I know lots of women – and a few men – who have issues surrounding food. But I’ve never really been one of them.
That fact, I suspect, is, like most things: a combination of luck and choices. Luck in that I come from good metabolic stock: tall, slim people for whom most sins of the culinary indulgence variety are forgiven. And my choices haven’t been too shabby either. I’ve always been active. As a kid, I rode my bike all over the neighborhood and played basketball regularly from about the age of 8. I’ve also been a vegetarian for most of my adult life. I love things like cauliflower and cucumbers and kale and I eat them in abundance. Sure, I have a notoriously sweet tooth, but I’m usually pretty good about eating in moderation, even sweets. I eat till I feel full and that’s that.
The only time that I’ve felt that I had an unhealthy attitude toward eating came about ten years ago. I had a series of kidney infections that led to some minor surgery and a short-term restricted diet. Over one summer, I had to weigh and measure my food, keeping careful track of my carbohydrates, protein, and fat intake in order to allow my kidneys to heal. This process of eating more mindfully – instead of making me eat more healthfully – made me obsessive. And limiting my consumption of the treats I usually allowed myself without thinking made me think about them. All the time.
I clearly remember sitting down with a bag of Nestle’s Flipz – chocolate-covered pretzel-y goodness – and telling myself that I could have seven of them in order to comply with my restrictions. But I couldn’t eat just seven. I ate the whole bag, guiltily and greedily. I had never done anything like that before and haven’t since. Yes, I’ve devoured large portions of sweets or savories, but never with that sense that I was doing something wrong. And doing it, in part, because it was wrong.
After that experience, it took me awhile to resume my natural instincts for eating well. But I was able to get back to a place where I listened to my body and gave it the fuel that it needed – and the treats that I wanted.
Fast forward to yesterday. I had a prenatal check-up with my obstetrician and we discussed how I’ve been doing with my gestational diabetes diagnosis. The first question in my trusty pregnancy notebook: How long will I have to stay on this restricted diet once the baby is born?
I liked her first answer better than her second one. Her first? “You can have a celebratory piece of cake the night you deliver.” Woohoo! Sounds good to me!
But her second? “But, given the strong correlation between women who have gestational diabetes and women who go on to develop Type 2 diabetes, I recommend that you keep up with this diet – with the occasional splurge – for the rest of your life.”
Granted, the gestational diabetes diet isn’t all that restrictive. Yes, I have to limit carbs and cut out almost all sweets. But it isn’t all that different from a healthy, balanced diet that any nutritionist would recommend anyway. And it’s not all that different from the way I eat when left to my own devices, especially when it’s modified to allow occasional splurges.
In fact, if I had never asked the question in the first place and my doctor never brought it up, I probably would have done exactly what she advised – without knowing it was the “right” thing to do.
But what I worry about is a return to that post-operative period ten years ago when an order to focus on the details of eating led me to obsess over them. Now that I know how many carbs are in a cup of pasta and a quarter cup of almonds, will I be able to relax and go back to eating the way I always have? Or, now that my eating has been complicated and systematized, will I start to treat food as the enemy rather than as a cause for celebration?
Are you good at following your doctor’s orders? Do you have a healthy relationship with food? Don’t you love the way that I worry about what I might have to worry about two months from now?