Wednesday 24 July 2013

Salad Days

Trigger warning: this post contains diet talk (concepts, no numbers). I suggest you skip it.

I'd been struggling for a while - I think a lot of us struggle, this push and pull between the bodily necessity, the knowledge ingrained at a cellular level that we need food to be alive, and the hatred of our bodies, that says you are wrong.

I couldn't talk comfortably about dessert. I found myself crying over cheese. The way I was dealing with, interacting with food was - with the best of intentions, piles of fresh spinach and literature on intuitive eating - seriously broken.

The prize for work’s Biggest Looser Competition was a fair bit of money. I could buy a new ukulele. And could it be any worse than what I was doing to myself already? I really wanted a new ukulele.  

"You'll find it easy!" said someone, trying to be comforting, "Just cut out treats like ice cream, and the weight will fall off." I tried to say that I only ate ice cream as a social food, an activity out with friends, the same way thin people think of ice skating or rock climbing, but I stumbled over the words and I saw the disbelief in their eyes.

"I'm just going to eat like I did that time I had an eating disorder - easy," I said, funny, a joke. They laughed, "No, seriously," I said. "You're so funny," they said, and turned firmly back to their computer screen.

It was easy, like sliding back into bed. I told my friends, "I'm not eating at the moment." No one questioned the phrasing, or offered me food. With structures around meal times and food divided into firm Yes! and No! categories, it was much easier to deal with.

Things feel into place in the rest of my life. Work seemed less stressful, all of a sudden. I started (kinda, sorta) seeing a new guy. I went to the gym and ran until I had an asthma attack, more than once. I felt lightheaded, in a good way. Everything was great.

The old habits came back, the arithmetic of nights out. I could eat or drink, but not too much of either. My feminist group meets at the bar. My craft group meets at the bar. My ukulele group meets at the bar. "Just one drink for me - I couldn't possibly have another - I'm driving."

I stopped adding milk to my tea or my breakfast oats. The ends of cheese in my fridge (tasty cheddar, camembert, a sharp cumin gouda) dried up and I threw them out. 

The New Guy took me out for tapas and we ate cheese and drank wine. Nothing bad happened. We went out for ice cream, twice. The arithmetic of evenings out got harder to figure. I had eggs at brunch, but not bacon or hash browns or cake. I had milk in my tea, just once.

I was moving house, clearing the fridge. The cheese was gone, there was no milk. I threw out three potatoes that were sprouting eyes. I ate tinned tomatoes, rice, chickpeas; I was too broke to go to the supermarket for lettuce, fresh tomatoes, chicken.  Moving costs.

I teased the organiser of the competition for eating chocolate from the vending machine and hated myself for it. The competition was extended. Three more weeks.

Food has many roles. It keeps us alive, sure, but that's not the only reason why we eat it. If it was, we wouldn't bother with slicing, casseroling, baking, sitting down at a table together, cloth napkins, hot sauce, butter on your peas, the good china, ham for Christmas lunch, barbeques, pass the salt, the perfect poached egg, dinner parties, cheese platters, fish of the day, where do you want to eat tonight? Instead, we would eat carefully and scientifically balanced meals, packaged with precision and marketed even more carefully.  You could weigh out the powder according to your weight, sex and age, mix it with tap water and volia. A meal.

In theory, we could do this already. Why don't we?

An old flame took me out for lunch. I ate exactly half the bread on my sandwich. "You look great," he said.

Before weigh ins, I skipped my morning cup of tea (green, so I wouldn't miss the milk), and saved my morning ration of oats (two tablespoons with boiling water - nothing else) to eat later. The rest of the time, I drank water compulsively. "You sure do like water, haha," said a Coworker whose desk is by the water cooler. "Haha, I sure do," I replied.

I taught New Guy how to poach an egg, making a whirlpool of the water and adding a capful of vinegar. He had fancy flavoured salt, and I resolved to get some for myself. It’s funny, the things we learn from lovers. Music, movies, salt.  

Out with one of my groups, I ordered dinner at the bar because my other two meals that day had been pathetic. Oats, dried lentils, rice. They fed, but didn't nourish.  

I think a lot of people get hangry - hungry angry. I get it pretty bad, and can't, physically can't, skip meals. The last time I tried, I ended up face down on the bed, literally catatonic with sadness, thinking how nice it would be to simply not exist anymore. Old Flame, who knows me well,  ordered a curry, and forced me to eat some. I felt better at once.

I was in second place in the competition, three hundred grams behind, but just as everything had slotted into place before, it began to fall apart again.

I worried incessantly about work. New Guy didn't want to see me any more, for no reason he could articulate. I was tired in the afternoons, and my knees hurt when I tried to run, brought be to a gasping, pain-filled stop.

The competition was extended for a third time. I was bored of waiting. At brunch, I ordered bacon and covered it with hot sauce.

I bought my own damn ukulele on a whim one morning, on my way home from Old Flame’s house. I didn’t need to wait until some arbitrary goal was reached. New Guy reached out to me and I laughed him away.

I came third in the competition. I won $20. I took my best friend out at lunch time, and I spent all that money on cake.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Gather's an unconference - the participants run it. What you get out of the day is what your fellow attendees show up with, not what Keynote Speaker Number Three brings to the table.

The organisers know I play uke though, and I was asked to run a session on it.

I haven't even been playing for a year. I'm not particularly good. But how do you refuse something like that? The tension between no-I-couldn't-possibly and the impossibility of refusing a polite request briefly paralysed me until I heard Carol was going to run it too and then it was all okay. 

I think I've written before about how ukulele is very life-afirming. A session leaves you thinking more, yes please, another forty of fifty years of this, I could do this forever, as opposed to say, cleaning the bathroom, which makes the quietus of the grave seem evermore attractive. 

Standing up, addressing a room full of people, and singing in front of them was a great experience. You are very brave, someone messaged me, but it didn't feel brave. It felt strong, especially considering all the periods in my life where even considering doing such a thing would leave me in a puddle on the floor. Standing and singing and talking about how rad it is to make simple music just felt right.