Food, [In]glorious Food

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.”

Sigh.

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?

Image: Baked Potato by ex.libris via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.
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35 responses to “Food, [In]glorious Food

  1. Once a doctor told me to lose ten lbs… So I gained 10 more instead– whoops! I can’t recall a time that I was given a strict regimen to follow by a doctor, other than my daily thyroid medication. However, AFTER I gained those 10 (plus!) non-pregnancy pounds and one upsetting trip to The Gap, I started to take my diet more seriously. And I have become obsessive about portions. Yes, I might occasionally devour an entire sleeve of Ritz crackers, but I can also tell you how many servings that is (7). I use a measuring cup to serve things like pasta/rice, etc. I also avoid processed food and those five evil ingredients outlined by Dr. Oz.
    While I think it it important to be mindful of what we eat, that’s just it- we need to be mindful and not obsessive. Although how we define mindful is another question. I’m sure your freezer isn’t stocked with taquitos, potpies, and hotpockets– Unfortunately, I think this is what doctors assume- in addition to several weekly trips to our favorite fast food restaurants. Hasn’t that become the norm for so many?
    Now… most importantly– don’t forget to add a package of those delicious Flipz to your overnight bag when you pack for the hospital! And- send that husband of yours out to get you a bagel right after the delivery!

    • Hi P – Two parts of your comment leaped out at me:

      First, “While I think it it important to be mindful of what we eat, that’s just it- we need to be mindful and not obsessive.” I think that one sentence summarizes my issue entirely. In most areas of life, I don’t think I navigate the difference between mindful and obsessive very well. I’m either all in or all out. And when the order comes from an authority figure – either an actual one or a perceived one – I’m usually all in to the point of compulsion. Clearly something I need to work on.

      Second, “I’m sure your freezer isn’t stocked with taquitos, potpies, and hotpockets– Unfortunately, I think this is what doctors assume- in addition to several weekly trips to our favorite fast food restaurants. Hasn’t that become the norm for so many?” You’re right and that’s an important point. The change from a eat-whatever-I-want approach to a GD approach hasn’t really been a big one. I didn’t have to overhaul my cabinets – other than committing to thinning out the dessert section. (In fact, I thought of you when my dietitian was reviewing my food journal and said, “You actually ate quinoa with dinner last night?”) 🙂 But having someone tell me what to eat and not eat and for how long is the sticking point. Control issues surfacing for sure.

  2. It is amazing the way diet/food/hunger seems to feed off our thoughts. And when we have a goal whether it is to integrate better choices or cut poor choices out or limit calories or add in exercise….it just seems that is when it is harder to make the changes necessary.

    I am sorry that you have to think about food so much. I, like you, never really had to and now as I am aging I can tell it is going to be even harder to discipline myself because I didn’t grow up having to “think” about it.

    Try and relax about it because it sounds like after baby is born it is more precautionary and that might help you to relax. Especially when you are holding that little miracle! But I know for me, when I am nursing, my cravings for the sweets increase 100% and I am not usually a sweet person. Praying that doesn’ thappen this time around. But the more I think about it – the more likely it will probably happen.

  3. I worry about worries, too!

    Like you, I’m healthy eater who (maybe too often) splurges on treats. I love sweets. But I do obsess now and then and it’s always when I give myself some arbitrary rule to follow.

    I think we’re better off not giving it too much thought. As with most things in life, too much thought can lead to warped mindsets. I’m not saying to eat thoughtlessly, willy-nilly. I’m just saying we should arm ourselves with health and nutrition knowledge, and then just roll with it. I do much better when I operate more on auto-pilot, within healthy boundaries, than when I go off on some “must eat” or “must NOT eat” tangent!

  4. I need to get back to listening to my body, as well. The medication I’ve been on the past year has caused tremendous weight gain. Over the summer, I tracked my diet down to every calorie and every gram of carbs. I became obsessed. After 7 weeks and continued weight gain, I stopped tracking my diet. I haven’t gained weight since. But I’m trying very hard to listen to those little whispers of nutritional needs.

    Kristen, I wish you continued good luck with your diet. I hope it’s easier knowing that you’re nurturing two healthy bodies.

    • Thanks, Erica. Like most pregnant women, I suspect, I think the knowledge that this restricted diet is necessary for my baby’s health makes it 100% easier to follow.

      (On a side note: isn’t it interesting how hard it is for many people to give up a vice – sweets, smoking, fat, etc. – for their own good, but fewer (far fewer, I wager) have trouble doing it for the good of their baby? Is this just practice for all the times when we will put our kids ahead of ourselves?)

  5. I have counted calories in an attempt to lose pounds only twice in my life, and like you, it took the fun out of eating. I am already planning to have to do it after Baby #2 because I have a goal to get back to a certain pre-Baby #1 weight…and I am already dreading it. I think because of that, I am indulging more than I should now, which really doesn’t help matters…

    When someone tells me to do something, I immediately don’t want to do it. So if I were in your situation I would feel similar and even though I also have a fairly healthy relationship with food and exercise, I would be worrying about worrying about similar things as you are.

    Like all things with parenting, just take it as it comes and deal with it as you need to. It is too overwhelming to worry about things before it it time. Good luck!

  6. For those of us who are expert at worrying (it’s a skill), worrying about what we might have to worry about seems pretty normal to me. (*grin*)

    I do understand your concern though; for myself, having grown up in a household where food abuse was part of every day for as long as I can remember – under my mother’s tutelage – it’s virtually impossible to shed the obsessive quality that food takes on. And ironically, my mother’s perpetual dieting – which spilled over onto me from the time I was tiny – resulted in her living most of her life obese. Morbidly obese. Not to mention, unhappy.

    Unlike other “substances” where you can survive without them, that isn’t the case with food. There is no cold turkey – except the cold turkey in the fridge that you’d like to binge on, or, that cleanses your palate between other courses that mix the sweet and savory. We all have to eat. And so temptation is always there.

    I suspect that your good habits will return to a well-reasoned rhythm. I suspect that is very much part of you, and your natural athletic abilities will also resume their routine, which will help – along with chasing three kids!

    And don’t forget – there’s that great dessert waiting right after you give birth!

    • “Unlike other ‘substances’ where you can survive without them, that isn’t the case with food. There is no cold turkey – except the cold turkey in the fridge that you’d like to binge on, or, that cleanses your palate between other courses that mix the sweet and savory. We all have to eat. And so temptation is always there.”

      This is such a critical point, BLW, and one that a loved one recently pointed out to me while relating her own struggles with healthy eating. And it’s a point that makes me realize how lucky I am to have had a largely healthy relationship with food growing up and through most of adulthood. I hope to be able to get back to that place once my pregnancies are behind me.

  7. I put on the freshmen 20 (!), went home to Malaysia for the summer where everyone I knew talked about my weight gain so it propelled me into an obsessive frenzy about losing my weight. Of course, I was an ignorant thing then so it generally meant severe food restrictions and for someone who’s loved food all her life, it was a nightmare that included three years of bulimia.

    It ended when I met my ex who helped me out of it, but even though I was more relaxed about food, I still had an unhealthy expectation of my own body. It wasn’t until I gave birth that I finally learned how to respect the body that I have because I was so amazed at what it could do that everything else, including my own unrealistic expectations of it, seemed so trivial. Ironically, that’s when I started to look and feel my best – not sure if I actually did look better or if it’s my attitude that made me feel that way. Either way, I’m glad I am where I am today, although it took awhile to get here.

    Now, it’s all about moderation for me, and it’s wonderful. I’m sure you’ll find that balance yourself – it’s amazing how adaptable we can be once we stop fighting the changes.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Justine. Isn’t it amazing (and terrifying) the lengths we are willing to go to once we combine the opinions of others, our own insecurities, and a penchant for obsessive behavior?

      I love what you have to say here about the amazing capabilities of the female body – and how the wonder of the birth experience makes so many of our anxieties about food pale in comparison.

  8. It sounds like you have the same defiant streak that I have. As soon as someone tells you that you must do something, you lean the other way. I’ve found that the easiest way around this is to follow the rules until they are an ingrained part of your life. Then you won’t have to feel like you’re living every meal according to some binary yardstick of “allowed” vs “not allowed” but you’ll just unconsciously make choices that fall into the former category.

    In the meantime, you should savor every last bite of that cake after you deliver.

  9. I’m very similar to you with this. I’m not sure I’d handle it very well if I had medical restrictions/limitations/a diet placed on me. I’d probably pout a lot, but I’d follow it. Probably out of fear.

    And yes, I love it how you worry two months in advance about what you might come to worry about. Makes me feel normal 🙂

  10. Food. I feel like it’s the trickster in my life. I gravitate towards good foods, I know about nutrition. But I fall hard sometimes. And my genes don’t help. Oh, and I hate being told what to do.
    Just be healthy. Know what your body can do. It sounds like you listen well to yourself.

  11. What you mentioned–that resistance to follow strict diets–is a big reason why nutrition experts caution people from fad diets. Knowing that you can’t have something inevitably means that you want that something more than ever, and it also means a higher chance of falling off the wagon.

    I have only had doctors recommend dietary changes twice–one when I was a teen and struggling with lactose intolerance and the other when I was pregnant with Emily and was told to gain weight. I guess losing 20 lbs and only gaining ten of it back was not a good thing.

    I don’t have a healthy relationship with food. Mine has come because of sickness. Constant nausea and occasional vomiting combined with a high sensitivity to smells do not make foods appetizing; so I am constantly struggling with my dislike toward food and encouraging myself eat. (I do admit to skipping meals still.)

    Your worry about what to expect after two months is something I can relate with–it is hard to know that you must make life long changes especially if you are used to living (or in this case eating) a certain way. Even if those changes aren’t far from your own normal.

  12. I have a terrible relationship with food. I have a terrible time obeying my daughter. Food is rebellion and guilt for me. Such a waste of time.

    But I was put on my first diet at age 12 (1200 calories a day) due to an operation I needed to have and that started all the yo-yoing. Now that I’m not supposed to have gluten for life, I still can’t seem to obey perfectly without trying to get away with things here and there.

    Like I said, such a waste of time in living life to the full.

  13. This is one of the areas I have been working on. I have been trying to little by little improve my choices. As you say, be more mindful about what I eat and put into my body. I’m doing it more to make myself feel better and stronger and energetic. And yes, the future health benefits are a plus. It’s hard though, I think our relationship with food is very emotional and psychological. We look at food for comfort and for happiness and as a reward sometimes. So we have to replace that and use something else to give us the joy that a chocolate cake or coffee used to give us. Good luck!

    • “We look at food for comfort and for happiness and as a reward sometimes. So we have to replace that and use something else to give us the joy that a chocolate cake or coffee used to give us.”

      Absolutely! I’ve heard that a person should never use food as a reward or a comfort. But who in the world can really follow that advice? Who doesn’t treat themselves to dessert when out with friends or after a long, hard day? Nobody I know, I don’t think. Perhaps displacing food with something else that feels decadent and indulgent would do the trick. Or maybe I should just start going to bed earlier, before that yen for munchies sets in around 9:00 p.m. 🙂

  14. I am sure the “rest of your life” part was difficult to hear. I certainly think making healthy choices is a battle for most of us–and like you, I tend to not follow all of the directions.

  15. There is, as you surmise, a fine line between eating healthily and being obsessed. Finding a balance is as hard as keeping your weight steady or composing a symphony.

    But a nutritionist can tell you to do it without batting an eye.

  16. Oh lord, I felt this post in my gut. Literally. I am someone with tons of food issues and struggling to stay sane around food is a pretty big theme in my life.

    A book I just read and loved is Geneen Roth’s “Women, Food, and God.” What I learned is that whatever I struggle with can be a doorway into my life if it’s approached with compassion and curiosity. It already seems that you are doing this and also, that food is not really a struggle in your life most of the time. Thanks for your honesty in posting this.

    • Thanks for stopping by Motherese and taking the time to leave a comment, walkingonmyhands. Thanks too for mentioning the Geneen Roth book. I remember reading very positive reviews of her book when it first came out and I’m glad to be reminded of it, especially now that it seems particularly relevant to my life.

  17. I would never have expected that rest-of-your-days diet recommendation! I’ve had good friends who developed gestational diabetes, and either they were more flippant or their doctors were less concerned. After lots of stories and observations and some limited experiences, though, I’ve come to really value the attentive doctor who takes you and your risks seriously.
    I haven’t had too many opportunities to follow doctor’s orders or to ignore them. But it’s interesting how much more stressful any habits become when there’s an “official” recommendation to guide them.
    Hope you are able to fall back on what seem to be your habitually healthy habits without too much anxiety over those doctor’s orders.

  18. I’ve had quite a history with doctors, I think I’ve mentioned this before, and so the information your doctor gave you may be right or it may not. It may have something to do more with the average sufferer of gestational diabetes than you, Kristen. It may have been her saying yes and then retreating into, um, “doctorese” to cover that in case you ended up with type II diabetes and sued her!

    If I were you I’d probably have the cake at delivery time, stay on your more restricted food plan while your body returns to its normal self, and then have my PCP run a full diabetic panel (yes, you’ll have to drink that orange concoction again!) and then, when you’re in the all-clear, go back to normal! That’s the amateur doctor’s opinion!

    • I appreciate your opinion, Dr. Linda! (Even if I don’t appreciate thinking once again of that super-sweet orange drink!) 🙂

      And I think you’re absolutely right: I need to wait until my hormones level off post-delivery and then get a good, old-fashioned physical from an internist. Having been pregnant and/or nursing for the past four years, I haven’t seen a PCP at all, and I know I should to get a better sense of all of my baseline statistics.

  19. I am a notorious rule follower. I had a c-section and I was prescribed Vicodin. It said no refills. So after 2 weeks, I discontinued use. Went to the doctor and she was HORRIFIED! She informed me the no refills just meant that the pharmacist would have to call her to okay it so she could monitor the drug usage, make sure I was not abusing it. So, yeah, I had been on Ibuprofen after a c-section. But in the end, I think that level of ignorance helped my recovery, so who knows?

    I feel for you on this diabetes thing, man. It’s a huge disease in my family and I too was told of the link between gestational and Type 2. Luckily I skated in under for the 2nd gestational diabetes test, but it’s still something I am aware of. And it occasionally thwarts me and makes me want to just go and binge because “you’re not the boss of me, body!” But, oh wait, you kind of are.

    Good luck!

  20. This post is profound for me.

    There are lots of institutions in life that tend to set “rules”. I grew up in a church where sexuality was pretty taboo. We’ve all witnessed what has happens with sexual deviance and the church…

    I wonder how much obsession there is in countries where there are no “rules”? Where there simply isn’t enough abundance to NEED to monitor intake. And your words and my experience (a history of food neurosis here) make me think we begin to seize up only when we freeze up.

    I love a story Martha Beck tells about workers in a specialty chocolate shop: employees are allowed all they can eat of the wondrous stuff. The first 3 days they tend to gorge. Then after that, they tend to mellow, averaging merely 1 chocolate per day forever after.

    Compare that to my experience working in an ice cream shop where the owners weighed and measured everything that left the store. What did they have? Employees that regularly gorged and, whenever they could, snuck the frozen goodness to their friends.

    Love and relaxation seem to be the keys to freedom. You lived that way happily for many years. I look forward to a speedy return.

    • So interesting the way that this discussion is turning into one about rules and control. I think your anecdotes about the employees in the chocolate shop vs. your experience as an employee in an ice cream shop say it all.

  21. Diabetes runs in my family. My grandfather, dad and two of my sisters are diabetic. For years I never concerned myself with it because I frankly didn’t believe that it would ever be an issue.

    But I didn’t foresee that when I got married I would stop spending two hours at the gym each day. Didn’t believe that my metabolism would betray me and well, I am not cut like I used to be.

    Not morbidly obese either, but there is some work to be done. I have found that I am at my best when I don’t follow any suggestions for what or how much to eat.

    I just eat what I want and pay attention to whether I am still hungry or not. It is not a perfect solution, but it works for me and I am happier for it.

  22. Following you for some time now, you seem to be very level-headed and realistic. I’ve heard that advice from doctors about the gestational diabetes – you are more prone to develop it later. However, I think that there is a lot to consider instead of such a blanket statement like that.

    I think the best thing is to use your head – sounds like you had good eating habits beforehand that you can return to and it would not be considered unhealthy – sweet tooth and all. But I think the most important thing is to get regular exercise. And, I’m sure you know all this anyway!

  23. I could write books and books about my relationship with food, except most of it is so private and painful and infuriating that I probably will never share it with anyone. I’ll just keep working on it, keep trying, keep telling myself to do my best. With M&Ms to cheer me on. And therein lies the problem … along with a metabolism that is decidedly different from yours!

    Thanks goodness I run. It’s the only thing that helps me keep perspective.

  24. I don’t have a healthy relationship with food. It’s complicated! But at least at this point, I know I’ll never “diet” again. Once I stopped dieting, I stopped gaining. I haven’t lost what I’d like to lose, but that will come with time and emotional healing (plus a wee bit of exercise!).

  25. My mom had gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with my sister, over thirty years ago. She was 40 at the time and never had an issue with diabetes afterwards. I would have a wait and see approach.

    However, I have found that when you are unable to have something, it makes you want it all the more. I think that you would continue to be sensible, even if given free reign.

    Hang in there!

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