I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Eating Issues

You Are Beautiful

1024px-La_danse_(I)_by_Matisse

Beautiful Girls

I was at a modern dance performance the other night. Talented young girls from a nearby dance conservatory. I marveled. There was a range of ages and ability levels and body types. All beautiful. From the lean and graceful ballet-types to the curvy and sturdy athletic types to the more gawky and awkward types, striving to be more comfortable and graceful in their bodies. Well, that’s it isn’t it? We’re all striving to be more comfortable and graceful in our bodies aren’t we? What those girls don’t know and can’t appreciate yet is how beautiful they are. Every single one of them.

My heart was with them. I feel. I remember. The 10,000 hours of grinding and repetitive technique classes and rehearsals. The thrill of getting singled out for a solo. The devastation of not getting singled out for a solo. The excitement and anxiety of the weeks leading up to the performance. The costumes. The makeup. The theater. The lights. The audience. Practicing. Worrying. Not eating. Because that extra pound lost would make a psychological difference in how I felt about myself. In the costume, on stage, in my body.

Chatting before the performance with a mom in the audience, the conversation turned to anorexia. Of course. Girls and dance. What else would we talk about? A girl, not one of the dancers but she is in the circle of high-achieving New York metropolitan families who appear to have it all, is struggling with anorexia. Her mother was a dancer. Aha! Familiar territory. I wanted to pounce, to rush in and solve the problem. The mother must have eating issues. How could it not wreak havoc on her daughter and the whole family? I felt for the girl, the mother, the family. I don’t know them. I hope they are getting help. Because…

Anorexia can be deadly.

So much of it is shrouded in shame and secrecy. It starts innocuously enough. You notice that if you eat less and lose weight that your breasts and hips get smaller. That’s a relief because you’re not really sure you want breasts and hips and a butt anyway. Besides, you have to watch out for men, because they only want one thing. Much better to get those curves under control. Besides, you start getting compliments, maybe even from your mom, about how good you look. Then, maybe you start exercising more. Dancing, running, sports. Now you’ve lost weight and added muscle. Looking good girl! Besides, if you work out every day, you can burn off more calories. Yes! Then, you start getting off on feeling hungry. Feeling hungry means you haven’t overeaten. In fact you’ve probably lost more weight. All good, right? Well, now you’re in dangerous territory. You enjoy being hungry and don’t want to eat. Your dysmorphia intensifies. You look in the mirror and like how thin you are, with no awareness that having your ribs show is not attractive. And you want to be even more thin. And even more hungry. It is a vicious and dangerous, sometimes deadly cycle.

The family panics and wants you to eat, but that is terrifying to you. The absolute worst possible disaster to befall a girl with anorexia is to gain weight. It is very difficult to treat. Recent research is showing that rigid anorexic behavior is linked to increased activation in the area of the brain that controls habit and is tied to anxiety. Her brain is stuck in a groove that doesn’t respond to medication or therapy and is prone to relapse. The girl has to replace her habitual patterns around food with something else. Her family needs to help by changing familial patterns. It is tremendously complicated.  And difficult.

And the sadness of it is that these girls do not realize how beautiful they are. In their world, there is pressure to look good, pressure to succeed, pressure to appear to have it all together. Everyone else seems to have it figured out. But the secret truth is that no one has it figured out. It takes years to gain perspective and experience – resilience – to appreciate you.

You are beautiful.

There is increasing awareness of eating issues. Mybodyscreening.org has a 3 minute quiz to screen for whether or not you may benefit from clinical help related to an eating disorder. My teen self would not have passed. The enjoyment of food and the fear of gaining weight remain an on-going conversation that goes on in my mind and makes me sympathize with the thinking that one never fully recovers from an eating disorder. It hovers in the background.

So, beautiful girls, here is my wish.

May you feel strong and be healthy. May you move with grace and ease. May you stand tall and enjoy your breasts and hips and butt. May you taste food with pleasure. May you dance with confidence and enjoy the exhilaration of moving to music. May you know that you are not alone. May you know that you are beautiful.

Image:  La Danse (I), by Henri Matisse

Ruth’s Sriracha Shrimp Over Coconut Rice

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My Version

I love Ruth Reichl. Love. Love. Love. So much so, that for a long period of my life I wanted to BE Ruth Reichl.

(When you are not so happy with yourself, you spend a lot of time and energy wanting to be other people. People who you imagine are happier and more successful than you and who embody qualities you wish you had. As you become more happy with yourself, more kind to yourself, you realize that these other people are a-jumble, just like you.)

Not that Ruth is a-jumble. Well, actually she is and she admits it, but no more a-jumble than me, or you, or anyone else. Which is another reason why I love Ruth. She is real.

She was at the forefront of the California food trends of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Cooking more fresh, local, organic foods. Experimenting, traveling, discovering. Her food-themed memoirs with lively and lovely personal stories have been a big influence on me. Her curiosity seems insatiable as she goes exploring all over to try delicious food. I’m always awe-struck when she describes hunting down some obscure restaurant in a sketchy part of the world – something I would never have the nerve to do. She had several of my (many) dream jobs: Restaurant critic for the New York Times, and my ultimate dream job, Editor of Gourmet Magazine.

I grew up with Gourmet and slaved over many of its complicated recipes in the 70’s. Somehow I poured my obsession with food into cooking it because I would not allow myself to eat very much of it.

I worked at Condé Nast when she was at Gourmet and one of the things I loved about her was that she was real. Unlike many (well, most) of the iconic editors there, she came across as petite, friendly, open, genuine. I still stammered on the few occasions when I got to speak with her.  Fandom leaves me speechless.

When her latest book released recently, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, I rushed out to buy it. I could completely empathize. Depressed, angry, directionless after the closing of Gourmet, she retreated to the kitchen to cook. The book is personal. Each recipe has a story and one of her special food haiku’s. And, perhaps most personal of all, each recipe is one that she really cooks and really eats. How better to know someone than to cook and eat with them?

While I am loving the memoir-aspect of the book, I am less enamored of the cookbook-aspect of it. Physically, the book is hard to cook from because it doesn’t open flat. But most of all, I don’t want to cook and eat like Ruth. At least, not any more. Too much meat, too much butter, with sometimes time-consuming details (that I am sure make all the difference in the flavor, but I don’t want to bother). While she cooks for flavor, I cook more for health.

It was with some difficulty that I found a recipe I wanted to try that I thought I would like (meat-free and relatively healthy!) and that I thought my husband would also enjoy (spicy!).

I made it last night and it was completely and absolutely luscious and delicious. The only change I made to the recipe was to use Brown Basmati Rice instead of White Basmati Rice (more nutritious!).

Here is the recipe, (my version), with her haiku:

Ruth’s Sriracha Shrimp Over Coconut Rice

Spicy Shrimp.  Fiery red heat of

Sriracha.  Cool jumble of asparagus,

garlic, ginger. Onions, gentle tropical

sweetness of coconut rice.  Good!

-Ruth Reichl

Coconut Rice

  • 1 Tablespoon Butter
  • ½ can or 7 oz Unsweetened Coconut Milk
  • 7 oz Water
  • 1 cup Brown Basmati Rice

One of the tricks I learned from Ruth is to rinse rice before cooking. I have never done this. It makes a difference!

Heat 1 Tablespoon butter in sauce pan. Rinse rice. Add to saucepan. Stir into the butter and heat for a few minutes until rice is coated with the butter and just beginning to toast. Add coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 50 minutes. Let sit for another 10 minutes until all liquid is absorbed and rice is no longer hard and crunchy but about to transform from chewy to soft.

Sriracha Shrimp

  • 1 lb Wild American Shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Lime Juice – squeeze 1 lime
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Sriracha
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 (small) Onion, chopped
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Ginger, chopped
  • 1 lb Asparagus, peel stems and cut into 1 inch pieces, discarding thick, hard ends of the stalks

Marinate shrimp in the lime juice and the Sriracha for 15-30 minutes, while the rice is cooking.

Heat oil in large frying pan. Sautée onion, garlic, ginger until soft and beginning to brown – about 5 minutes. Add asparagus. Cook for about 5 minutes until it begins to brown. Cover pan and turn off heat until asparagus softens. This step might not be necessary if the asparagus is very thin. When rice is done and you are ready to eat, turn up heat and add shrimp with the marinade. Cook until shrimp is barely done, about 3-4 minutes. It is crucial to almost undercook the shrimp, so that the shrimp doesn’t get tough.

Divide rice into bowls or plates. Spoon shrimp and asparagus mixture over the rice. Serve with extra Sriracha and lime wedges.

YUM! Toast Ruth. (We drank an inexpensive chianti with a bit of bite.)

Serves 2 enormous portions or 3 normal portions or 4 polite portions. (My husband and I split it – but were quite full afterwards.)

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