligence, humor and grace.  Beautiful because of their wrinkles earned from living life.

When I look in the mirror, I visualize the same face I’ve always seen in my mind.  But when I really look in the mirror, and see, really see my face – I see the dark circles, the loosening skin, the mottled complexion with “age spots.”   I see the jowls (yes, jowls!).  I see the wrinkles.  I also see my clear and hopeful eyes that are no longer too shy to make eye contact with anyone, not even with me.

“Enjoy the Food!”

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Secret Eating

When I got engaged to my husband, 20 years ago, perhaps my biggest worry was how I was going to keep my eating weirdness a secret.  I recall that I also had more typical concerns, like:  are we still going to be in love 20 years later?  (Yes, but it takes work to navigate the differences as we have matured into our older, more distinct selves.)  Funny, the eating concern is vivid and fresh, like it was yesterday.

Food was and is a big part of our relationship.  In the beginning, dates and weekends together revolved around either eating out at a new restaurant or eating in by picking a recipe and planning a meal to cook together.  We were both very active and thoroughly enjoyed eating a lot to offset all the physical activity.  Cocooned in our relationship, we developed a repertoire of delicious meals together.  Before our engagement, we spent the weekdays apart, where I happily could revert to eating alone my secret meals.

I would eat alone, secretly, so I could indulge my desire for gorging.  I learned to gorge on food that has few calories so I could eat a lot of it without gaining weight.  A classic strategy for a ballerina.  Some of my favorite foods for gorging, because they can be consumed in large quantities with little adornment except for some olive oil & vinegar or plain yogurt, include:  Shredded Wheat, Oatmeal, Quinoa, Lentils, Baked Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Escarole, Broccoli Rabe, and FRUIT.  Staggering quantities of fruit.  So sweet and refreshing, I still eat a lot of fruit every day.  Now I am better able to manage portion sizes and enjoy what I eat mindfully.  Back then, I would make the meal last by reading while I ate and not letting myself take another bite until I finished a paragraph.  There is so much food I did not savor because I was reading and so many books I did not retain because I was eating.  Both the eating and the reading were stalling devices – I was avoiding dealing with whatever anxiety I did not want to face at the time.  Avoiding human contact and conflict, avoiding taking risks to put myself out there in the world to claim who I really was instead of who I thought I should be.  Or who I thought they wanted me to be.  Anyone other than me.

In those happy years of early marriage and those busy years of raising young children, I did not have time to be so anxious and did not miss being lonely.  My husband accepted and ignored or laughed at my food oddities.  I adapted my rules, strategies, and preferences to our life together, eking out some secret eating time when he had his tennis nights.  But when the weight gain of mid-life settled in and the anxieties of mid-life settled in, I found myself pulling out my bag of tricks.  But this time, my kids were watching.  Desperate to model healthy food choices to my son who would prefer to eat macaroni and cheese exclusively; desperate to model “normal” eating behavior to my daughter who regularly lounges in front of the tv, eating alone;  I became obsessive with healthy food choices and regular meals with minimal snacking.  I lost my 20 pounds but am not convinced there isn’t collateral damage.  I can no longer control when and what my children eat.  Perhaps I never did.

When I found out I was pregnant with a girl, 18 years ago, perhaps my biggest worry was how to raise a girl without an eating disorder.  I vowed to raise a daughter with a happy sense of her self and her body and a healthy approach to eating that included enjoyment of food.  I recall that I also had more typical concerns, like:  will she be healthy?  Will she be happy?  Will I be a good mother?   (She is healthy.  I hope she is happy.  And, good or bad, I certainly am the mother I was meant to be.)  Funny, the eating disorder concern is vivid and fresh, like it was yesterday.

As girls, it makes complete sense to me why we eat alone.  There is too much pressure to eat socially.  Like Scarlett O’Hara, we have to eat a private meal before (or after) the public meal.  We are so laced into our form-fitting party attire and so expected to eat properly, pretending we don’t need or enjoy the sensual pleasure of eating to satiety.

There is too much pressure to eat what everyone else is eating.  Either too much or too little.  What if it doesn’t taste good?  What if it does taste good, so good I can’t stop eating it?  No, better to sit quietly with a vat of fruit, filling up on something healthy and tasty that won’t make me fat.

There is too much pressure to make food choices that are what “normal” people would choose to eat.  The homemade pasta with short ribs sounds delicious, but I am afraid of the calories and am cutting back on meat.  I’d really rather have the vegan farro with grilled vegetables.  Does that make me weird, someone to look askance at?

When the meal arrives, it is unseemly to devour the entire plate load of food.  “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly eat another bite” is what the good girls say, covering their plate with a napkin or mushing the food so that it is no longer appetizing or (my personal tactic) simply dividing it in half mentally and using their tremendous self-discipline to stop.  I don’t believe the thin celebrities who brag that they eat burgers and fries without guilt.  They go to the gym to work it off – or worse if they are bulimic.  They pay a price for their bodies.

Our children watch us, learn from us, imitate us, reject us.  When all is said and done, they take parts of us even as they separate and evolve into their own selves.  I am regularly terrified that some characteristic of me that I can’t stand lives on in my children.  Cuticle picking, secret eating, and all sorts of obsessive-compulsive and perfectionistic anxiety.  But they are not me.  They did not have my parents, my life.  They are loved, I think they know they are loved, and they have different life experiences and coping skills to grow into emotionally strong and honest adults.  Still, I can’t help but have a frisson of terror when I see myself mirrored whenever they exhibit anxious behavior traits.

When my brother-in-law urged me to “enjoy the food!” on a recent trip to New Orleans, I laughed.  He had no idea what a complicated feat that would be for me.  (Or did he?)  Balancing my fear of getting fat with my desire to eat, it used to be easy to lose track of what really tastes good and what really satisfies my body.  Now, though, with years of eating behind me and an increasing yogic sense of awareness of my body, I am more able to choose what I really want to eat and to enjoy it.  Nothing beats a delicious bowl of fruit.  Now, though, I prefer to share it.

Beautiful Girls

I Am a Prude

The New York Times style magazine, T Magazine, published an issue with a cover photo and inner photo spreads that sparked some controversy:  Too Tough To Handle – Harnessing the dark side with black bikinis and a leather cover-up.  I actually missed the physical issue, because it was Mother’s Day and I was busy not running errands in a very determined way.  So I followed the controversy after the fact in the blogs with intense professional interest.  I market magazines for a living.  Beautiful girls and sex help sell magazines.  I have worked with the editor of T Magazine, Deborah Needleman, and was curious about how she would present her point of view publicly.

In short, readers complained that the girls were too young and too thin and that the imagery was too referential to sexual bondage.  The commentary from Jamie Peck at thegloss.com and Margaret Sullivan as Public Editor of the NYT was remarkably benign about the images.  Peck acknowledged liking the look.  Sullivan focused on the issue of photo-shopping images in fashion photography (forbidden in journalism, but practically de rigueur in fashion photography).  Needleman was quoted as saying she also thought the cover model was too thin and considered photo-shopping some plumpness to her but opted not to do so.

Given my personal experience with too-thin-ness, I decided I really should look at the images and check in with my own gut.

My professional distance dissolved.

Two young too-thin girls, perhaps they are all of 20, dressed in black bikinis with a leather cover-up (you know, “harnessing the dark side”) with an aloof and unsmiling gaze.  Their skin is pale.  Their expression is almost hostile (you know, “too tough to handle”).

I imagined the photo shoot.   I imagined myself as one of the models at 20.  Eager to please.  Flattered they think I am beautiful.  Lucky to be wearing couture.  Anxious to be considered grown-up, sophisticated, sexy, not naïve.  Obedient – I, too, would have endured, willingly, the scrutiny of my body, if it meant I was special.  Can’t you hear the photographer (Craig McDean) and the stylist (Joe McKenna) commanding them to be sexy?  Why does sexy equate with haughty and aloof, hostile and hard, breastless and bony?

Shouldn’t sexy mean bare souls connecting with intimacy, love, passion?  Shouldn’t sexy be happy?  These girls don’t look happy.  These girls don’t look like they know anything about love, joy, and happiness.  Shouldn’t beautiful girls be smiling?  Who are the people that think these girls are sexy?  Who are the girls that want to look like this?

Sadly, we are everywhere.

In the magazine world, whenever we engaged in serious self-questioning about what kind of models and celebrities to use on the cover and on the inside spreads, we bemoaned the fact that white blonds sold better than ethnic girls and that thin sold better than curvy.  I always cheered when a magazine would take a stand against too-thin models.  Alas, the readers might say they want to see real women in their magazines, but they don’t buy the magazines with the real women.

I did have some genuine conversation with the editor of Teen Vogue, Amy Astley, across several years of working on that title.  Like me, she had been a ballerina.  Like me, she was a mother.  Like me, she understood issues around body image and eating.  In my experience of her, Amy loves all things related to girls and works hard to create a magazine that encourages healthy and positive, honest and open points of view – though within the framework of a fashion magazine.  She advocates for no smoking.  She advocates for no drinking and driving, no texting and driving.  She addresses important issues of body image and bullying and sex.  Once, when I came to her requesting images of happy girls making eye contact for a marketing piece, I remember her saying – poignantly – something like: Oh Sally, these girls don’t smile.

Beautiful girls who don’t smile.  Sad.

I revisited the T magazine fashion spread and the commentary about it.  Blasé, the bloggers commented that the images were unremarkable.  I too wanted to be blasé.  Not a prude.  Yea, these images are unremarkable and the controversy is ridiculous.  Everyone wants $500 black bikinis and $5,000 leather jackets to wear to the beach.  And then it hit me.  Yes I am.  I am a prude.  An outraged prude!  These images are remarkably ridiculous.  These images are insidiously dangerous.  These images are sad, not sexy.

Now pejorative, “prude” actually means “honorable woman” and was originally a noble compliment, associated with wisdom, prudence, sound judgment.  Where are the prudes protecting our beautiful girls?  We should be creating a world where girls can allow their bodies to feel.  Feel hungry.  Feel pleasure.  Feel pretty.  Feel safe, sexual intimacy.  Feel happy.  Happy enough to smile.

(Photo is from T Magazine: The New York Times Style Magazine)

My name is Sally and I weigh 123.4 pounds.

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Addicted to the Scale?

I weigh myself on Monday mornings.  I am the first person up.  I tip-toe into the bathroom.  (I still move like a dancer.)  I turn on the shower so that the water gets really hot.  (I love getting lost in the shower with hot water surrounding me.)  I pee. (It’s important that all possible fluids be eliminated.)  I strip naked.  (It’s important to not be weighed down by any clothing…my threadbare pajamas must weigh at least a pound!)  I pull out the scale from its somewhat unobtrusive and hidden location.  (I don’t want my daughter to get the scale addiction.)  I step on it.  I hold my breath.  The digital numbers flicker back and forth before settling into this week’s verdict.  Aha!  Under 125 pounds.  My current magic boundary.  I weigh as little as I’ve weighed since I was married 19 years ago.  I feel ridiculously proud and virtuous about this dubious achievement.  What a way to kick off the week.

My mother’s scale was in their walk-in closet – a small, dark, private room that always fascinated me.  My mother’s clothes on one side and my father’s clothes on the other side.  Hidden treasure boxes of old jewelry, old photos and other mementos on the shelving high up.  This was where the Christmas presents were stashed away.  She was not particularly modest.  Dressing, undressing, bathing with doors open.  I liked to sneak in when no one was there.  Trying on her clothes.  Trying on her shoes.  Curious about her bras and under-garments.  Examining the old jewelry, wondering if any of it fit me.  Wondering about what I would be like when these grown up womanly items did fit me.  She weighed herself every morning, naked.  I did too.

At 10, I already weighed over 100 pounds and was “pleasantly plump.”  (My father’s words.  He used the same phrase for the Rubenesque nudes in the art he loved so much.)  He loved ice cream and we had it every night.  Usually Baskin & Robbins French Vanilla.  Or Peppermint – my favorite flavor.  He carefully measured out a precise serving.  No over indulgence allowed.  Or we had 2 cookies, usually Oreos or Fig Newtons.  My mother had none.

In Paris, during our one truly extravagant family vacation before high school, my father and I sampled chocolate mousse at every restaurant.  That trip was where I developed my taste for intensely dark chocolate and strong coffee.  In Florence, the men wouldn’t stop touching me.  It was an early taste, at 13, of sexually aggressive unwanted male attention to my “pleasantly plump” curves.

Entering high school where boys and girls began to do more than eye each other with curiosity from afar, I became sure that “pleasantly plump” was not what I wanted to be.  Ambivalent about my curves and their impact on men and confused that “Pleasantly plump” became “Better not eat that, you’ll get fat,” I found myself in the mirror-lined ballet studio.  In a leotard.   About 15 pounds heavier than the ethereal tall, thin, breastless ballerinas I began to admire.  Having reached puberty at 11 with a mesomorph’s solid and strong body, there was no way I was going to transform into an ectomorph.  But I could try.  And so I did.  I upped my weekly dance class to twice, 3x, 4x, every day except Sunday.  When that wasn’t enough, I started taking two classes daily.  I learned the calorie counts of every food item and began to mete out allowable calories obsessively.  About 1,500 calories.  (For someone dancing 4 hours a day, 1,500 calories was starvation.)  Starving yourself is impossible to sustain.  So I would swing in the other direction and binge on large quantities of food.  Alone.  In secret.  I couldn’t eat normally in public.  Terrified of getting fat.  Terrified to be thought of as beautiful and desirable.  When I binged, I felt bad.  Guilty.  Ashamed.  Embarrassed.  Fat.  I had to punish myself.  So I would run.  Take another dance class.  Eat even less the next day.  I tried the-vomiting-thing a few times.  It really disturbed me on so many levels.  It was gross.  And I didn’t want to admit I had a problem.  Avoiding vomiting helped me remain in denial that I had an eating disorder.  Maybe other ballerinas did it, but not me.  Instead I figured out how to keep my eating swings tightly controlled in my disciplined way.

Over the course of that year, I became incredibly strong and incredibly thin.  I liked being thin.  I liked hitting weight-loss goal after goal.  Clothes looked good on me.  I liked the breastless version of myself that I saw in the ballet studio mirrors.  I liked being hungry.  It made me feel alert and better than the other girls.  I could resist food.  (Except when I couldn’t.  But I kept that to myself, hidden.)  My weight got down to about 100 pounds.  My parents never said anything.  Did they not notice that their pleasantly plump daughter was now breastless and bony?  It was dear, honest Emily, with the scale dipping to 98 pounds, who exclaimed, with true alarm, that she could see my ribs!  I liked that my ribs were showing, but it jarred me enough to reconsider this aesthetic when she expressed such alarm.  100 pounds became my magic boundary.  The low boundary.  If I didn’t drop below 100 pounds and I didn’t make myself throw up, then I didn’t have an eating disorder.  I carefully put on a few pounds.

By the end of high school I was a healthier weight and had given up ballet.  Off I went to college where I easily gained the Freshman 15.  And hated myself for it.  To punish myself, I returned to ballet and 100 pounds.  It felt good to be in control and thin again!  But I was so unhappy.  Through therapy and time, I learned how much food I could eat and how much exercise I needed to maintain a more normal weight.  Love and my marriage helped.  I was busy and happy.  I was so busy and so happy that I threw away my scale.  Hooray!  I was done with eating issues.  Besides, I wanted to set a good example for my daughter.  I so wanted to have a healthy relationship with food and to model normal eating behavior for her.  But she knows me.  I measure everything.  I don’t allow myself dessert except for maybe a yogurt or some very dark chocolate.  I control my portions so carefully that I can neither tolerate sharing my food (it’s my allowance of food not yours) nor do I have room for any serendipitous treat offered to me (I ate my allowance already).  I can’t just stop when I’m full.  Because I don’t know when I’m full.  I’m too obsessed with weighing what is the right thing to eat; what is the right amount to eat.  I am too busy thinking to feel.

There was an easier time with my eating during courtship and early marriage where we ate out, we cooked in, we enjoyed food together.   And then my 40’s happened.  What isn’t discussed about disordered eating (to my knowledge) is that it COMES BACK!  Just when you think you’ve got the eating thing figured out, its ugliness reemerges when you’re looking at middle age staring back at you in the mirror.   If I could just lose 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 15 pounds, I will look younger, feel better, sleep more soundly, defy death.  When my age creeped over 40 and my weight creeped over 140, I went into action.  Back to the ballet studio, I bought a scale.  I got thin and strong again.

Of course it is different as a more experienced adult.  I don’t swing between extremes the way I used to.  A calmer yoga practice has replaced an obsessive pursuit of ballet.  I don’t punish myself.  I do enjoy food.  But my enjoyment of food remains controlled.  The anxiety hovers under the surface.  Intellectually, I know five pounds doesn’t make a difference in who I am.  Intellectually, I know maintaining that magic boundary on the scales is not what makes me happy.  Now I can laugh at how ridiculous it all is, while acknowledging its presence.  It’s part of who I am.  Stepping naked onto the scale every Monday morning, I am aware that I let the scale’s verdict influence my self-esteem.  Stepping naked onto the scale every Monday morning, I remind myself to breathe, to be grateful for my strong body, to enjoy my chocolate, and to not let the scale’s verdict influence my self-esteem.

Lunch in the New Year?

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Measuring Austerity

The Christmas tree is down.  I am sad.  My kids are sad.  It was a wonderful holiday this year, filled with love.  And now it is January.  Perhaps the best part of January is that my husband’s birthday is this month.  Not only do we have a family occasion to celebrate, but I can feel the days getting longer when his birthday arrives.

But the other truth is:  The Christmas tree is down – I am relieved.  SO relieved to be in the bracingly harsh disciplined January regimen!  No more free-wheeling nonschedule with access to an abundance of food and time on my hands to do nothing.  God forbid I should sit on the couch and watch tv and eat more than my austere allowable allotment of a 120-calorie treat of some kind (2 cookies or a yogurt).  January is the time for exercising more and eating less and feeling smugly virtuous with that twinge of hunger gnawing at me, telling me I am losing the holiday weight.  (Not that I allowed myself to gain any holiday weight.)

I am not proud to feel so proud and smug.

When Dr. Oz (Dr. Oz!  Am I a cliche?  50 year old woman blogs and cites Dr. Oz!) revealed (in the print edition of October 12 Prevention magazine – yes the print edition.  The full article is not online.  It has been bastardized into a slide show to generate more page views for ad selling metrics.  Long live print.) that one of his tactics for reducing stress and keeping slim was to eat the same breakfast every day, I smiled with recognition.  He’s one of us!  A neurotic disciplined ocd control freak.  Well, it does simplify life to have a specific repertoire of meals with a specific balance of calories, taste, and nutrition at your finger-tips.  I rotate between about 4 breakfasts and 4 lunches.  I truly feel unmoored when meals are too unscheduled.  While my methods may not be glamorous, they do work.

When I first conceived of writing about eating, I imagined myself writing an instructive self-help diet book.  As I reflected on my future as the next (wildly celebrated!) diet book guru, I couldn’t help but wonder at the irony.  Self help about dieting from someone with an eating disorder is absurd!  But hey, if you want to lose weight in., advice from a former ballerina should do the trick.

Brown-bagging lunch works better when you have more than one “course” so you feel like your getting a fully satisfying eating experience.  I always have a main course, followed by a measured allotment of dark bitterdark chocolate, and a large quantity of fresh fruit.  The chocolate is decadent and you don’t need much to feel like you’re having a treat (and it’s healthy).  The quantity of fruit is sweet, refreshing, takes time to eat, fills you up, and feels like dessert.  To drink, I eliminated soda (diet) several years ago and switched to homemade unsweetened ice tea.  My skin has improved texture and looks younger.  Amazing.

I estimate that by brown-bagging my lunch, I have saved well over $1,200 and easily lost 4 pounds annually.

While  you are experimenting with brown-bagging it at lunchtime (please use reusable bags), I plan to activate one of my new year’s resolutions:  to be more sociable and go out with a friend at least once a week.

Hummus and Feta Sandwich (a simplified version originally from Bon Appetit)

Hummus

  • 1 14.5 ounce can of chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • 3 Tablespoons tahini
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil

Blend together in food processor to make hummus – keeps for 2 weeks.

Sandwich

  • 2 slices whole wheat bread (I like Vermont Bread Company organic whole wheat.  The slices are not too big which means the sandwich is a normal portion size, not super-sized.  Also, there is not too much sugar.  Many of the more commercial brands add quite a bit of sugar to their whole wheat bread, so that people like my 13 year old son will like whole wheat bread.)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons hummus, spread across both slices
  • 2 ounces Feta

Turkey, Cheddar, and Avocado Sandwich

  • 1 slice of Mestemacher Natural 3 Grain Bread (this bread is tangy-sour), cut in half
  • Spread bread with plain greek yogurt (I use greek yogurt with everything.  It has protein and no fat.  It is tangy-sour, adding more flavor than mayonnaise, and is thicker and more spreadable than regular yogurt.)
  • Add 2-3 slices of turkey.
  • 1.5 ounces of Cheddar (My favorite is 7 year aged Old Quebec Vintage Cheddar – super sharp.)
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced

Peanut Butter and Jelly

  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 3 Tablespoons natural chunky peanut butter
  • 1 Tablespoon Simon-Fischer apricot butter

Almond Butter on Raisin Bread

  • 2 slices whole wheat raisin bread (Vermont Bread Company)
  • 3 Tablespoons almond butter

Quinoa and Black Bean Salad

  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • ½ cup prepared black bean salad (I cheat.  My local stores all have decent versions.)

Good as is, or enhance with some chopped radicchio and crumbled feta

Sweet Potato with Greek Yogurt

This is one of my favorite easy, quick meals and is very satisfying.  I microwave a large sweet potato for about 6-7 minutes.  It cooks more evenly if it is not to thick.  Spread the potato with a hefty portion of plain greek yogurt.

Ice Tea

  • Boil 1 quart of water
  • Steep 1 English Breakfast tea bag and 1 Green tea bag for 3 minutes
  • Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  Bring with brown bag lunch in a thermos.

Dessert

6 squares of Sweetriot Pure 85% Dark Chocolate  (It is very bitter, with strong and complex flavor.  My husband stole one of my squares and looked at me aghast, feeling betrayed.  I tried not to mind that he stole it, but generally wound up feeling triumphant that he will not steal from me any time soon.  So ungenerous.)

Letting Gluttony Lurk

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Learning to be a Joyous Hostess

Just as a compulsive shopper cuts up her credit cards and vows never to step foot in Nordstrom, so the binge eater hides from food triggers, avoiding parties or establishing strict rules around acceptable foods and acceptable quantities that can be eaten – and doing penance when she fails.  It is difficult to hide from Thanksgiving.  My heart goes out to all who find this celebration of gluttony to be a struggle.  No matter how many years go by, I remember the struggle (and struggle still).

Yes, phew!  I survived another Thanksgiving.  And even enjoyed much of it.  Now that is something to be thankful for!  Each year it is better.  As I check in politely with acquaintances this week the general response is:  “Ah, Thanksgiving was wonderful, so relaxing!  Lots of food and wine and family!”  Really?  REALLY?  Does anyone ever answer, “NO!  I hate Thanksgiving!  It’s a lot of work and I eat too much and I feel horrible after it’s all over!  Thank God it’s over!”?  A holiday centered on an abundance of food that encourages binge eating.  That’s a landmine for those of us with eating issues.  Consider:

The Anticipation

I, the competitive, ambitious, my-meal-is-better-than-your-meal over-achiever emerges in full regalia.  Thankfully, this trait has been tempered by time and parenthood.  (I am not a joyous hostess.)

Then:  I compulsively reviewed recipes, looking for the perfect one that would make the most delicious turkey and the most amazing dessert.  No shortcuts allowed.  Time was not a consideration.  Neither was effort.  Neither was expense.  I would design an elaborate menu, shop at multiple stores to find the best ingredients, cook for days until there was no way I was going to enjoy eating the food.  I am not sure my guests enjoyed it either because it was too obviously a performance and not about comfort and generosity.

Now:  After having children, I have found I cannot afford the luxury of time to devote to an elaborate meal, nor do I want to.  Moreover, my family is not interested in some new-fangled dessert or trendy turkey-cooking technique.  They want the same old menu year after year.  It was me who wanted to prove what a great cook I was.  Hmmm.  I suppose I can forego gourmet-dom and do the same old menu.

My kids now want to cook and have ownership of some of the dishes.  Hmmm.  I suppose I can give up some control over the meal.  My son now owns mashed potatoes and I “assisted” him (wink wink) with the stuffing and the gravy.   My daughter now owns pumpkin muffins for breakfast as well as sweet potatoes and pecan pie.  My sister-in-law brings pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce.  I make the turkey. (Alton Brown’s recipe for brining and roasting the turkey has been the best method yielding the most delicious results, for me.) Plus a salad and roasted radicchio rounded out the meal this year.  Everything was delicious.  I even allowed myself to enjoy the super-sweet marshmallow-y sweet potatoes, a dish I have scorned in the past.  Indeed, I think they were my favorite dish this year!  In spite of a twinge of guilt, I coach myself to not mind that I am not attempting some new complicated dish this year.

The Eating

I, the obsessive-compulsive calorie-counting nutritionivore – with disordered eating patterns a constant backdrop eager to raise its ugly head at a moment’s notice – enjoy an abundant Thanksgiving dinner?  YIKES!

Then:  As a child, before I took over the kitchen, I remember a quiet boring day with my mother cooking and my father and grandfather watching football.  It was just the four of us.  (My parents were not joyous hosts – and thus I never learned how to be one either.  Perhaps there is still time.)  The turkey was a production, with everyone fussing over whether or not it was done.  My grandfather brought a bittertart traditional cranberry sauce and some pies.  My mother made stuffing.  I waited impatiently all day – so bored and lonely – until it was time to eat.  Finally it was time to eat and I basked in that activity, gorging on all the delicious food.  Everything about the food was pleasurable after a boring, lonely day as a young only child.  When I was old enough to cook, I took control over dessert, perfecting piecrust and elaborate renditions of traditional pies.  But by the time I was old enough to cook, I had become self-conscious of my body.  Gorging on an abundance of food to pass the time or fill the loneliness had led to a normal and normally curvy adolescent body that generated unwanted attention.  Better control that appetite – channel that food appetite into cooking not eating.  Like whack-a-mole, though, appetite cannot be suppressed permanently and will rise up again and again until dealt with.  I remember my first Thanksgiving home from college.  Depressed, I just ate and ate and ate, picking at the turkey, picking at the pie.  It was so delicious and so much more delicious than the cafeteria food.  Trying to fill up with comfort and looking for love that was only available through food – or some achievement.

[Note to all parents, aunts/uncles, teachers and friends of adolescents:  Please help young people stay young and to respect their normal bodies and to be confident no-sayers.  It is painful to be a child with a woman’s body lusted after by older boys and men.]

Now:  My hyper-discipline goes into overdrive.  I take one normal sized portion of everything I like, leaving what is not important to me (mashed potatoes and gravy).  I drink one glass of wine with the meal, not before.  Then when everyone goes back for seconds, I take some salad.  For dessert, I have a miniscule sliver of each pie.  After all, the first bite is the most delicious bite. The day after, I revert immediately to my regular eating, refraining from the dessert leftovers.  No guilt from over-indulgence, no penance required.  (And limited joy derived from the meal.)

The Clean-Up

I, the martyr shows up.  No, No, I don’t need any help.  Don’t mind me.  I’m exhausted from cooking all day, but no matter – go have fun!  I’ll just stand here for another hour by myself doing the dishes – a chore from my childhood that I hate – seething with rage.  Don’t mind me. (I am not a joyous hostess.)

Then and Now:  Yowza, I am still struggling with this one.  I asked for help from my children and my nephew kept me company, curious and appreciative of his aunt.  It’s an improving process, but the rage remains.  What is that rage?  Childhood disappointment in an unsatisfying meal where “children are to be seen and not heard.”  Oh, and then do the dishes.

The Week After

When politely asked how my thanksgiving was, I can now answer:  “I loved the time with my family.  My children are becoming wonderful cooks and kitchen companions.  And I am learning to be a more joyous hostess.”

 

Kiera’s Pumpkin Muffins

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 14 oz can pure pumpkin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably Greek-style)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup golden raisins

Preheat over to 325°F.  Sift or stir together the dry ingredients.  Using electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, eggs.  Beat in the pumpkin, lemon zest, vanilla, and yogurt.  Gradually add in the dry ingredients.  Gently stir in the nuts and raisins.  Spoon batter into muffin tin.  (We use foil liners.)  Bake approximately 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Makes 15 muffins.  Delicious with cranberry sauce.  (Muffins freeze well.)

Grandpa’s Bittertart Cranberry Sauce (the recipe is from the package – so easy)

  • 1 cup water (or orange juice)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups fresh, whole cranberries – a 12 oz package

Bring liquid to a simmer.  Add sugar and stir until dissolved.  Add in the cranberries.  Simmer gently until the cranberries begin to pop, about 10 minutes.  Sauce thickens as it cools.

Delicious on muffins and toast (as well as the thanksgiving turkey).

The Mirror in the Studio

The Ballet Studio

I returned to the ballet studio eight years ago at the age of 42 following a 17-year hiatus, and one year after dispatching my daughter into ballet class.  (She wisely extricated herself from the ballet world five years later when she was 12.)    My first plié felt like no time had passed.  Tears gently oozed with the familiar music as my body felt the emotion and the memory of my dancing. 

And then there was the mirror.  My familiar companion.  Judgment.

Not bad for 42.  Me in a leotard.  And a skirt to disguise the hips and belly.

But I could look better.  BE better.

I was sucked into the obsession.  Immediately. 

  • Where should I stand at the barre to get the best view (of me)?
  • Do I look thinner today?
  • Am I thinner than her?
  • Is my stomach flat?
  • How high is my leg in developpé?
  • Is it higher than hers?
  • Is the teacher watching me?
  • Does HE like my dancing?

Wait, I am 42 and myopic.  I can barely see myself in the mirror!    And so went the next few years as I re-explored ballet from a new perspective.  Can I simply enjoy it without the ambition, without the judgment?  My muscle memory came back quickly.  I still struggled with double pirouettes and piqué turns to the left.  I still danced adagio sections in the center beautifully, maybe more beautifully with years of living coloring my dancing.  And I loved jumping!  Flying through the air.  Joy!  As I strained to revisit my ballerina dreams in this weekly Saturday adult class filled with other beautiful and accomplished “mature” dancers, I nursed agonizing muscle cramps every Saturday evening and my chronic stiff neck. 

I was obsessed.  I lost weight.  A new ballerina friend remarked enthusiastically a year later – “Oh! You have your ballet body back!”  My ballerina body.  Thin.  In pain.  Grasping at those double pirouettes.  Crying with joy at every plié and grand jeté.  Trying to explain to my husband why I did this every Saturday even though it led to excruciating night cramps where I yelped around on one leg.  I thought I loved it.  But my body told me otherwise.  I stopped.  Yes, it was different at 42 than at 14, but the memories stored in my body were still there and would not let me embody the joy of dance without the pain.

The Yoga Studio 

And then I walked into the yoga studio.  There were no mirrors, no judgment, no right and wrong.  I closed my eyes.  I breathed.  I felt my body.  I felt safe.  At peace (at least sometimes).  Don’t get me wrong.  I still judged myself.  I still compared myself to everyone.  Ha!  I can touch my head to my knee and she can’t!  Look at me doing headstand at the wall!  Uh oh, look at her doing headstand without the wall!  I slowly have begun to absorb the truth:  there is no perfect pose to achieve.  Gradually, there are more moments of peace and fewer moments of judgment.  Fewer moments of obsessive chasing after the perfect chaturanga … And, with my neck, I have sworn off headstand (for now).  But I am thrilled with handstand.  (Thank you Jill.  I hear your voice every time I go flying up through the air, heels over head, to become upside down.)

I was surprised when I saw the mirror in the new studio.  I felt betrayed.  How could you put a mirror in the yoga studio?  Intellectually, I get it.  The mirror is a good teaching tool.  It provides good feedback.  You’re not getting the shape of Trikonasana?  Let’s go over to the mirror and find it.  You can’t see your back body?  Let’s go over to the mirror and find it.  Angry at the mirror, I purposefully arrived early at classes so that I could find my own space, aggressively away from the mirror.  For me, the point of yoga was to feel the poses and my body in the poses and get away from “right” and “wrong.”  I love to close my eyes and remove the onslaught of visual stimuli and move inside.   Hide inside.

Proprioception is your ability to know where your body is in space.  It is a crucial “6th” sense and vitally important for balance and increasingly valuable as we get older.  Dancers have tremendous body discipline but can be reliant on the mirror for feedback.  When dancers move from the mirrored studio to the mirrorless stage, they can be disoriented, unable to perform if they are not performing for the mirror.  Yogis tune in to their bodies, developing nuanced body awareness, balance, strength and flexibility – learning to distinguish between up and down even when they are upside down and without a mirror. 

One amazing use of the mirror took place in a Feldenkrais workshop offered at Yoga Haven led by Kim Plumridge several years ago.  She gave us all a hand mirror and asked us to look at our faces.   Indeed, she commanded us to REALLY LOOK AT OUR FACES. 

  • Notice the asymmetry of each half of your face. 
  • What color are your eyes? 
  • What is the color and texture of your skin?
  • How deep are your dark circles? 
  • What happens when you smile?  Enjoy how you feel when you smile. 
  • Look into your own eyes and see your Self.  Honor your Self. 
  • Like what you see in the mirror. 

Astonishing!  The mirror transcends self-absorption and facilitates self-acceptance, allowing the heart and soul to shine out with love for me … and for you.  Perhaps it is time to open my eyes and make peace with the mirror in the studio, and my Self.  Namaste.

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