The Angry Chef has a Right to be Mad

imagesAs someone who reflexively rolls her eyes when she hears the word “detox” I can appreciate where The Angry Chef is coming from.  I’m one of those yogis who has, at times, felt guilty for eating pizza, virtuous for making her own kale chips, and silly for believing the health claims of dubious supplements.  I’ve watched my weight balloon to nearly 200 pounds on a diet of spaghetti, beans and Guinness and subsequently plummet to 118 when I chose a dangerously restrictive food path. Fifteen years ago, while too fat and again while too thin, I was vulnerable and open to the promise of any trendy, celebrity-promoted magic elixir. Even today, it doesn’t take much for me to fall under the spell of so-called “health gurus” like the pseudo-doctor Gillian McKeith mentioned in Anthony Warner’s (The Angry Chef) Guardian editorial.

Over the past few years, while dealing with the mental health issue I wrote about here, I gained serious poundage. I’m currently on the high end of a healthy weight and committed to maintaining my health while bringing my weight down and increasing my fitness. It’s a slow process – and it should be.

That’s why I appreciated Warner’s hard-edged message. And why I appreciate the reasoned sincerity of authors like Michael Pollan, Dan Barber and Ruth Reichl.

My foodie path leans far closer to vegan, but it’s their relationship to food and consequently to their bodies that I appreciate.

What Warner writes about coffee can be applied to every morsel we eat. Food is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  It just is. And our beautiful bodies need the calories that food provides in order to thrive. We can choose to be vegan and we can choose to be omnivores but aside from an individual’s ethical considerations of eating meat our choices are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They just are. If we choose too much or too little it will show.

We are not toxic. Our beautiful bodies have amazing systems for eliminating substances that don’t support our health and wellness. Gwyneth, take note. If we do our best to keep our skin, liver, kidneys, lungs and intestines functioning we’ll save $425 because we’ll have no need for this.

Keeping our bodies beautiful – and what I mean is keeping our bodies healthy, glowing, and physically fit – requires that we eat enough calories to sustain life and that we move enough to burn the excess.

Our lives are complicated enough. Let’s make living simple.

 

Progress Report #1: Re-Grouping After My Get Up and Go Got Up and Went

IMG_3464I knew a fresh chapter was about to begin when I set my sights on the local stationery store. When life is about to take a turn, I buy notebooks. It’s a compulsion. And last Tuesday it was a compulsion I couldn’t resist. Twenty minutes after walking through the doors of Village Stationers I walked out with an empty wallet but a full heart.

I wish I could explain my obsession with new notebooks. Perhaps opening the cover to a fresh and unmarked white page reminds me that stories can change and that while life is unpredictable we can choose how we move through it’s bumps and detours.

That’s supposed to make us feel better, right? Knowing that we can choose how we navigate the course of life. Except sometimes life is heavy and the weight of it pulls us under the surface. Our spirits are stuck in the muck and trying to move forward is as difficult as swimming though quicksand.

July was a bit like that for me. I was stuck. I lacked gumption. I ate more than I should and exercised less than I could. And even though I made a commitment with friends to revisit the ‘detox’ that my NCLP and I easily completed a few months ago – the detox that was the springboard for this blog – I didn’t make it past the fourth day.

I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say that I wasn’t disappointed. But we all become stuck from time to time. A little backslide on the road to health doesn’t mean it’s the end of the journey. What it does mean is that it’s time to regroup.

Hence the notebooks.

I remember when I joined Weight Watchers. It was 2004 and I had about eighty pounds to lose. I didn’t tell my friends. I went to the meetings on my own. I did the work. I was accountable only to myself. I don’t know if it was a fear of failure or the fear that sharing my news would somehow dilute my intention but I kept my secret until it was obvious my body was changing.

But now we share everything with everyone. And I’m contemplating how it would feel to reveal exactly what my intentions are and how big I’m dreaming. Am I at the point where I want to tell the truth of who I am? My hopes? My disappointments? If you knew the dreams I dream would it help them come true?

Maybe.

But for now I’m going to open my brand new notebook and take some time to figure out what those dreams are and then I’m going to hold them close to my heart for a bit.

A Matcha Made in Heaven

IMG_0701Honestly? I thought it would be the sugar. Sure, I knew caffeine would be tricky but I didn’t expect it to be soul sucking torture. But there you go. It’s Day Five of our reset – the twenty-one day mindful eating practice upon which my NCLP and I have embarked.

Several of his family members began the – ahem – “cleanse” (see why I loathe that word here) a few days prior to our own leap of faith into the land of vegan and elimination diets. For the rest of this month and for a good chunk of May we’re letting go of all animal products including dairy and eggs plus alcohol, sugar, gluten and caffeine.

Here’s the cool thing – my NCLP’s family live continents apart and so we formed a What’s App support group. We check in with one another, commiserate, offer advice when requested and ask important questions like this: “If we’re avoiding animal products, is eating hummus with your finger cheating?”

Finger licking is fine, but green tea, even with its low caffeine content, is not. And yet that’s what I resorted to in order to soothe my caffeine withdrawals. I’ve quit coffee before. It’s not impossible. And until the last few years I was happy with my steaming mug of morning joe courtesy of Mr. Coffee.

But these small joys can be a slippery slope. I was introduced to the gentle nuances of a fine bean and the next thing I knew I had not one but two cafetierres and a Hario grinder. Morning coffee from a can of pre-ground dust from who knows where was no longer enough. The warm, earthy aroma…the sound of the beans being crushed in the mill…the music of the water being poured….it was something I not only wanted but needed morning, noon and sometimes night.

Yep. I had a monkey on my back and it smelled like a pound of organic, fair trade, Peru dark.

Yesterday, my first day without even green tea to burnish the edges, was rough. I survived but I learned that not only was one cup of green tea healthier for my body than four cups of the black stuff, it’s healthier for me (and my yoga students) than no green tea at all. This morning for breakfast I had an iced matcha with my oatmeal. Am I letting myself down? I don’t think so. My intention is to be mindful, not perfect. My intention is to pay attention. To choose wisely. I want to release reflexive bad habits and replace them with considered reflection. One morning matcha to greet the sunrise. Not a bad way to begin another beautiful day.

I’m Not Dirty. Or Toxic. So Why Do I Want to Cleanse?

IMG_1026If you were a woman living in the UK towards the end of the last century, you almost certainly spent some time talking about Carol Vorderman. Carol might be described as ‘game show gal turned best-selling author. She might be seen by some as the UK’s version of America’s letter-turning Vanna White. But Carol’s story is more intriguing. Carol Vorderman studied engineering and graduated from Cambridge with honors. Her talent for adding columns of numbers is what helped her gain decades of employment turning digits on the BBC’s game show Countdown. Thinking back, it’s astonishing (and shameful) that we should be amazed that a woman might be beautiful AND have great computational skills. But there you go.

I don’t think I watched Countdown more than a few times. Instead, I remember Carol for a book she published: Carol Vorderman’s 28-Day Detox Diet. The book, an instruction manual on how to look as svelte and vivacious as Carol by eliminating wheat, soy, meat, alcohol and caffeine, was a huge best seller. This diet would change our lives! We had all the proof we needed. Over the course of a summer Carol transformed before our eyes from beautiful to – well – more beautiful. Finally! A diet that worked! And one that promised to cleanse and detox our dirty, dirty bodies.

Who hasn’t been tempted by a detox diet? My first was during the summer of 1979 when I lived in Tucson. My friend Sissy and I tried the 10-Day Lemon Fast – a concoction of lemon juice, pure maple syrup and cayenne pepper mixed with water and sipped whenever hungry. I managed to survive ninety-six hours before I was chugging maple syrup from the bottle. I don’t know if Sissy fared much better.

Fifteen years later, in my little corner of Donegal, I along with the majority of women I knew carried Carol’s book with us like a Bible and dreamed of her cheekbones.

At the time it didn’t occur to me the message I was sending to my psyche. There are deep, negative connotations in the words ‘cleanse and ‘detox. The truth is my body is not in need of an internal scrubbing. And no matter how many times Brittany Spears tries to convince me through song, I am not toxic.

And yet, in a few days time my NCLP and I are going to embark on a 21-day ‘quantum cleanse’ – a plant-based/vegan diet that also eliminates caffeine, alcohol and sugar.   Given my cynicism and the revulsion I feel whenever I see the words ‘cleanse or ‘detox you might ask “Why?”

Because, for me, they work. Carol Vorderman’s food plan is not too far from Kathy Freston’s (Oprah acolyte and designer of the quantum cleanse). Stepping back, simplifying my diet for a set period of time, setting aside moments for journaling and contemplation (as Freston’s plan encourages) is a positive act of self-love. It encourages a mindful approach to eating. It asks me to consider what it is I want and why I want it. It challenges the relationship I’ve built with food over the past few years – the relationship that sees food as comfort and reward rather than my source of nutrition and energy.

And, believe it or not, I’m looking forward to it. Not because I’m expecting a miracle (or Carol’s cheekbones) but because it seems to me that I’ll be entering a few weeks of mindfulness training. There is a meditative quality to the process that I embrace.

So here I go. Just don’t tell me I’m on a cleanse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Plump

 

Me with hair (and eyebrows) in 1976.
Me with hair (and eyebrows) in 1976.

When I was sixteen I thought I was fat.  I wasn’t.

But now I weigh more than I would like to. I am still not fat. But I reside in a state, and work in an industry, where having to size up from a zero to a size 4 petite is cause for concern. In this golden state, despite weighing slightly less than the average American woman, I am considered chunky, pudgy, ample or round. I prefer, however, to think of myself as California Plump.

I wasn’t always California Plump. There was a time when I was clinically obese. Several times per week I dined on half a packet of spaghetti mixed with baked beans and cheddar. I tipped the scales just shy of two hundred pounds. Yep. Those were the days.

I was not lacking in nutritional wisdom, only discipline and encouragement. Furthermore, I knew my lifestyle would kill me or at the very least trigger the diabetes that runs thick and fast in my family. I joined a weight loss organization and I joined a gym. And, unfortunately, I became so obsessed with dropping pounds that I fell into a pattern of disordered eating. I lost the extra seventy pounds it had taken eight years to gain in an unhealthy eight months. In exchange, I gained a lovely collection of gall stones and a truly dysfunctional digestive system.

A decade has passed. I’m now in my mid-fifties. Five years ago, during an emotionally intense period of my life, twenty of those seventy pounds began to find their way back onto my bones. The difficulties eventually worked themselves out yet the twenty pounds insisted on sticking around. Today my life is in a beautiful place. But I’m California Plump and while I’m not happy about that one bit I know that now – that this moment – is the time to take control of my health and wellness.

And what better way to begin this journey than with yet another self-absorbed blog clogging an already crowded cyberspace?  My intention is not to tell the story of weight loss.  My intention is to tell the story of finding my way back to fitness.  I want to share my story and the stories of other women I know who inspire me with their commitment to health, vitality and life.

Here we go.