The First Person Who Called Me Fat

I'm the peacekeeper in my family. I try to never take sides and always get along. It doesn't always work.

I’m the peacekeeper in my family. I try to never take sides and always get along. It doesn’t always work.

I’ve thought about writing this post for a while, but I’ve been hesitant because I know my mother reads my blog and I would never want to hurt her. I also need to say some potentially hurtful things about myself as a mother. But I’ve finally decided that I need to say them regardless.

The first person that called me fat was my mother. I remember it vividly enough, but if I didn’t remember it, she has retold the story enough times that I could never forget. (Every time I hear it I wince.) It was when I got back from visiting my grandparents in Florida for the first time. I think I was about 12 years old (it was either the summer before or the summer after sixth grade). I’m not sure how long I was away. It felt like the whole summer to me, but it was probably just two weeks.

I went with my two cousins. We all had matching green and white sundresses which we wore on the plane down. I felt beautiful when I left.  When I came home, my parents picked us up from the airport and the first thing my mother said was, “What happened to you? It looks like you got filled with air?” I had no idea what she meant, but I felt like I got hit in the face. Eventually I figured it out. I had obviously gained weight while I was away. Enough to make a noticeable difference in my appearance. Enough to make my mother comment on it. Enough for me to realize that I was fat. And I have been fat ever since.

I don’t know how much I had actually gained that summer. I know my grandparents let me eat whatever I wanted to. We went to fast food restaurants and had dessert every night (things I never got at home).  But really, how much could it have been? But there I was. Fat. Because my mother said so. Regardless of how much I weigh or what size I am, I know inside that I’m a fat girl.

I bring this up because I really, really didn’t want to do that to my own daughter. I knew before she was born that she would have two strikes against her in the weight department: She would have my genetics and me as a role model.

Of course, she takes after me. She has a smile that lights up the room, never wants to hurt someone’s feelings, and is so creative. She also eats portions that are a bit too big, enjoys food more than exercise, and uses food to deal with emotions. Where could she have learned all that from? I always tell her how beautiful she is (she is, too!) and how she doesn’t need to diet. Other people may have called her fat, but I never did.  When my mother or other relatives tried to get her to go on diets or watch what she ate, I always intervened. I didn’t want her to feel the way I had as a kid.  My philosophy was she would be healthier just being who she is.

Avatar of me and my daughter, created by @nuchtchas.

Avatar of me and my daughter, created by @nuchtchas.

And then one day I blew it. I don’t remember clearly how we got into the conversation (I’m sure she remembers it very clearly), but she was upset that some guys had blown her off. Many, many people dismiss, bully, or blow her off. A lot of the times it is related to her autism. She doesn’t know how to connect to people. But somehow, in the conversation, amidst the tears, I said something equivalent to “not all guys are attracted to big girls.” And because she can never leave anything alone we had to pick that statement apart until it was clear that when I said “big girls” I meant she was overweight. I had called her fat.

In that very moment she completely crumpled. And she hasn’t really fully recovered. Because while many people had called her fat before, when her very own mother did it, it actually meant something. We’ve had lots and lots of discussions since that time. We’ve talked about how you can be both fat and beautiful. How fat isn’t a bad thing. How healthy is more important than weight. And things have gotten better, mostly, but it doesn’t change the fact that she now, and probably forever, will see herself as fat. And that I’m the one who did that to her.

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Ironic Cooking

I have never been much of a cook. I know how to make a few key things really, really well, and can produce edible but not very interesting food the rest of the time. Here are the things I’m known for:

  • turkeyThanksgiving turkey – I’ve been cooking the turkey for my family the last few years. It is my mother’s recipe, so I guess she gets the credit, but I do it really, really well.
  • Roast chicken – Pretty much like a turkey, but smaller and takes a lot less time.
  • Sea Bass – I grill it or cook it in the oven and it is delicious. My trick is wrapping it in foil so it never dries out.
  • Pea Soup – This one is my father’s recipe, but I may have improved it a bit. I use the slow cooker and it takes about two days to make.
  • Pork chops / Chicken cutlet’s  – I basically cook them the same way. They are fried, and delicious.
  • Rice and beans – this is a new one for me. Again, I use the slow cooker, lots of garlic, and adobe. Everyone loves it.

That’s pretty much it. I make spaghetti from a jar, and heat up lots of other things, but don’t consider myself much of a cook.  I don’t hunt out recipes or enjoy cooking shows and my eyes tend to glaze over when people start talking about recipes.

As a single parent, this pretty much means my daughter hasn’t had too much cooking instruction. She took a semester of gourmet cooking in high school, but without having a chance to try everything at home, she doesn’t remember much. And she really wants to learn. So when I saw an ad for plated in my Facebook feed, I checked it out, for her. And it has been fabulous.

Here’s the premise: You purchase dinner for two (or more I guess) and they send you all the ingredients and the recipe. And voila! You have a gourmet dinner that you prepared yourself.  Most of the meals take between 45 min to an hour to cook (it usually takes us a little longer than the suggested time) and there are usually plenty of choices in the 400-600 calories per serving range. Many meals are a main entrée and a side dish, although there is some variation. I try to stay on my healthy eating program, but there are sometimes I have to stray a bit. The good news is  that you are cooking exactly the right amount for two people, so even if one of the recipes is higher calorie, you aren’t going back for seconds.

The first time we tried it we really didn’t know what we were doing, but we had so much fun doing it together and amazingly the food came out terrific. Since then, we have ordered about 16 different “plates” and its been a lot of fun. Some of the recipes are simple to do. We call it “re-plating” when we purchase the ingredients ourselves and then follow a recipe we have already done.  It is so cool that every recipe starts from scratch. If you need lemon, you zest a lemon. If you need rosemary, you pull the leaves of the rosemary plant and mince them up.

IMG_2262Hands down our favorite recipe is the pizza with vodka sauce, which is one of the less “healthy” choices we have picked. (I didn’t have any vodka, so we made the sauce with Grand Mariner, and it wassoooooo good.) We also really loved the Red calamari soup, the smashed fingerlings potatoes, and pretty much anytime we get to eat meat on a stick. We have tried foods we never would have tried before, like dandelion salad or Pork Tonkatsu. There are plenty of ingredients we never heard of or can’t pronounce. We have cooked Greek, Japanese, Basque, French, and Turkish meals.

The best part is doing something fun with my daughter. We are learning together, which is great for her. Usually I know more about something than she does, but in cooking we are about even. She does most of the chopping. I read the recipe aloud (multiple times, usually) and sometimes we screw things up (like the time we put the mixed up where the cucumber and the rosemary were supposed to go. No worries, it still tasted great).

So why is this cooking ironic? Because right now I’m following the most boring, uninteresting food plans of my life. I have been successfully getting healthier and losing weight largely because I eat the same thing day in and day out.  And I choose this same time in my life to improve my cooking. It actually works out well. The only thing that makes the boring, eat the same thing food plan work is knowing that I can enjoy food sometimes without everything going out of whack.  Also, in a way, these recipes do follow my food plan. All of them use natural, whole ingredients. I try to avoid meals with wheat and flour, but if I get one from time to time it is one small serving in one isolated meal. Also, as I get better and better at cooking, I’m learning to improve my go-to boring meals. Instead of just grilling a chicken breast plain, I marinate it in soy sauce, garlic, and Dijon mustard.  Rather than just stir-frying my kale and mushrooms, I add in a bit of lemon juice and garlic.

Unit Foods

I have said a few times on this blog how I just couldn’t deal with another diet again and maybe I’ve been a bit negative about my time on Weight Watchers. The truth is, I once lost over 100 lbs on Weight Watchers. I kept it off for years, too, until I didn’t and gained it all back (plus a little extra). For me, the problem with WW is that it becomes a game: What can I get away with and still lose weight. Also, it focuses so much on the weight loss, which becomes counter-productive. You can only maintain that for so long.

Technically a cookie is a unit food. You aren't going to eat one and a quarter cookies are you? Let's be clear: Just being a unit food doesn't make it healthy. It just makes it easy to measure.

Technically a cookie is a unit food. You aren’t going to eat one and a quarter cookies are you? Let’s be clear: Just being a unit food doesn’t make it healthy. It just makes it easy to measure.

I did learn some helpful things in WW, that I continue to use today. Going to all those meetings, I learned a lot about what is in foods. I had this one leader, Margot, that I loved. She was the only leader I ever met that made sense to me. Among her many words of wisdom, she taught me the term “unit food.”

unit food is a food that comes in single serving size. You don’t have to measure or weigh. You just get one unit. Food’s that are naturally unit foods are apples, eggs, and hot dogs. While it is possible to eat half of an apple or two eggs, you don’t accidentally consume an extra 2 oz of these foods when you serve yourself. The advantage of unit foods is you aren’t fooling yourself.

yogurtSome foods can be purchased as unit foods. For example, the Fage® yogurt that I eat every single day comes in single serve containers. I also purchase frozen yogurt (Healthy Choice) and Sabra Hummus in single serve. Frequently these foods are more expensive, because you are paying for the wrapping. However, it is worth it. When I buy a large (multi-serve) container of yogurt, for example, I find it is a struggle to make sure I have the proper serving. Some days I’m a little more generous than others. So it is better for me to pay a little extra and have a serving I can just grab-and-go.

Some foods aren’t available as unit foods or are too expensive that way. Whenever I can, I try to make my own unit foods. For example, I buy a big bag of almonds and measure out 1 oz into snack-size plastic bags. I also make a big pot of rice and beans every week, and then measure out single servings into plastic containers.  Technically they aren’t unit foods, but once I’ve measured and sealed them, they sort of are. It isn’t likely that I’m going to open up another plastic container and eat a few bites of rice and beans. If there was a big pot or bowl of it, I probably would, but once it’s been sectioned out, I pretty much can stick to the sections.

All of this is to say, you need to find tricks that work for you to get control over the food. For me, it’s unit foods and eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch every single day. For you it might be something else.

The “Not Eating” Boomerang

I admit it. I had popcorn for dinner this week. Not the best choice, but I really, really love popcorn. (no butter)

I admit it. I had popcorn for dinner this week. Not the best choice, but I really, really love popcorn. (no butter)

It happened a few times this month. I ate a sensible breakfast, planning on a reasonable lunch, but work interferes and the next chance I have to think about food is ten hours later. (This is not hyperbole; my days can get long.) Or I managed to get my breakfast and lunch in, but dinner somehow escapes me and it is very late (after 8 or 9 pm) before I even think of dinner.

The consequences are both expected and unexpected:

  • Surprise! I’m starving. It feels like small animals trying to gnaw out of my gut. I don’t feel hungry while I’m preoccupied, but the minute I’m in my car it hits me hard as if all the day’s hunger must erupt at once. Waiting until I can get to a healthy meal is not an option. I need food now!
  • Mentally I feel entitled to eat more. Don’t you think I earned something extra. Seconds? Sure! I can afford the calories.
  • Physically I’m wiped out. I feel sluggish and often a little depressed. I get this “I don’t want to do anything but watch tv and check my Facebook” attitude. This becomes a vicious cycle.
  • When I do eat (eventually) I eat too fast and end of feeling bloated. Even if I don’t eat extra food or bad foods (which I obviously deserve) I feel as if I have.

Hunger is the enemy of healthy habits.  When I don’t nourish my body, everything else starts to fall apart. I make poor decisions, I get depressed, I feel like all of my efforts have been wasted. Sometimes I find that I focus so much on my workouts that I forget that this really started because of my relationship with food. The exercise is important and empowering, but without changing my food habits, I can’t really expect to get healthier. And if I don’t eat well, I won’t have the energy or the desire to exercise. It’s all linked.

For me, food is about fueling my body to get it to work better. Through trial and error I’ve learned which foods work well (lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, high-fiber, non-wheat carbs) and which foods hinder (sugar, wheat, processed foods) my recovery. So, this week I’m working very hard to get back to eating good foods and on a normal schedule. I know what to do; I just have to stick with it.

I realize that when I say hunger I’m coming from a place of privilege. There are 842 million people in the world that live with real, literal hunger every day. Just writing about my own hunger seems trivial and insensitive.  I had to stop in the middle of writing this post  to look into organizations that help people with real hunger. I ended up donating online to Feeding America, which is a highly rated non-profit devoted to helping 37 million Americans every year. 

Okay, okay, here it is!

I have been feeling guilty for about a week for not posting my July step challenge update. It isn’t that people have been clamoring for it, but I said I would post monthly and I should stick to that. With the month more than halfway gone (seriously, how fast did the summer go) I really have run out of excuses.

activityJulyIt isn’t as if my July steps were bad and I don’t want to admit it. Actually I was just fine. Not my top month, but definitely met and exceeded my goal. I walked almost 317,000 steps which averages over 10,000 per day. (Definitely a win). I ran 42 miles, my best yet. My runs are getting longer, so I’m hoping to do even better in August.

My best day was July 18, where I took over 21,000 steps. That was the day I ran 6 miles for the first time, a huge personal accomplishment. I had 24 out of 31 days where I walked over 8,000 steps, 19 days with over 10,000 steps, and 5 days with over 14,000 steps.

stepsjulyThere were definitely a few days I didn’t do my steps last month. (July 20-22 I only did 6,000 steps total). And not for any good reason (like illness, injury, or personal commitments) but because I just didn’t feel like it. (Awful excuse) I know for a fact that without my personal challenge goal and knowing that eventually I was going to have to post my results on this blog, those couple of days may have spread to a couple of weeks. After three slothful days it took a heck-of-a-lot of resolve to lace up my shoes again, but I did it, and with a vengeance. I’ve had some of my best runs every the past two weeks.

One thing I’m really excited about is that I’m going to hit 2,000,000 steps in August (probably in the next couple of days, if I work it). It was such a struggle to get to the first 1,000,000 steps, but second million seemed to come up much faster.

Where Do You Run? (take my poll)

I have a theory that real wood boardwalks are better for running than recycled plastic wood. I feel like they are "springier" but it could be my imagination.

I have a theory that real wood boardwalks are better for running than recycled plastic wood. I feel like they are “spring-ier” but it could be my imagination.

So yesterday I went for my run at the beach, which is one of my favorite things to do. I love, love, love running on boardwalk. I feel it has more give than other surfaces. Plus, you’re at the beach. What I don’t like is running on sand. I have bad ankles and find even walking on sand can cause more stress.

There are several great beaches near where I live, with wonderful boardwalks for running. (I mean I guess some people walk on them, but that seems kind of silly when they are obviously for running). One of the boardwalks is two full miles, which makes a nice four mile round trip. Another one requires a ferry or boat ride to get to. The one I went to yesterday is probably the prettiest, but it is just over a mile, which means you have to go back and forth a few times to get a decent run in. And it isn’t a circle, just a straight line out. At the end is a sand road which leads to some of the small Fire Island towns.

I’ve been told time and time again that I should run the sand road, but it is soft sand which is really hard for me. I never really have gone past the end of the boardwalk. I just turn around and go back. But the past few days we had some crazy, record-breaking rain and the interesting result was that the usually soft sand was super hard-packed.

Can you see the sand road on the right. Follow the boardwalk to the end, then turn right through the parking lot and you will see the road. This pic was taken from the top of the lighthouse a while back.

Can you see the sand road on the right. Follow the boardwalk to the end, then turn right through the parking lot and you will see the road. This pic was taken from the top of the lighthouse a while back.

I’m not even sure why I tried it, but I did. When I ran onto the road I really only expected to get a few feet before I had to turn back. (I’ve done this a few times and I always turn back quickly) Instead, the road was actually doable. Sure, it was a little softer than what I was used to, but if I stayed in the tire tracks I could just handle it without too much stress on my ankle.

I’m not sure exactly how far the sandy part was, but I expected to find boardwalk when I got to the first of the towns. Instead I found a concrete path. For the next mile or so I found that the trail from town to town was interspersed with stretches of sand, concrete, and boardwalk. It sure made for an interesting run and happily my time wasn’t too bad (at least for the first 3 miles).

All in all I ran about 4 miles and walked a mile. It was wonderful. I can’t wait to do it again.

All You Need Are Running Shoes

I'm on my fourth pair of these awesome running shoes. I was starting to get a small tear, but I emailed the company and they are sending me a replacement. I love a company that stands behind their product.

I’m on my fourth pair of these awesome running shoes. I was starting to get a small tear, but I emailed the company and they are sending me a replacement. I love a company that stands behind their product.

You know why running is such a great sport? Because you can do it anywhere and all you need is running shoes. Unlike other sports, like hockey or football or even golf. Those sports require lots of expensive gear just to get started. But not running.

You can run anywhere as long as you have a decent pair of running shoes. And a sports bra, obviously. Yup, that’s it. Just running shoes and a sports bra. Well, and you need clothes to run in, like shorts or sweatpants. And if you can get lycra pants, that’s even better.

So running shoes, bra, and lycra pants and a shirt. That’s it. Easy-peasy.

Well, if you are going to run year round you will need different clothes for hot and cold months. Tank tops for summer. Long sleeves and long johns for winter. But you are saving so much money by not being in those expensive sports, so a few different running outfits, running shoes, sports bra. And definitely some running socks, because I don’t want blisters.

So shoes, bra, clothes, socks and the open road. Best sport ever. Just me and the few things I wear and I can run, run, run. Well, maybe a stop watch to time yourself, right?

If you are running around a track, a stop watch works great, but on the open road it sure would help to have a pedometer or GPS (or both) to track your distance. So that’s it: running shoes, bra, clothes, socks, stop watch, pedometer, and GPS. And maybe an MP3 player to listen to some tunes. And of course headphones. The kind that hook over your ear so they don’t fall off while you run. You know, with this much gear I should probably just use my smart phone and download a few apps to help out.

Running shoes, bra, clothes, socks, stop watch, pedometer, smart phone (GPS, MP3, and apps) and headphones. But that smart phone is kind of heavy to carry, so I should probably pick up a belt or armband carrier. That will help my time. Just a few simple things.

I'm always amazed at how much I manage to spend on this sport.

I’m always amazed at how much I manage to spend on this sport.

That’s it: shoes, bra, clothes, socks, stop watch, pedometer, smart phone, headphones, and running belt. And that’s all I really need. Except  on those really long runs, when I need some type of hydration system because getting dehydrated is the last thing I want.

And sunglasses and maybe a hat if it’s sunny out. And one of those elastic bands to keep the sunglasses from falling down my nose.

And sunscreen, because I don’t want skin cancer.

And bug spray for when I run the trails.

And reflectors for when I run after dark.

Boy, I sure am glad I don’t participate in one of those gear-heavy sports where you spend all your money on new equipment.

But I sure would like a heart rate monitor.