#65 We Are What We Eat

If we really are what we eat, then my right leg is made of sugary white icing. And part of my brain must be scattered with M&Ms.

The happiest news in my world would be if I could take a pill as a meal. With my daily phalanx of supplements, I practically do. Thankfully the men I’ve lived with were decent chefs.  When you live with someone, you can’t have a candy bar or popcorn for dinner, unless they’re just as stupid about food as you are.

I don’t like shopping for food, or planning meals, or preparing meals or most of all cleaning up after meals. For many years living alone meant heat to eat. That’s changing but I have to factor how long I’ve lived that way.

Decades ago I was waiting for a flight sitting next to Linus Pauling, the king of vitamin C. I was smoking back then, probably blowing smoke in his face. So he kindly gave me a lesson. He explained that every cigarette depleted me of about 60mg. of vitamin C. Did I quit smoking? No. After that trip I bought a carton of vitamin C.

Back in the late 70’s I read a lot about world hunger. Reading about world hunger led to reading about fasting. There were movements to fast at least a day a week, or a week a year in order to counter world hunger. I read about proper fasts, which include resting and drinking only water. I tried it but I was working, commuting and drinking coffee and smoking. Not a proper fast. I remember one day walking up and down the aisles on the commuter train because I was so jazzed.

I was impressed by the notion of self-control with fasting. And a few years later in Pennsylvania I researched fasting clinics. My primary goal was to quit smoking, but I also wanted to learn to fast properly. I found a clinic in Pawling New York, near Hyde Park. I signed up for a week.

I smoked my last cigarette on the drive from Pennsylvania. The location was beautiful. It was winter and there was snow on the ground. Instead of staying in the main house on the grounds I chose one of the motel rooms. I had read about how to prepare for the fast and that there would be some tough times early on. We were to take no vitamins, or even use mouthwash or toothpaste. I couldn’t do the last one.

The doctor showed up that Monday morning. He explained the process and would check me twice a day.  I’d get all the water I wanted. They had daily nutrition classes in the main house. There was a lean-to near the house and I enjoyed sitting in the chairs in the sun in the cold.

I stayed away from the people in the main house because all they talked about was food. I’d walk slowly around the grounds. I kept my journal and I watched TV a lot. And that’s when you learn how many commercials are for food. Ironically the American Culinary School was just down the road, and I’m convinced that some of those ladies were sneaking out or ordering pizza in.

I met lengthy residents trying to cure serious illnesses, Asthma, even tumors. The woman in the room next to mine was there for Colitis. I felt like a piker just trying to quit smoking. I quickly learned the added benefit. There was a scale just doors from me so I went daily to check my weight. The doctor talked me in to staying another week, which turned into three weeks. They fasted me 15 days. And that’s water: hot water, cold water, tepid water. Just water.

When he announced that it was time to break my fast I almost cried. I had never felt such energy. I haven’t read my journal from those weeks in many years, but I know it was pretty lively. Friends came to visit me from Connecticut and took me to do laundry since it was an extended stay. I don’t mean I could have run a race, but some compare the energy feeling to a runner’s high.

So the first food after the 15 days of water only was 8 ounces of freshly squeezed orange juice. I had to consume it with a spoon. It took an hour. The impact, the pow of flavor on my clear taste buds almost hurt. Then for the next few days I was brought small carefully balanced meals. When I went home I became a vegetarian for about six months. But I had not quit smoking.

I returned to that clinic for a week after I did quit smoking. For many years I could fast a week on my own following the resting and water rules. You learn how social food is. Go to someone’s house you’re offered food, even if it’s something to drink or a bowl of peanuts. So now when I do fast, and I did 10 days at the beginning of this year, I stay away from social situations. Two people get together and there’s food.

The other wonderful things about fasting; no trips to the grocery store, no planning, no cooking, no cleaning up. Food takes time.

I don’t go around recommending fasting to people. But it’s an exceptional experience when done properly. I don’t do it without letting my doctor know.

So going back to age twelve. I was the first one home, alone for a while. If my father came home in an edgy mood, that determined the mood of the house. But he wasn’t usually there. My mother was the screecher and batterer. So I had an hour maybe two all to myself. I treasured those hours more than I did time with my friends.

Since I’m describing ancient history, television reception meant three networks out of Seattle. But we were on the Canadian border with Canadian stations and their comedy was delicious. So were their afternoon movies, often British. That’s how my permanent love of old movies began.

I’d check the frozen supply of tollhouse cookies in the freezer. Remember I was twelve. I could take a few out and put them in the toaster oven. Microwaves were about 20 years in the future. I’d shuffle the remaining cookies around in the container to appear as though none were taken. Right!

When the cookie supply was too depleted to shuffle it around, I’d make a little bowl of vanilla icing. In the den I watched Sherlock solve an eccentric crime, and eat the entire bowl of icing.

This had to be timed to perfection. Most of the time I couldn’t get to the end of a movie because I had to start making dinner. But always I’d finish the cookies or the icing with a can of Tab.

Why icing? The one great treat I remember was a bakery that made super sugary birthday cakes. I just wanted the pink roses.

This was the age of Cool Whip, Wonder Bread and canned vegetables. There’s nothing so vile as canned peas. And I couldn’t drink milk if my life depended on it. There were times when my parents made me believe my life did depend on it. We all have stories of having to stay at the table to finish some food we couldn’t stand. I vomited the milk often enough for them to give up. But canned vegetables never gave me an appreciation for green food.

When at last I was on my own, living in Seattle, that meant yippee I could eat anything I want. Really. That’s what moving to Seattle, working, going to school mostly meant. I could eat anything I wanted; Hostess cupcakes for dinner.

This attitude toward nutrition did not change. I never connected food as fuel.  I didn’t plan meals. I had a couple of roommates back in those early days and I suppose we planned more than I had on my own. But I did not peruse the fabulous markets at the Pier in Seattle or later the Green Grocers in New York.

The men I lived with were decent chefs, or we ate out. I was the same meat and potatoes cook I was as a child. But fresh food as a concept didn’t sink in until just a few years ago. In fact when I was with the man I didn’t name in # 56 It Takes Two, his family was so huge, I started making birthday cakes. It would take at least eight hours to make each one. Friends said I should have sold them, but I would have to have charged $2,000 a cake. Even standing eight hours making a cake didn’t end my sugar cravings.

When I was publisher of a magazine I kept a bowl of M&Ms on my desk for everyone. But I noshed on them throughout the day. All that sugar in my system seemed to convince my brain that I wasn’t hungry. Living alone again, Friday night was pizza on the way home. And I was not yet out of the years of making bowls of white icing and eating it in front of a movie. Honestly.

Just a couple of years ago I was at a movie with a friend. We rushed through a meal before the movie and decided to return to the diner afterwards for dessert. But after the movie we skipped dessert. I dropped him off that Sunday evening and was still thinking about the carrot cake I had seen hours earlier. I stopped at a dreary convenience store and searched the aisles for sugar appearing like an addict searching for a score of cocaine. I bought horrible things and ate them in the car in the few blocks to my building.

It’s bloody astonishing that my blood sugar hasn’t failed. I don’t eat ice cream for dinner anymore, though at times cereal is just right. In fact try vanilla ice cream with cereal on top. It’s great. Mostly it’s easy.

Breakfast was never an option in my life. Though I’ve learned how vital it is, I have no appetite for hours after waking so all through school my first meal was lunch. Now I’ve learned to pour some coke into a bottle of Boost if I need something on the run.

A couple of years ago I went to a nutritionist. She worked with me so much we’ve become good friends. She walked me through the aisles of my grocery store to help me make better decisions. She’s seen worse cases than me, sad to know. But I was a challenge and she knew not to try too much with me too soon.

She had me writing down everything I ate, keeping track of sodium, calories, protein and fat, forcing me to think about it. And I learned to eat smaller balanced meals. Again, eating alone, it’s so easy to eat in front of TV without thinking. Now I have an Ap on my phone and it scolds me about sodium.

I’ve never really been fat, no matter how my brother convinced me I was as a girl. Working in Manhattan, walking everywhere frankly I could eat my way across town. Well that changes with age, but at last my brain understands balance. It may be late in life, but just like baseball, I finally get it.

I know though, I could always make a bowl of white icing.

 

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One Comment on “#65 We Are What We Eat”

  1. Sylvia says:

    I’m smiling. Amazing transformation. Smiling, and smiling!


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