Tiny Bit of Crazy

A chronical of the laughter, revelations and transformations that are possible when you embrace the crazy

Buddha’s Diet November 23, 2011

Filed under: Food — Meredith @ 10:30 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m a slave to protein.

That’s what this whole diet has basically boiled down to: Protein, and my endless need for it.

It’s the master of my schedule, the ruler of my moods, and the deity to which I regularly bow.

Because that’s pretty much all I can eat. And when you only eat protein, it burns up fast. See the nice thing about complex carbs like the one I typical ate – with lots of whole grain and fiber** –  is that they are slow burning. Slowly burning into sugar, yes. But slow burning nonetheless. This is an attribute of carbs I took for granted when they were a part of my life.

But when protein is king, I can go from not hungry, to starving in less than 3 seconds. Every choice I make in my day somehow relates to, or is influenced by an opportunity to intake protein.

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I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because really, over all, this diet is the best thing that’s happened to me, health wise, in years.

Pounds and inches have been lost. (More inches than pounds actually, which seems impossible, but is apparently true and according to the doctor, not uncommon. But smaller is smaller, so I’m not complaining).

But more than anything, a lifestyle has emerged.

A lifestyle of mindfulness. Mindfulness about when I’m going to eat, what I’m going to eat, and of course, how much protein will be in the meal. I have to make daily decisions about whether and how much GF and sugar-free protein bars or apples, or cheese sticks, or nuts, I need to put in my purse.

Fast food is a thing of the past, we can’t eat anything out of a box, and very few restaurants offer us more than one or two options on the menu (although the few that do, like Mongolian BBQ, we patronize often.)

On Friday afternoon Chris and I start thinking through our weekend and what our schedule will be like, and before we can settle in for the evening, we have to make sure we at least have enough eggs, fruit and breakfast meat to make breakfast Saturday morning.

At breakfast we talk through our day in detail, thinking about where we’re going, what our food access will be, if we’ll need to bring food or come home to eat. If we’ll come home to eat, what will we eat, will we have time to cook or do we need something quicker.

Crock-pots are an invention of the gods.

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After a few weeks that all becomes second nature, especially to detail oriented planners like me and Chris.

But then there’s another level of mindfulness, having to do with correcting habitual eating and cravings.

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I realized that I used food as rewards- a diet sabotaging habit if ever there was one.

Several times a day I’d think, “I’ve made it through a hard day, I should get myself a cupcake,” or “I’ve had a great day! I should stop at Starbucks for a frap,” or “I just did the bare minimum amount of work I need to do to stay employed. Time for some M&M’s!” At first I just focused on not robotically steering into the Starbucks or bakery parking lot.

Then one day it hit me: “Why do I need a reward for every goddamn thing that happens in my life? Am I 4 years old? Should I get M&M’s for making a pee-pee in the potty?”

First I thought “Well, it wouldn’t hurt,” but then I thought “NO. This is no way for an adult to live!”Because, as an adult, I’m responsible for my life. I’m responsible for all of my choices and my actions. I shouldn’t need a reward to get through a day in a life that I created.

“But,” I asked myself, “what about when things go wrong, and you’re too sad to do anything but eat a cupcake one crumb at a time?”

That pulled me up short because, I mean, seriously, WHAT ABOUT THE CUPCAKES?

Well here’s the thing about the cupcakes:

They served as a pseudo solution for situations I didn’t want to resolve for real. Relationship trouble? Lets not look at the ways in which I’ve participated in letting him make me feel bad, that’s icky, I’ll just eat a cupcake instead. Pain from physical therapy after my car accident? Eh, getting perspective about healing time and the human body is hard, I think I’ll mope and eat a cupcake instead.

The sugar and the feeling of getting what I want would make me feel briefly better, but quickly disappear leaving me feeling lonely and sad again. A terrible cycle that has now ended.

I’m not saying I’ll never have another cupcake, but it will be when my sugar intake for the day has been low, when its GF, and when its only because I want a cupcake, not because I’m using it to hide behind. Because being mindful also means having choices. I can choose to have a peanut butter cup, or a slice of GF apple pie at Thanksgiving because I can make choices about other things I eat – skip the potatoes, go easy on the citrus fruit and pick carrots over corn so my sugar intake is as low as possible when I eat the pie.  I can pretty much do whatever I want as long as I’m always mindful of the big picture. Which makes me hate this diet a lot less.

Next, I realized that I mostly crave sugar and carbs when I’m dehydrated or just plain hungry. The body wants a quick fix, so it wants carbs and sugar. So I had to learn to ask myself what I was actually in need of – water? protein? just something in my mouth to chew?

What I didn’t expect to happen was that I eventually trained my body to crave what it actually wanted. When I’m dehydrated I crave water, when I need protein I crave cheese or meat, when I just want something to chew images of apples and carrots come to mind.

Swear to Protein, I’m telling the truth.

But it’s really easy to undo. One little slip – like eating rich chocolate desserts every night because you’re stuck in a hotel in the middle of the desert and you’ve only been able to eat like 20% of every meal and you’re sick of your protein bars and it’s not fair and a little bit of sugar isn’t going to hurt, and damnit why does everything have to be so effing hard all the time – and you kind of have to start the retraining all over again. But it is easier the second time around.

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I was explaining these details of this diet to my dad a few weeks ago, and he said “So its like a Buddha diet. It’s all about mindfulness.” Which is the first time I thought to put it into that context. Of course, if we wanted to be very literal, Buddha’s diet would be vegetarian, but I like to think he’s cool with my using his name this way. Mostly because Buddha is pretty much cool with everything.  But as soon as I re-contextualized this diet from a pain in the ass list of restrictions, to a lifestyle of mindfulness, everything got a lot easier.

For example, I’ve finally accepted that there were no short cuts anymore, that my idea of indulgent eating is adding kidney beans to my salad, and that I will spend an inappropriate amount of my life thinking about eggs.

And in exchange I have a clear mind, high energy levels, stabilized moods, a smaller waistline, and better functioning organs.

Seems a fair trade.

Except when I walk past a Starbucks and see a picture of their holiday drinks and wonder how many more times I can walk past before I run inside, order 12, and then sit in my car behind a dumpster pounding one after the other until I pass out in a pool of melted whip cream, chocolate curls and my dignity.

Those days suck. But mostly its, you know, the other way.

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**this is an after post edit for clarity. I realized that by just saying “carbs” as I did originally it was misleading and just plaing wrong. But I’d been eating complex carbs, and whole grain/fiber filled carbs instead of simple carbs like white rice, white pasta etc, for so long that I didn’t think about what I was saying.

 

One Week Down and No One Has Died. Yet. October 10, 2011

I’ve been on my 4 week sugar fast for one week as of today.

It has been a long and interesting week.

There were very real withdrawals from the sugar, although it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, since I took High Fructose Corn Syrup out of my diet about a year ago, and had transitioned breads and pastas out of my diet over the past month. So now I had to cut out all refined sugar, flavored coffee, rice, and restrict my intake of certain fruits and vegetables.

I only had about two days of classic sugar withdrawal symptoms – headache, irritability, increased thirst, intense cravings etc. The rest of the week was sort of a series of minor withdrawal symptoms and revelations about my body and my relationship to food.

Last week was made much easier though by the solidarity of my friends  – the co-worker to ate an omelett “muffin” instead of birthday cake with me at a staff meeting, and the friend who cooked me a delicious carb free, and sugar free meal, introducing me to new food and new preparation methods.  The first week would have been much harder without them.

The first thing I noticed was that with the removal of all carbs from my diet, I’m rapidly burning through everything I eat.  As in,  within two hours of my last meal I’m seriously wondering if I’ve ever eaten food in my life.  That seems to be getting better as I enter my second week, but my body definitely didn’t know what to do without the slow burning carbs that were obviously a bigger centerpiece of my diet than I’d realized.

But the fact that feeling hungry at all is still a novelty has helped me deal with the need to daily prepare enough food to feed a small African village.  Between the build up of gluten toxins and my inability to digest food, I hadn’t felt an honest hunger pain in months. So that’s pretty cool.

Chris and I can’t stop talking about how differently we experience meals without carbs and starches. Like, after eating Mongolian BBQ without a starch, and Chipotle without the rice, we both felt like we tasted the other food in the dish much more clearly, enjoyed the meal more and didn’t feel ready to explode after we were done…

But at least I recognize the fact that this sounds like a fascinating topic of conversation to no one other than us.

We’re both seeing rapid changes to our physical shapes. His started about two weeks ago, mine is really just becoming obvious this week, but there is some serious slimming of our mid-sections and when I look down at myself my body looks familiar to me for the first time in many months.

So at this point I can say that cutting out carbs has been routinely positively reinforced, which has made it easier. But I’ve also really come to understand how, as a culture, we consume a shocking amount of grain products, from bread and breading, to tortilla chips and rice to pasta, and as a result, it’s really challenging to eat out and even grocery shop to some extent. I’m realizing I have to reeducate myself about food, nutrition, and cram information about things like glycemic index and carb conversion rates into my brain.

What was much harder for me last week than cutting out carbs was cutting out the actual sugar – chocolate, flavored coffee, random other types of candy that seemed suddenly to be EVERYWHERE I looked. By the end of the week, I was craving the crappiest, lowest grade of candy out there. Things I would previously have dismissed as not worth my time to unwrap, I was now ready to commit acts of larceny and violence to acquire. I’m talking about crap like Cow Tails and Circus Peanuts.

mmmmm, circus peanuts… OMG, seriously?? WHO AM I?

Clearly, we still have some withdrawals to get through.

Maybe in part because I cheated a little bit this weekend…

We went to the Renaissance Festival, which is really just an opportunity to people watch and eat deliciously disgusting foods that  are really bad for you. Except there were very few things we could eat.

Our lunch was steak on a stick and curly fries. (I know, potatoes are carbs, but within the confines and rules of this crazy new diet I’m supposed to follow, potatoes are considered “an occasional item”).

And the rest of the day we’d wandered around reading the signs for all the other food drooling and saying “Can’t have that. Can’t have that.” (Its more fun than it sounds. Seriously.)

And then Chris said “Frozen Bananas. Hey – you want that?”

And without thinking I said “YES!” thinking how a frozen banana would be the most perfect treat possible at that moment.

When we got closer we realized all of the frozen bananas were dipped in chocolate.

I stood crestfallen, both annoyed at myself for not having realizing that of course the bananas would be covered in chocolate, because what person in their right mind would want to eat a plain frozen banana, and because chocolate covered frozen bananas might be my most favorite festival food ever. Even over funnel cake.

Chris watched me pout for a few seconds before saying “Go ahead, get one.”

“Well… I don’t want to cheat less than a week into my fast…” I said with almost no conviction.

“Go ahead, it’s mostly banana anyway. Don’t deny yourself something you want this badly.”

Which was really all the encouragement I needed.

And I have to say, that first bite was something close to a religious experience.

The second bite was almost as good.

Around the third or fourth bite though, I started to get a little bit of a headache. “Probably from the freezing part, not the chocolate part,” I told Chris when he noticed I’d slowed my pace of consumption. I took another bite, but then, with no small amount of horror, realized I didn’t really want it anymore.

And that’s when it happened.

Something that, even an hour prior, I would never have believed myself capable of doing. I pulled all the chocolate off and just ate the banana. And loved it.

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I’m telling you. It’s like I don’t even recognize myself anymore.

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Some of the other things I’ve realized/noticed/been contemplating this week:

  • I’ve used sweets (chocolate, cupcakes, flavored coffee with whip cream) as a reward system for myself for most of my life. I’m shocked the number of times a day I find myself thinking “I’ve eaten really well today, I should treat myself to a frapiccino” or “finish this project and then you can have one of those chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen”, or “I’ve had a hard day, I should get myself that kit-kat bar.”

First, I’m 35 years old.  Should I really be moving myself through my life via a sugar based reward system? Probably not.

Second, if I shift the paradigm from behavior/reward, will I increase my intrinsic motivation and enjoy life more? I have no idea. But I think I’m going to find out.

Third, the whole “hard day = candy” is particularly interesting because often the cause of my discontent was dehydration,  sleep deprivation, or not having eaten enough that day. None of which will really be solved with sweets. But when sugar isn’t an available prop, I’m forced to actually get in touch with my body to identify the correct solution to whats ailing me. I find this a little bit annoying because it takes way more effort than just buying a candy bar in the check-out lane.

  • My childhood desire to always blend in comes out when I’m eating out. Intellectually, I know I should reveal my food allergy to protect myself from misguided ordering, or avail myself of unpublicized gluten-free menus (why a restaurant wouldn’t advertise their gluten-free menu, I have no idea… I’m looking at you Coastal Flats.) But so far I can’t make myself do it, unless directly asked. It’s like when I was in second grade and should have asked my teacher to help me unbutton my new pants with the impossible button so I could pee, but instead just sat through the test crossing my legs, bouncing, and praying so hard I wouldn’t have an accident that I failed my first test ever.
  • But maybe more than anything I’ve learned that every challenge is easier to conquer when you have a partner. As I’ve mentioned, Chris is following this diet with me, just to support me. It’s clearly above and beyond the standard boyfriend job description, but that’s kinda how he rolls. And yet I’ve been having a surprisingly hard time just letting him do this. I keep giving him permission to cheat on the diet because I feel bad that he’s depriving himself because of me…which I keep thinking means I’M depriving him. I mean, its one thing for me to suffer with these restrictions, I have the motivation of my immediate and long-term health at stake. He’s doing it just because. Well, he’s also got washboard abs emerging before our eyes, so it’s not like he isn’t getting anything out of it, but still, its no small sacrifice he’s making.  But as I enter this second week of my our sugar fast I’ve decided that I’m going to stop feeling guilty. Instead I’m just going to accept the support, and focus on seeing this as the shared adventure he sees it as, because the truth is, it’s going to be way easier that way.

Especially considering my other plan is to force feed him cupcake frosting and peanut butter cups and then try to get a contact high from kissing him.

And I just feel like that’s a dark place our relationship isn’t ready to go. Yet.

 

Not Your Go-To Girl November 30, 2010

Filed under: Home — Meredith @ 1:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

My senior year of college I lived in an on-campus apartment with my three best friends. We all had unique strengths and personalities: Katie was the house-mother of the group who kept everything and everyone in order and on track. Jamie was the free spirit/drama queen who kept us entertained, Beth was the earth mother who was nurturing and emotional. And I was…well, I suppose Katie, Jaime and Beth might each have their own answer to that question (and probably have their own characterizations for themselves as well), but I would characterize myself as the…child. I was the one who laughed hysterically as a drunken Jaime molested a soda bottle, who relied on Katie to make me clean up after myself and announce when dinner was over and homework time had begun, and who turned tearfully to Beth to kiss my boo-boos, both physical and emotional.

You’re probably wondering why they kept me around. It’s a fair question, and I’m pretty sure the answer had to do with my tendency to always have chocolate or similarly decadent desserts and late night snacks.

But regardless of what I what role I played, it was very clear what I did not play. And that was the role of the person you turn to in a crisis.

This was rarely an issue because in almost every situation we had Katie, who definitely IS the person you turn to in a crisis. As a result, I managed to get all the way to senior year without having to show how useless I am in any high stress, high stakes, or high emotion situation.

One spring afternoon of our senior year, Beth and I were home alone, and Beth put a mini-frozen pizza in the toaster over and then went back upstairs to her room. I walked into the kitchen a few minutes later to find flames shooting out of the top of the toaster oven.

I immediately started screaming – actually, to be honest, it was probably more like shrieking: “FIRE! FIRE! BETH!!! THE KITCHEN IS ON FIRE!” I may have said something about how we were all going to die…but that might have only been in my head. Meanwhile, I’m still standing right in front of the flaming toaster oven, frozen as I was with my fear.

Within seconds, Beth comes flying down the stairs holding the industrial sized fire extinguisher that she ripped from its wall mounting at the top of the stairs.

She was wearing a robe and I will never forget the image of her coming into view brandishing the fire extinguisher with a panicked look on her face like a bizarre, adult film star version of a fire fighter. She turned the corner from the stairwell into the dining area and toward the kitchen with the nozzle of the fire extinguisher pointing ahead of her saying “Where is it? Where is it?” as if hunting an elusive enemy.

The sight of her was so startling, and comical, that I immediately snapped out of my panic and said “oh, it’s not that bad,” and gestured toward the toaster over where the few measly flames flickered out the top of the door.

Beth, confused and still hopped up on adrenaline, brought the hose of the extinguisher down to her side and looked at the toaster over for a moment and then back at me.

“The flames are sorta, a little bit close to reaching the cupboards…” I offered in my own defense.

Beth set the extinguisher on the floor, walked over to the toaster oven and unplugged it. To my amazement, the flames immediately disappeared. Turning back to look at me Beth just shook her head and said “oh Mer,” as she picked up the extinguisher and went back up stairs.

And it’s the same in my family. Around this same time I was home for a holiday and one of my nephews was playing with my brother’s puppy, Brandy. And suddenly Brandy is laying under the kitchen table whimpering. I was the first to notice, and after I brought everyone’s attention to it: “OH MY GOD. WHAT’S WRONG WITH BRANDY?!” everyone moved away from the table as my mom got down on the floor to investigate. As we stood watching my mom feel along the Brandy’s limbs and listening to Brandy’s whimper, I burst into loud tears and saying “OH NO! WHAT’S WRONG? OH MY GOD….OH NO! SOMETHINGS REALLY WRONG! SHOULD WE GO TO THE ER? I THINK WE SHOULD TAKE HER TO THE ER VET!” My sister Allison turns around and yells “KNOCK IT OFF!” in the verbal equivalent of a slap in the face and then orders me to leave the room because I’m upsetting the, thus far, calm children.

My autistic nephew, who doesn’t naturally understand emotion, started imitating me as his version of what “sad” is for months – every time he picked up cues that someone was sad, or something remotely unpleasant occurred he would say “OH NO! Boo-hoo-hoo! OH NO!”

(And BTW, the puppy was fine. We never figured out why she was whimpering, although as she grew up she had many more episodes like this revealing her to be the only person in the family with fewer coping skills than I had.)

I have many stories like this, and very few where I was actually useful. Or even just didn’t make a situation worse.

When I make new friends or join a new group, one of the first things I tell them is: “I’m useless in a crisis. Just so you know.”

Worse than having to deal with a physical crisis, like an old lady falling off a curb in downtown traffic or some guy getting his hand caught in the metro doors (they were both fine eventually. I think), is an emotional crisis.

I honestly lay awake at night worrying about the day when one of my close friends will suffer an emotional trauma. I try to think of different scenarios that could occur like the death of a parent, a horrible disease, or a child that turns out to be a religious fanatic, and I try to script the right things to say and do. I compulsively study how other people handle these situations, hoping maybe, like my nephew, I can learn to mimic the right reaction.

And like my nephew, at best I usually mange a vague approximation delivered unconvincingly and slightly out of pace with the situation.

But I do always bring chocolate.

 

 
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