Off the charts

The diet charts, that is.

Two years after reading my first Geneen Roth book (Breaking Free From Emotional Eating) I am finally putting her good advice to work.

I have quit dieting.

Whoa, whoa, whoa – calm down! I didn’t say I was giving up on myself! I said I have quit dieting. There’s a big difference.

You know that tired old adage (misattributed to both Einstein and Franklin) that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result? Tired (and hard to source) as it may be, there is some truth to it.

This was, though not at all in those words, a large part of the gist of a book I recently read, Diets Make You Fat. I know the title sounds clickbaity but it turns out to be completely true. This refreshingly well-sourced book (Ah, nonfiction by someone who knows the difference between a long-term and short-term study and acknowledges that results from studies on rats do not necessarily indicate similar results would occur in studies on humans!) explains that what you’ve long suspected is true: dieting doesn’t work in the long term. 95% of dieters regain their lost weight or gain more than they lost. If the calories-in/calories-out math were as simple as we wish it were any jackass could lose and keep off their excess weight. But it’s not that simple. It’s dauntingly complicated. Too complicated to summarize here. It’s neuroscience. It’s hormones. It’s intestinal flora. It’s the snail speed of evolution vs the warp drive of civilization. Just read the book. It’s wonderful.

When I first (very noisily) read Breaking Free From Emotional Eating (“Oh!” “Ah!” “Yes!” “Finally!” “Ugh, so true!”) I actually cried a little. (Books almost never make me cry. Where the Red Fern Grows didn’t make me cry. Sadako and the Thousand Cranes didn’t make me cry. Sad books make me angry. I got recess detention for chucking Where the Red Fern Grows across the room when I finished it ahead of schedule in the third grade and then bellowed spoilers at my classmates.) But this wasn’t a sad book, it was a tragically relatable book. And yet, as moved as I was, and despite feeling like Geneen Roth was both my new best friend and a surrogate mother, I outright scoffed at the notion of intuitive eating. Let my body decide when and what and how much I should eat? Are you fucking kidding me? I can’t trust this meatsack! It’s ravenous and untrustworthy and hideous!

Two years later I read Diets Make You Fat, which says almost exactly the same things as Breaking Free From Emotional Eating – but fortified with SCIENCE™! I love me some science. But more importantly I trust science, and the science in this book seemed particularly trustworthy and sound. Anecdotes and personal experiences are interesting but they do not move me like science does.

So I was finally moved to give intuitive eating a try.

(A quick aside: intuitive eating, which goes by many interchangeable names such as mindful eating, attuned eating, and instinctive eating, is not about casting aside all nutritional knowledge and eating whatever and whenever and however much you want. It is about eating only when hungry and only until full – and if that sounds easy to you then you clearly don’t have overeating issues. I recommend this site to clear up any confusion you may have about this practice.)

Once you get over the hurdle of thinking that intuitive eating sounds like the worst possible thing a lifelong fatty could attempt you have to address the reason you think that: a lifetime of dieting and being browbeaten by “experts” and diet companies (who are usually owned by food companies who just want to sell you smaller portions at higher prices, and I know that sounds conspiracy-theory-y, but it’s totally true) has left you with the almost unassailable impression that your body cannot under any circumstances be trusted with anything ever. It doesn’t want to exercise when you know you must. It wants cookies when you know you must eat salad. But this isn’t your stomach you’re fighting with (barring a serious medical problem affecting your metabolic hormones). Your mind is fighting your mind. You know you would move your body but you don’t want to exercise because you are out of shape and it’s hard and you don’t like how you jiggle when you move. You want those donuts that asshole keeps bringing into the break room not because your sensible chicken and spinach salad wasn’t nutritious, but because your job is dissolving your will to live like acid and a cupcake would give you a few minutes of pleasurable respite.

You, no doubt, like the rest of us who have been battling our weight for decades, have been taught to ignore your body’s signals at all costs. Feeling hungry? IGNORE IT. Feeling tired? IGNORE IT. Feeling a craving? IGNORE IT. DRINK SOME WATER. DO SOME CRUNCHES. LOOK AT PHOTOS OF VICTORIA’S SECRET MODELS TO REINFORCE YOUR SELF-HATRED. BUY A $400 JUICER. DETOX. JOIN THIS SHAME CLUB AND WEIGH IN IN FRONT OF STRANGERS ONCE A WEEK AND TESTIFY IN GROUP LIKE YOU’RE A GODDAMN ALCOHOLIC BUT LESS DESERVING OF EMPATHY BECAUSE YOU AREN’T A “REAL” ADDICT, YOU FATTY.

*Ahem*

The very simple concept of eating only when hungry and stopping when full is made very difficult by  two things: 1) You probably have lost all concept of what physical hunger and satiety feel like, knowing now only ravenous, painful emptiness and distended, painful fullness and 2) You probably do not have the ability to discern between physical hunger and emotional hunger. (Do you need a sandwich or a hug? They aren’t interchangeable, as it turns out.) This is my new struggle. Learning to discern between these two kinds of hunger, observing where they overlap and what factors make them come and go, finding ways to soothe both, and getting in touch with the sensations of real physical hunger and fullness.

In poking around on other blogs and in forums I have found that the average person needs about a year to get the hang of this, to get back in touch with their metabolic intuition. I stopped counting calories (and using MyFitnessPal after logging in for 250 consecutive days and being a member since 2012) on August 5th, but I started to stray from my rigid food plan back in June. Since then (that is, June), I confess I have gained 16 pounds. There were a few weeks of crying jags and terror and frequent binge-eating as I second-guessed myself every other minute.

(I cannot understate the fear I felt in stepping off the socially accepted path of the great and mighty diet. I have never felt much of an urge to conform to the media’s image of the modern woman – I am an eccentric dresser, I prefer old things over new, I don’t shave my underarms or legs, I have a facial piercing at age 35, I am a life-long atheist, I have an awkward vocabulary, I have chosen to remain child-free, and I haven’t worn “real” makeup since I was in middle school. But I was as fanatically devoted to the Church of Dieting as any other member of that powerful cult. No matter how wacky I may have seemed to female coworkers or other women at parties, we always agreed on this one thing: we hated our bodies and struggled daily to punish them into socially acceptable shapes and sizes. It brought us together against all odds. Women who appeared to be physically repulsed by me as though we were opposite poles of a magnet were re-polarized when they overheard me lamenting a binge day or talking up my latest foray into punishing exercise. Women I wanted to strangle as they recited by rote their pastor’s latest long-winded sermon about the importance of women serving Christ by bearing children and submitting to the yoke of marriage AND NO OTHER MEANS WHATSOEVER were suddenly my besties when I overheard that they, too, had gotten that red-font notice from MyFitnessPal about their maintenance calorie level being below medically recommended standards – but if we went over by so much as fifty calories we’d gain a gosh darn (pardon my French) pound!)

However, I gained most of that weight over the course of August, after my official decision to stop dieting, and then the gain all but stopped in September. I weighed in this morning, for the first time since the 1st of September, and was stunned to find that despite a 3-day no-holds-barred eating fest on our anniversary trip (when I ate whatever the hell I wanted but tried not to eat unless hungry and to stop when comfortably full) and this being, ifyouknowwhatimean, the heaviest time of the month for me, I am only up two pounds. Shark week usually bumps me up 2 to 5 temporary pounds, so it’s actually possible that I didn’t gain any weight on our anniversary trip! I cannot, of course, be sure that I have reached my hang point already, but I do know that the panic has passed and I feel like I’m getting my feet under me. I have by no means mastered my eating intuition, but I am on my way. I can only hope that I will slowly lose weight from this point on, but I have to (and here’s another really hard part) learn to accept that I might never lose another pound.

Wut?

Yes.

Intuitive eating is not a weight loss diet. Intuitive eating is a healthy habit. A lifestyle. A method.

I may remain at this size for a long time. Perhaps forever. I have to remember that it is not true that there is a direct correlation between weight and health. As Dr. Aamodt explained in Why Diets Make Us Fat, you can be fat and healthy, and physical activity is more important for your health than your BMI, as it protects you against the hazards of obesity even if you are obese. There are obese Olympians, for fuck’s sake! So I have to accept HEALTH as my new life goal and reject the old false idol of THINNESS.

Easier said than done. But I’ll keep you posted.

— Amanda

Anniversary 2016

Longtime readers know that Matt and I save up all year for our annual getaway to Lake Crescent (home of the chair on the shore that I have declared my official happy place). We like to stay two nights so that we have at least one day where we are on the peninsula all day.

Clearly we haven’t yet tired of Lake Crescent (perhaps because there was that off year where we didn’t reserve in time and ended up at its sister facility, Lake Quinault) but the tricky part of returning to the same vacation spot every year is not taking the same pictures of the same stuff every year. But I enjoyed the challenge. This was also the first year I shot pictures entirely with a phone (baby’s first smart phone) and not the little old digital camera we received as a wedding present nine years ago.

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The view from the porch of our cabin just after check-in. We got cabin #21 again.

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Breakfast in the sunroom on our first morning. Omelets, fruit, potatoes, very sweet butter, jam, amazing English muffins, very good coffee. Seriously, I don’t know what was up with those muffins, but they were fucking awesome.

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Look. At. The. Color. Of. This. Water. I did not use a filter on this image. This is actually what the lake looks like from the Spruce Railroad Trail on the north side.

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Cool rock formations on the Spruce Railroad Trail.

L: A tree etched with lovers’ initials and other graffiti on the Spruce Railroad Trail. R: Naked madrones on the Spruce Railroad Trail.

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We thought that this massive, flat rock in the middle of the Spruce Railroad Trail looked like the ideal place for local witches to get together. (My mental image includes both athames and Starbucks, because this is the Pacific Northwest – although there isn’t a Starbucks for an un-fucking-believable 20 miles.)

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Albino slug???? We thought at first that this might be a super-duper light-skinned Banana slug (Ariolimax columbianus) but it was not the right shape at all and completely free of spots. It was, however, the right shape and size to be one of the more common Black slugs (Arion ater). Wikipedia makes it sound like white Black slugs are totes normal, but trust me, as a Pacific Northwestern native and a lifelong gardener I have seen more than my fair share of slugs and I had never seen a white one until this moment.

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Lake Crescent, afternoon of day two, with little white caps and a steady breeze.

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Churning water at the side of the MV Puyallup on our ferry ride home. I love this color.

— Amanda

Monthly reading roundup July 2016

I was really busy this month. I was doing Camp NaNoWriMo (which I won!) and remodeling a bathroom and having car trouble and adjusting to a new work schedule. Reading ended up taking a back seat to real life. And this post is late cuz the fun don’t stop. Car is fixed, sleep schedule is still all fucked up, bathroom is in pieces, and manuscript needs editing. #adulting

WHAT I READ IN JULY:

15800518Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 11 by Julietta Suzuki.

158206Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This is precisely the kind of non-fiction I love: scientific and hilarious. Not unlike You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney, this book illustrates how our brains are both incredibly complicated and seemingly at cross-purposes with survival in the modern world.

27170153How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad. I’m white. I laughed. I’m pretty certain people of color would laugh if they read this, too. Just the right amount of self-depreciation, harsh truths (phrased hilariously), anecdotes, and facts (and wildly erroneous, hyperbolic completely made-up facts).

139253The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. As promised, this was a lovely little book. Sad at times, magic at times. A collection of semi-connected vignettes of a Latina girl growing up in Chicago, featuring her whole family and most everyone on the block.

15803910Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 12 by Julietta Suzuki. Stop rolling your eyes. I love these books. You might, too. I do wish that whoever named the English translation had picked something closer to the actual meaning of the Japanese title, Kamisama Hajimemashita, which means “I became a god” or “A god began,” and has nothing to do with kissing (no matter how much the main character may want to snog her servant guy).

15803925Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 13 by Julietta Suzuki. The cover art on these books, I will have you know, is totally out of touch with the plot inside the books. I find it very weird, as the covers are drawn by the same woman as the rest of the manga, but that’s just how the Japanese roll. The books contain little, if any, provocative fruit-feeding, floating through anti-gravity, wild fashion shoots, or group snuggles.

187020Empire Falls by Richard Russo. This was my second attempt at this book. At least one follower I know in real life is going to hate me for this review. Sorry, Phil. I love me some small town fiction, but I felt like I had a level of background information on every person in this town that would have given the Stasi a brain boner. Also, there’s a few interesting bits of information/plot in the first chapter or so, one more about 3/4 of the way through, and then several pretty compelling chapters at the end of the almost 500 pages, and the rest is all just people going about their day-to-day, thinking about how much they hate their day-to-day.

INCOMPLETE

23272302du balai! by Hans Wilhelm (in French). My language studies were one of the hard-hit areas of my to do list in July.

13643895¡Ves al revés! by Jeanne Willis, Tony Ross, & Gabriel Martínez Jiménez (in Spanish). See above.

COOKBOOKS

None! *gasp*

— Amanda

Just a little update . . .

achievement unlockedI finished the first draft of my second book, Ghost Stories, today. I am on schedule to publish in the spring of 2017.

Ghost Stories is a paranormal buddy comedy featuring a lesbian main character (whose motivation is not to find a girlfriend but to flip a foreclosed house she bought at auction), an agender ghost, a really dumb dog, a bad guy who is “the manifestation of a comments section,” an Afro-Latina medium who hates ghosts, and a whole lot of swearing and pop-culture references.

I am really enjoying writing this book and I hope you will really enjoy reading it.

— Amanda

 

Mickey

matt & mickey graduation

I agonized over what picture to use for this post and then opted for the one on the top of the stack: my husband, Matt, and his mom, Mickey, on Matt’s graduation day in 1996.

It’s been a year now since the untimely death of the my mother-in-law. My dad and I have always both said how we lucked out in the mother-in-law department. People traditionally hate or resent their mothers-in-law, but we married people whose mothers were welcoming and not adversarial, judgmental, or possessive.

I know how cliche it sounds to say that it seems like just yesterday that we drove through the Darrington 4th of July parade the day after her death, simultaneously smiling with joy at being alive and surrounded by friends and family, and as raw as if our hearts had just been belt-sanded. But I don’t know how else to phrase it.

I also don’t know how to adequately explain the feeling that she has been deleted. There’s no Mickey-shaped hole – there’s just no Mickey. She doesn’t call us, we don’t call her. She doesn’t holler “come in!” when we show up unannounced at her door. Her chair is still at the kitchen bar. Her name is still in our phones. One of her plants is thriving on top of one of my bookcases. Her husband still gets mail in her name. Her handwriting is still on the chore chart for the grandkids. Her jewelry is still in the bathroom. Her voice is still on the answering machine.

But she’s not there.

A year on, I have found a coping mechanism: when I start to feel that tightness in my chest after thinking about her for too long (like right now) I remind myself that over decades of official and unofficial counseling Mickey talked sense into a whole lot of people. I console myself with the thought that, in a world that has people like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and kids who kill their parents to hawk their electronics for smack, there are also people who are in desperate times and might resort to desperate measures except that they stop and ask themselves “If Mickey were here, what would she tell me to do? What would she think of this bullshit plan?” She isn’t physically there to open her doors and let them crash in her back room, but she’s there in their minds, nonjudgmental, offering sage advice, keeping them calm: mothering.

I get it now, the line about how someone lives on in our hearts and minds. I thought that meant simply that we remember them, but now I see it means something more. We’ve all downloaded the Mickey algorithm and it’s still humming away and doing its work in our brains. She’s still mothering Matt and her grandkids and a host of kinfolk and near-strangers. And maybe they’ll unwittingly spread that benign virus, that natural vaccine against cruelty and malice and stupidity.

It’s a thought that doesn’t exactly ease the tightness in my chest (in fact, sometimes it brings on a lump in my throat and a prickly behind my eyes) but it does change the tone of my feeling from bewildered to hopeful.

— Amanda

Monthly reading roundup June 2016

WHAT I READ IN JUNE

17884042Still Life With Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen. This is the kind of book you drag around with you everywhere because you don’t want to put it down but your life insists on continuing without you. I cannot say what made these characters and this story so compelling: they just were. No frills, just damn good writing.

29340182Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. I think what I tweeted about this halfway through is still the best summary (pardon the typo):

12325117Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 7 by Julietta Suzuki.

12566298Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 8 by Julietta Suzuki.

13183545Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 9 by Julietta Suzuki.

30166675American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I got burned out on classical “high” fantasy (dragons and elves and whatnot in a sort of alternate earth where it’s perpetually the middle ages) when I was a teenager and it still makes my stomach turn. But this here is my kind of fantasy: the old gods (Norse, Native American, Indian, African, Slavic, you name it) versus the new gods (TV, cars, airplanes, media) on the vast back roads of Americana. Like Supernatural, but both deeper and funnier. I’m antsy for the TV version now.

13183547Kamisama Kiss, Vol. 10 by Julietta Suzuki.

211478Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat by Naomi Moriyama. Less silly than I expected, and more scientific. Still follows the largely anecdotal format of lifestyle diet books set forth by French Women Don’t Get Fat, but that’s OK, because it still contains solid advice.

25897960Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith. I love me some local fiction. This compelling, atmospheric story time-hops around a story that takes place in both the Oregon wilderness and two small San Juan Islands.

INCOMPLETE

6000153Start Your Own Restaurant Business and More: Pizzeria, Coffeehouse, Deli, Bakery, Catering Business by Jacquelyn Lynn. I skimmed this, while taking copious notes, because I have a complicated fantasy in which I run a very small bakery and breakfast-only restaurant. So the pizzeria chapter and the bar chapter didn’t apply to me, nor did anything having to do with employees because I don’t want any employees.

23398646The French Beauty Solution: Time-Tested Secrets to Look and Feel Beautiful Inside and Out by Mathilde Thomas. This sounded like a great idea when I was looking at it on the library’s website, but when it showed up on the hold shelf and I saw that it included a “detox diet” my spirits sagged. I didn’t want quackery, I wanted time-tested advice on simple beauty habits. There were some of those, and I have to hand it to the author for not simply recommending her own desperately expensive products as the answer to everything (I also didn’t know about that bias before I put a hold on the book) so it wasn’t a complete loss.

22890270Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin (Audiobook). I plan on re-reading this in the future. I was really enjoying it, as I had the other books I have read by Gretchen Rubin, but I was away from the computer most of the first weekend of June and my loan expired before I could finish listening to it.

10515837The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley. I was reading this a few pages at a time before bed but I couldn’t finish it at that rate before the library wanted it back.

4620248The Beauty Diet: Looking Great Has Never Been So Delicious by Lisa Drayer. This book really could have been an article. Rarely have I read anything so repetitive. However, the science is sound (these foods are really good for you and getting your vitamins and minerals and antioxidants from food sources rather than supplements has been proven to be more effective) and by “diet” the author does not mean “weight loss diet” but rather the now almost-archaic original meaning of “a selection of foods habitually eaten.”

996251Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. This is one of those books that crops up in the bibliographies of other books all the time, so I felt compelled to read it. But I just couldn’t hack it. The analogies and “lessons” the author draws out of the stories she relates seem pulled out of thin air to me. I could see no correlation at all between the folklore and the morals the author perceived in them.

COOKBOOKS

24693655Protein Ninja: 100 Plant-Based Recipes for Hardcore Soups, One-Pot Meals, and Saucy Bowls That
Pack a Protein Punch
by Terry Hope Romero. There was nothing in here I wanted to eat. It was all very strange stuff, full of pea protein and unobtainable flours and whatnot. I was expecting clever uses for tofu and beans, not this science-project stuff.

27415846Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2016 ed. by Dana Cowin. Food & Wine is always good stuff. I will be trying about four recipes from this mouthwatering collection.

— Amanda

Recipe roundup

syrnikiSyrniki from Wikihow. OMFG. I don’t remember why I had a carton of ricotta in the fridge with just a tablespoon missing but I couldn’t bring myself to toss 95% of a perfectly good and extremely versatile ingredient like that so I Googled “ricotta pancakes” and made the first recipe I came across. Success! Midly sweet, incredibly creamy, with an almost-but-not-quite chewy texture. And so rich it’s no wonder the recipe only makes six silver-dollar-pancake sized cakes. As with all things Russian you are directed to dress them with sour cream and applesauce but we went crazy with butter, honey, and three flavors of jam.

IMAG0512[1]Red Lentil Dal with Coconut Milk and Kale from Food & Wine. We are kale-haters so I omitted that ingredient. I also subbed fenugreek for the fennel. This smells so good while it is cooking that I am amazed that none of my neighbors tried to invite themselves to dinner. There’s tons of spices and flavors (cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, cilantro, lemon, onions). The coconut milk makes it all sinfully creamy. It’s also incredibly filling! Serve with my favorite chapatis.

Lemon Cream Icebox Cake from the Kitchn. Thin layers of whipped cream, lemon curd, and graham crackers. This tasted exactly as I hoped it would: like the limoncello tiramisu at my favorite date-night restaurant, Lombardi’s. Many icebox cake recipes call for a tub (or three!) of Cool Whip, but this one has you whip your own cream with powdered sugar and lemon zest. Worth it. I’m glad I made a half-batch in an 8 x 8″ pan because there was just a tiny piece left after we dug in, and there’s just the two of us here.

— Amanda