Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solving for X

So I've got some food issues.

I realize this is not exactly a shocking confession. It's not like I started this post with the line "So I'm a man now, call me Chuck." or "So I once killed a hobo" or "So I'm a republican". One might assume that anyone who has achieved a level of fatosity (Not actually a word. Don't look it up.) as impressive as my own likely has a food issue or two (or twelve) lurking around in their psyche somewhere. And I don't disagree.

I do, however, believe that not every overweight person on earth is cut from the same cloth. Line up 100 average sized people and ask each of them what their particular brand of crazy is and you'll get quite a variety of answers. Organize a similar line up of people who struggle with obesity and ask them about their food issues and you'll get an equally impressive array of responses.

Some will profess to be emotional eaters, others will confess that they eat compulsively. Some will cite mindless eating as their major problem, while a few will call out an underactive thyroid or other endocrine condition as the reason for their weight problem. A surprising number of respondents will tell you that, despite all visible evidence to the contrary, they don't actually have a problem with food (and it turns out that massive denial of the existence of food issues isn't strictly a "food issue" in and of itself, so kudos to anyone who manages to squeeze through that loophole). And at least a few people will tell you that their problem is that they simply love food.

Me? Always the overachiever, I fall into several of the categories above. And the truth is that I think most obese people do. I also think that obesity is still such an oversimplified condition that most people continue to view it as primarily a character flaw, a problem that can easily be solved by working the factors in the basic formula for weight loss:
As a fan of math from way back, I tend to believe that the above equation is essentially valid. But I also believe that it's incomplete. We all know that consistently taking in fewer calories than we burn will result in a decrease in our weight over time. And yet, despite the simple mathematical certainty we all cling to, the world is still full of Lane Bryant stores, airplane seatbelt extenders, and a zillion blogs just like this one. If it really were just that simple, we'd all be taking turns lifting up our shirts and flashing people who walked by just so we could mutually admire our washboard abs.

So after some careful thought and a lot of intense dry erase board work (insert imaginary movie-montage here, think "Good Will Hunting" only replace Matt Damon with a middle aged fat girl and WAY less actual math), I surmised that the formula above is missing a single factor, one tiny letter that has the power to drastically alter the outcome. I submit:
Ah yes. The elusive "X" factor. What is it, you ask? It is...whatever it is. It's what stands in the way of the first two factors in the equation. I'd like to be more specific, but I can't--and that, I believe, is the problem. It's whatever brand of food-crazy you suffer from, the monkey wrench that turns the mechanics of weight loss from a 2nd grade math problem into algebra. My X may be different than your X, which is different than his X, which might not look anything like her X. We have to define our own X factor and learn how to fight it if we want to make it to the solution side of the equation and achieve the elusive state of "smaller butt".

But any time you add a step to a process, it ups the difficulty level. Not only do we need to eat less and move more, we've got do wrestle with and remove our X factor with every bite and step we take. Keeping two balls in the air? Easy. You’ve got two hands to do the job. But toss in a third, and suddenly you're juggling. Which, it turns out, is WAY harder than it seems when cartoon clowns do it. It takes a lot of practice and no one, not even the most talented circus performer under the big top, doesn’t drop a ball every now and then.

I'm starting to believe that the secret to keeping all the balls in the air lies in accepting that you're going to drop one from time to time...and that’s OK. Maybe on the days when one ball goes crashing to the floor, we hold tight to the two still in our hands. And if it turns out we need both hands to manage just one of them, we drop a second ball and hold on like hell to the one left. And on the inevitable day that we lose our grip on all three we take a deep breath, shake out our fingers, and pick them back up and try again.

I can eat less. I can move more. I can beat back my X factor of the day with a whip and a chair and the words on this page. Lately, I can do all three at once. What effect is all this juggling having on the size of my butt?

Do the math.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What I did for Love...

Nearly six weeks into my suddenly single status change, life has evened out a bit and this new normal is starting to feel, well, "normal". Which happens to be WAY better than the whole "shattered into a million pieces" feeling it started out as.

The truth is, the despair didn't stick around as long as I feared it might. And actually, after the initial shock wore off, it turns out that the prevailing feeling I had wasn't really despair at all. Hurt, yes. Embarassment, you betcha. Disappoinment? In spades. And underneath it all was an tinge of something I couldn't quite put my finger on--until one morning I woke up in my brand new bed, looked at the empty space beside me, and let out a long sigh...of relief.

You see, I knew that Tim wasn't my lobster.

It wasn't love at first sight. At least not for me. I had some serious reservations about whether or not we were a good match for eachother, and I thought long and hard about what I could live with--and without.

Sex advice columnist Dan Savage is fond of saying that "there is no settling down without settling for", and I believe that's true. 

So in my usual style, I weighed all the pros and cons (ad nauseam, ask my friends and family) and decided that despite what he couldn't give me, I was willing to settle for what he could. Maybe he was lacking a few of the traits on my top ten wish list, but maybe I was aiming too high. Maybe, I reasoned, you don't get two chances at great love in a single lifetime. Maybe, at 40 years old, you just don't have the same choices you might have had earlier in life. Maybe close enough would be good enough, and if I decided it could be enough, it would be. So I settled.

I settled right back into eating too much as well. Food, after all, was something we had in common. It was an easy way for us to spend time together, to do something we both enjoyed. Conversational lulls seem natural when your mouth is full of ice cream. Silences don't seem as awkward when they are filled with the sound of cracking crabs legs and sizzling porter house steaks. Wondering what you'll have to talk about at all after the wedding is over seems immaterial over 6 flavors of cake on your plate.

If I had been paying attention, I might have noticed that some of the food-crazy I'd gotten very good at controlling was creeping its way back into my life. When I found myself wolfing down a 20 piece McNugget in a parking lot on my way home from the office, I probably should have realized that all was not right with the world. The day I put three Mounds bars in my desk drawer "just in case" should have been a clue. When I stood in the light of the refrigerator late at night and ate the leftovers I'd packed for lunch the next day right out of the tupperware, it was a red flag that I shouldn't have ignored. I chocked it all up to the anxiety that comes with planing a wedding. Maybe I didn't realize that "wedding stress" and "stress about the wedding" were two very different animals, that the former was about choosing dresses and flowers and invitations, and the latter was about who you chose to stand beside you that day.

In the end, every concession I made to be with Tim was mitigated by the idea that he was a good, kind, honorable man...but it turns out that he wasn't ANY of those things. And he was a lot of things I didn't know he was. Like a liar. And probably a cheater (a claim I make after a forensic analysis of his cell phone records and an anonymous phone call to someone named "Dawn" who was a party to 252 text messages in a month). And a colossal pussy. So when he left the way he did, he went from 5 out of 10 to -3 out of 10. There just wasn't anything to miss.

Though at first it felt like I'd been shot in the chest, it didn't take me long to realize that I had actually dodged the bullet on this one. Love shouldn't be something you have to talk yourself into. Relationships aren't always easy, but they shouldn't be that hard either.

Six weeks have passed, and when someone asks me how I'm feeling I can say I'm fine--and actually mean it most of the time. I've made peace with the food again, found some of the control I'd slowly been losing and my weight is back on the way down. Life may not be great yet, but right now it really is OK.

And all things considered, that's something I can settle for.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lost Kitten

Nobody panic! My cats are fine, in fact as I type this one is likely sleeping in a puddle of fur on the kid's pillow, and the other is bullying the dog out of her kibble. THIS is the cat I lost:

For the record, this is not my child. I don't even know who's child it is. But I have always dreamed of having a redhead baby, so just for today, let's pretend this IS my child. Isn't he cute? Polite too. Never rolls his eyes, doesn't layer on the Axe products so thickly that my eyes water, always flushes the toilet, lets me cut his hair short, and has never once sent me racing to the ER after he got hit by a car on his bike. He is totally my favorite son.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

According to my good friend Google, Marie the cat weighs 1.6 pounds--which happens to be exactly how much weight I lost this week.

I've had a second excellent week on the Weight Watchers program, and for my effot I was rewarded with a loss of a buck and change at the scale today. Do I wish it had been more? Well, duh. Of course I do. But in a lifelong battle with the fat, it's the cumulative effect of every small victory that adds up to long term success. A respectable 1.6 pound loss works for me.

Google also informed me that 1.6 pounds also happens to be the weight of the 3G, Wi-Fi enabled iPad 2, so I could have said I lost one of those too. And if you happen to find one laying around on the bus, or a park bench, or sticking out of the backpack of a distracted hipster--then I DID lose one, and you can send back it to me via UPS. Overnight, please.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nothing so shocking as a glimpse of her stockings...

It has been said that idle hands are the devil's workshop.

And if by "the devil's workshop" they mean "an excellent vehicle for shoving cheezits into one's mouth" then I totally agree.

Though I have amassed an impressive collection of reasons to eat that have nothing to do with hunger, sometimes it's simply the lack of anything better to do that finds me in the kitchen. Or in the drive-through lane. Or digging around in my desk drawer to find that tootsie roll I'm pretty sure I threw in there last Halloween. Over the years I've learned that one way to rechannel my brain's obsession on all things food is to give it something else to do, another task to direct my freakish ability to focus on.

And that's why I decided to make new Christmas stockings this year. A few weeks before my world imploded, when I was still concerned about not looking like a satin wrapped bowling pin in front of my family and friends, I did the mental math and computed that if I traded my nightly raid-the-cupboards-for-random-carbs-and- watch-TV-with-the-family-pre-bedtime-ritual for a maniacally-cut-and-sew-and-applique-and-embroider-while-repeatedly-injuring-myself-with-sharp-objects-routine that I might be able to both lose weight AND complete three new stockings to hang by the fire before Christmas Eve

You know how some people decorate for the holidays and their freshly cut, snow flocked trees are draped in golden ribbon, sparkling white lights and perfectly coordinated ornaments that form the centerpiece of a whole-house theme that looks like something Martha Stewart herself oversaw the completion of before the House Beautiful photographer showed up to document it for the December issue?

I am not one of those people.

I believe that a Christmas tree should be a festival of multi-colored lights and a home for every ornament your kid has ever made, that any relative or friend gifted to you, or that you made to hang on the pitiful tree in your college dorm room so that the only things on it wouldn't be colored condoms and paperclip chains. The sleigh bells on a plastic belt that always hung on your beloved Grandmother's front door should continue to find a home on yours, and the cheap porcelain nativity set (the one that had to be glued back together when you came downstairs and found the severed head of Joseph perched menacingly on his walking staff after your three year old broke it while making the figurines fight like ninjas) should be set up on the end table by the couch every year.

This decorating philosophy is what made me settle on old school felt craft stockings covered in sequins and stuffed and embroidered with retro-chic fabulousness. I picked out three appropriate designs and got to work on them. And, miracle of miracles, my plan worked. I had managed to curb my night time snacking, AND I'd finished the first stocking!

I was nearly finished with the second one when the person whose name had been embroidered on it decided to go all Houdini on me and disappeared from my life. After the shock of the first few days began to wear off, I sat down one night and ripped off the stitches that spelled out his name and tried to decide what to do with it. I considered boxing it up and sending it to him, but I figured that an unfinished stocking embroidered with "Ass-Hat" would probably just get thrown away and I couldn't see letting all that hard work go to waste, so I just went ahead and finished it. I've been trying to decide what to do with it.

I guess that since he never used it, I could save it for someone else someday. In fact, I could embroider the name of the next person I go out with and give it to him on our first date--because that's not creepy or anything, right? Though now that I think of it, that might be a great idea! I mean, if I give it to the guy and he loves it, then I know he's an over eager freak and I go running the other way as fast as I can. And if he finds it off-putting and frightening then HE goes running away as fast as he can, and...oh, wait. I didn't think that through very well. Never mind.

In the end, I decided to put it away and work on the third stocking, and that's what I've been doing for the last few weeks. It's just one little sled-riding bunny away from being done, and I think it will be finished before the week is over.

As a diversionary tactic, the stocking project has worked like a charm. It's kept my hands busy, making it much harder to use them to transport food to my mouth during these dark, cold winter evenings. But equally importantly, it's kept my MIND busy, helped me not to obsess over the unexpected turn that life has taken in the last month.

Yep, that's right. It's been a month--and I'm still alive. And I'm not just alive, I'm also OK.

And we have new Christmas Stockings.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Food: 0, Sara -6

Against all odds, it's been a really good week.

In the last seven days I've managed to do something that I literally haven't done in YEARS: I rejoined Weight Watchers and spent a full week completely, 100% on program. And it paid off. Know how I know?

Because when I stepped on the scale today I was down SIX POUNDS.

BOO-yah, Baby! I'm back!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Fourth Stage of Grief: Tater Tot Casserole

After learning of my ex-fiance's surprise disappearing act a few weeks ago, I immediately did what any self-respecting woman in my position would do: I called my therapist.

After she picked her jaw up off the floor (and there were numerous floor/jaw bruise incidents that week. Seriously, how did NO ONE in my life see this coming?) she told me that as luck would have it there had been a cancellation in her schedule and that she could see me that afternoon.

After I did my best to lay waste to an entire box of tissues in her office, she produced a slightly modified list based on the Kubler-Ross "Five Stages of Grief" model (with an extra step thrown in, because hey, I'm an over achiever) and told me to be aware of the steps I'd have to go through as I adjusted to the abrupt end of the relationship. And I, being a homework loving geek from way back, have been clutching it ever since. Observe:

An actual scanned copy of the list my therapist gave me, which I've included here because its germane to the post, and not just because I really wanted to use my new hand held wand scanner. Which totally rocks. And that's on the lowest resolution! I'm not saying I also scanned a throw pillow and my dog's back, but if I HAD done that you'd totally be able to see every fiber in the fabric and each individual dog hair. On both the pillow and the dog.

Step 1: Denial passed pretty quickly. I don't spend a lot of time mired in those parts anymore. Check!

Step 2: Anger? Um, yes. A lot of it. That one hasn't faded as quickly, and I'm given to understand that these steps are somewhat fluid in nature and that anger might linger even as I make my way through the rest of the list. Check. Check. Checkcheckcheckcheckcheck. CHECK!

Step 3: I'm still a little fuzzy on the whole "bargaining" thing, but I'm pretty sure it refers to all those times I thought things like "maybe if I hadn't gained weight" or "If only I hadn't gotten mad at him that one time 5 months ago when he totally deserved it" or "maybe if I click my heels together three times and wish REEEEEEEEAAALY hard I'll wake up and none of this will have happened." So, check. I guess.

Which brings us to the stage I am currently firmly ensconced in:

Step 4: Depression.

I wish that I could tell you that I am so well adjusted that I had a good cry and then got right on with the business of acceptance, but I can't. I'm sad. I'm sad that the future I had counted on isn't possible anymore, that someone I loved would treat me with so little consideration and respect. I'm sad because, let's face it, cancelling a wedding is a depressing task. And for me, food and depression often go hand in hand.

When I'm depressed, it can be hard not to seek comfort in dishes that fall into the category that has the word "comfort" in the title. On days when it feels like the empty space inside of me will swallow me whole, the only thing that has a chance to fill that void is something warm and satisfying. It's a temporary fix, one that will leave me empty in the long run, but in the short term that rarely seems to matter. I fall prey to the brand of magical thinking that whatever ails me will certainly be cured by a gooey grilled cheese (and if it happens to include bacon, so much the better). Or the perfect almond cupcake. Or a mountain of fettuccini alfredo with butter soaked breadsticks and a token salad.

Or a plate full of savory-on-the-bottom-gooey-in-the-middle-crispy-on-the-top Tater Tot Casserole.

I made some the other night. I'd been thinking about it all day, going over the ingredients in my mental kitchen inventory, and practically sitting on the floor watching the oven window like a television as I watched it bubble and brown. As I scooped it out onto my plate, I could barely wait for the steam to dissipate so I could engage in casserole therapy to drown my sorrows. Giddy with excitement, I inverted the pepper grinder over my plate and, just as I began to turn the barrel, I felt the top give way and watched in horror as a full cup of peppercorns spilled all over it. As the tiny spheres stuck to the creamy sauce and got lodged in the molten cheese, I reacted perfectly appropriately by bursting into angry, heartbroken tears and loudly asserting that HE had done this to me, had loosened the top of the peppermill on PURPOSE, a last insult before he left designed to further RUIN MY LIFE!!

It was a short lived, though impressive, tantrum. All the hurt and anger that I'd been keeping at bay for the last few weeks came pouring out in a flood of tears over a very peppery heap of ruined dinner in the sink. When I pulled myself together, I calmly served myself up a replacement helping, then sat down to eat it. It was good, but it wasn't as good as I thought it might be. It wasn't comfort, it was just food.

It turns out that all the work I've put in on myself during the last few years hasn't been in vain. I am convinced that without it I wouldn't be where I am today, just three weeks out, and already working my way back to normal, to a life that goes on toward new hope.

Get ready, Step 5. I'm heading your way.

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Good Thing

Years ago, a friend gave me a terribly simple yet profound piece of advice. She said:

"Every night before you go to sleep, find ONE good thing about the day that just ended...even if the only good thing is that the day is over."

I have never forgotten those words, and I've tried to live by them.

There are some changes coming to this site, a line in the sand that I'm drawing and crossing as the next phase in this ongoing journey is before me.

The best thing about this day is that a NEW one starts tomorrow.