I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Eating alone

“Enjoy the Food!”

IMG_1504

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.

Eating for One

IMGP0745

More Meatless (Part 2)

When my husband decided to take our son skiing for 3 days over Spring Break, my first thought was “I can eat whatever I want!”

I immediately decided to go vegetarian for the time and planned out my meals.  But why?  Because all the other health-oriented middle-aged women are going veg?  I didn’t want it to be just because it is trendy.  On reflection, here are the reasons why eating less meat is right for me:

  1. I feel better, physically, especially with no red meat.  When I eat steak (which I love), my stomach gurgles and I can’t sleep.  I feel lighter and more alert when I eat less meat.
  2. I feel better, mentally, as a global citizen.  A vegetarian diet uses fewer resources than a meat-eating diet.  It just seems the responsible way to eat.
  3. I feel better, emotionally, as a living being.  When I look in an animal’s eyes, I see another soul.  I don’t like to think I am killing other beings.
  4. I feel better, spiritually, as a yogini.  Ahimsa – do no harm – is the first moral restraint of yoga philosophy.

As an obedient rule-follower and laden with eating baggage, do I really need more food rules to live by?  Probably not.  Which is one of the reasons why I have not gone down the vegetarian path more vigorously.   Besides, it would mean rocking the boat on the family dinner front.  Rocking the boat is not something I do.  As I’ve quietly but forcefully acknowledged and embraced who I am, I’ve begun to assert who I am with more confidence.  Part of that assertion occurs around food and consciously choosing what I want to eat.  Not being embarrassed by the way I eat.  Perhaps I am not the one with the eating disorder after all?  Perhaps nothing is wrong with me and I have something to teach others?

My husband and I fell in love over food.  Cooking for each other, cooking with each other, sampling restaurants.  It was fun!  In those early months, merging as one – as couples do in the initial phase of a relationship, we ate the same foods.  As we built our marriage and our family life, a central component has been and continues to be cooking and eating together.  We plan meals, choose recipes, share the cooking and share the eating.  Family dinners are a significant and valued part of our family life together.  About 10 years ago (around 40), I gradually shifted to a more insistently healthy diet.  I had gained the “normal” weight that a 40+ woman puts on after marriage, two children, a sedentary full time job and a lot of pasta and red wine.  I changed my choices for breakfast and lunch but pretty much kept dinner with the family.  Then I eliminated dessert and cut back on wine and switched to whole wheat pasta, whole grain everything.  And lost more than the 15 pounds I had gained over the years.  And felt better.  And slept better.  What does it mean to eat differently than my husband?  He cooks for delicious nourishment.  I cook for healthy nourishment.  Can our diets co-exist?  I tend to compromise more than he does.  After all, doesn’t Ahimsa also apply to appreciating and enjoying his delicious food offerings without my food and eating hang-ups mucking it all up?  The question hovers.

Alone for three days, I sighed with relief and eager anticipation.  Here is what I enjoyed eating.

Day 1

Breakfast:  Shredded Wheat and Bran (64 mini-squares, yes – still counting!) topped with 1 Banana and Vanilla Soy Milk; Grapefruit Juice; Black coffee

Snack:  Siggi’s Yogurt (thick, tart, not sweet, high in protein) and lots of water throughout the day

Lunch:  Peanut Butter & Apricot Jelly on whole wheat bread; Mango;  Iced Venti Half Caf Non-Fat Latte from the ubiquitous Starbucks

Dinner:

I sautéed shitake mushrooms in olive oil and mixed them with farro (a barley-like grain, chewy and flavorful)

Salad of cherry tomatoes and sliced avocado with some olive oil and white wine vinegar

Chardonnay (only 3 ounces…more disrupts my sleep and gives me a headache)

Sweet Riot 85% dark chocolate, 6 squares

Day 2

Breakfast:  Vanilla yogurt (1 cup) with ½ cup Müesli (Familia, no-added-sugar) and blueberries; Grapefruit Juice;  Black Coffee

Lunch:  Hummus and Feta on whole wheat bread;  Sliced apple;  English Breakfast tea

Snack:  1 banana;  lots of Water

Dinner

My favorite Escarole and Beans

Chardonnay (3 ounces again)

Dark Chocolate (another 6 squares of Sweet Riot 85%)

Day 3

All Bran cereal (2/3 cup) mixed with Early Bird Granola (1/3 cup) topped with blueberries; Grapefruit Juice;  Black Coffee

Snack:  Emmi Swiss Yogurt (creamy and sweet, as delicious as a dessert); lots of water

Lunch:  Whole Wheat cinnamon raisin toast topped with almond butter;  Sliced Pineapple;  English Breakfast Tea

Dinner

Aha!  My first test.  I had a date with my sister-in-law.  She’s always trying to lose weight (even though she is not heavy) and we were happily fantasizing about grilled brussels sprouts.  I had told her I was eating vegetarian while her brother/my husband was away.  My husband texted me that he would be home in time for dinner.  We switched restaurants to one that was larger and could accommodate all four of us.  What to eat?  I opted for the fish special (roasted Sea Bass in a sherry wine sauce – which was too sweet) and I substituted broccoli rabe for the risotto side.  It was good, but not great.  The problem with restaurant meals is that they cook with too much fat and too much salt.  I missed my healthy dinners.  And was so thirsty from the salt!

Okay, it’s Day 4 and how to continue?  Breakfast and lunch are easy.  I will have a whole wheat bagel with goat cheese for breakfast and a salad of quinoa and black beans for lunch.  For dinner, my daughter returns from Spain today and we are going to make one of her favorite family dinners:  Grilled steak tacos.  These tacos are delicious!  We grill steak, sauté corn and red pepper and red onion, top with guacamole and salsa, and roll it all up in one’s tortilla of choice (corn, plain, whole wheat).  I have been gradually eating mine with less and less steak and will continue to do so tonight.  A little bit of steak, probably 1-2 ounces.  And tomorrow, I will cook for my daughter.  She has been interested in eating more like me, so I will make our favorite Sunday morning oatmeal and our favorite Sunday lunchtime lentil soup.  For dinner, I am fantasizing about my husband’s grilled salmon – the very first thing he cooked for me 20 years ago when I fell in love with him.  I think we will be able to work out our eating differences – with love, respect and some compromise.

IMG_1371

Lentil Soup

  • 4 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1 cup of celery and carrots, chopped fine
  • 1 cup of Yukon gold potatoes, chopped
  • 2/3 cup of lentils (French Green)
  • 2 Tablespoons barley
  • Thyme, salt and pepper
  • 4 cups of liquid (Water or Vegetable Broth or Chicken Broth)  (I prefer Chicken Broth.  I am not a good vegetarian.  Water is too bland.  Vegetable Broth tastes weird.  Too sweet.  Sigh.)

Saute garlic, celery and carrots, potatoes in olive oil – for 10 minutes until lightly browned.

Add liquid, lentils, barley, seasoning.  Simmer for about an hour.

Serves 4 – 6.

%d bloggers like this: