A Walk in the Desert

I realized, after perusing Facebook this afternoon, that today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I’m “sort of” Catholic. I was raised Presbyterian, but converted to Catholicism when my kids were young. My dad had been Catholic, as a youth, and so had my husband. It seemed so natural, I loved the ritual and the routine, the seasons and the celebrations.

In all that has transpired in recent years, honestly, my faith has been shaken a bit. I do still “believe”, but, what, exactly I believe in is kind of loose, a little vague.

Whether a practicing Catholic, a Protestant, or a pagan, I think there is value to taking a walk in the desert, which is, loosely, what Lent is symbolic of, the forty days that Jesus fasted and wandered in the desert.

In years past, I have given up all sorts of things for Lent. Keeping in mind, that it is supposed to be “a sacrifice”, something that we will struggle with fasting from. One year, I gave up beer, Diet Coke and coffee. That was the longest forty days of my life. I was, at the time, preparing for a ten-day backpacking trip where indulging in beer would definitely be out of the question, as would Diet Coke, and coffee would be difficult. As soon as Lent was over, I enjoyed a beer. Coffee, I continued to fast from, and, truthfully, I felt fantastic. The day after coming off the trail, I headed right for the Coke machine and had an ice cold Diet Coke, downing it in about two gulps. Then belching. It was divine. I have considered giving coffee up again, perhaps permanently, but I usually come to my senses. Coffee is something I enjoy, just one (large) cup, every morning. I lapsed immediately back into a daily Diet Coke habit after the backpacking trip, but knowing I could live without it gave me the strength to finally give it up for good, a few years later. Its really just a chemical cocktail that affords us absolutely no nutritive value and that our bodies have no idea how to process.

Another Lenten fast of note was giving up bread. This I accomplished a couple of years ago. I. Love. Bread. I had just embarked on my life altering journey towards fitness, catalyzed by reading Jillian Michaels’ book Master Your Metabolism: The 3 Diet Secrets to Naturally Balancing Your Hormones for a Hot and Healthy Body! I gave up bread for forty days and learned that I can live without it, and the ten pounds that immediately fell from my body. To this day, I only eat “traditional” bread about once a week, and only if it is extraordinary bread, like at a nice restaurant. I do eat “sprouted grain”, flourless bread, a time or two a week, usually for a piece of toast or half a sandwich. A loaf of “sprouted grain” bread, at $4.50 a loaf, lasts me well over a month.

One year, believe it or not, I gave up audible burping and farting. No. Really. My kids were older teens at the time, and the family had always found humor in such “expressions”. Upon leaving my husband, I decided it was kind of gross to be so brazen with one’s gastric occurrences. I decided if I ever allowed myself to enter into a relationship again, I would refrain from this activity, out of respect. I theorized, that to be so comfortable with someone as to be so violently disgusting was really quite disrespectful. So, I gave up belching and ripping off farts. I, of course, must occasionally pass gas, it is part of the digestive function, after all, but I make every effort to show some respect and keep it quiet. And, if an audible one slips, it is followed by a blush and an “excuse me”. I am usually afforded the same respect in turn.

Last year, quite honestly, I think I just gave up Lent. Have you noticed, that for each year I gave up something for Lent, I benefited for far longer than the forty days? I’ve successfully used Lent as instigation for self-improvement, year after year after year. With the exception of last year, and for this I feel repentant.

So, as we are about sixteen hours into the Lenten season, I am a little behind in selecting what it is I should fast from for the next forty days, what it is I hope will become a lasting fast, something that I will benefit from. Chocolate? No! Beer? No! Wine? No! Butter? No! Sex? No! I had a couple of friends mention caviar and sit ups, but as I have not actually had caviar in quite some time, nor have I done sit ups, favoring plank work instead, I don’t think these are actually good choices, other than being totally “doable”.

I thought about, maybe, nose picking, which I only do when I’m alone. Don’t laugh! You know you do it, too! At least I don’t do it my car! But, I don’t know, I just can’t bring myself to respond to the lively conversation on Facebook with “I’ve decided to give up nose picking!” So, then, what?

I’m certainly not out of bad habits, I’m just having a really hard time identifying any that I am prepared to forsake for any period of time, chocolate, beer, wine, butter and sex, and, really, none of those are BAD habits, especially sex. And wine. And chocolate. And beer. And butter. Perhaps moderation rather than abstinence is what I’m favoring. Except for sex. Perhaps, for Lent, especially after the alcoholic and chocoholic escapades of the last couple of months, I will limit my intake. And chocolate. And butter. I do enjoy these substances immensely, and probably a bit more than I should. Hence that sneaky ten pounds that is bulging out over the top of my jeans as I sit cross legged on the couch writing this.

Okay, then. That’s it. Moderation with wine, beer, butter and chocolate. Let’s be clear.

Wine and beer, my goal has always been to limit alcohol to one beverage per night. I can do that. In fact, I’ve been pretty good about that since about Sunday.

Butter. I probably consume two tablespoons per meal, including what I use for cooking. I will halve this. So, no more than three tablespoons per day.

Chocolate, which I do eat daily. I did manage to move from milk chocolate to dark chocolate a couple of years ago, so that is a positive development. I will limit myself to one square a day, plus the one tablespoon of cocoa powder required for my workout recovery drink (chocolate milk made with coconut and almond milk and raw turbinado sugar).

Anything else? Yes! I do seem to have developed quite an affinity for peanut butter. I spread it on apples, which is both delicious and nutritious. I have taken to just eating it out of the jar with a spoon. Organic, of course. I’ve refrained from it for a few days now, which has been good. I think we’ll put a limit of one serving per day, serving being equal to whatever the jar says. And I will measure. And I promise I won’t shop, deliberately, for a brand of peanut butter where the stated serving size is larger than the others on the shelf. You see, I know me, that is how my mind works.

Done. Lent is in progress. I am walking in the desert, fasting. Time for a slice of coconut cream pie! A walk in the DESSERT!

I’ll Eat What I Want

I am moving in with Mom.

Mom is 89 and says “I’ve lived a long, full life, I’m going to eat whatever I want.” Which means, cookies, ice cream, chips, cheese, crackers, etc.

I’m going to be 50 and I’m hoping to preserve myself so that I, too, may enjoy a long, full life, so I’m going to eat whatever I want. Which means all organic, kale, quinoa, sprouted grain breads, on occasion, and nothing that contains enriched flour, refined sugar, hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup, or anything overly processed.

Somehow, we are going to coexist in the kitchen and at the dinner table.

I don’t keep on hand things I shouldn’t eat; cookies, ice cream, chips, cheese, crackers, etc. Mom stocks up whenever there is a sale, a coupon, or both.

Mom, always the gracious entertainer, will, when I visit, offer me, repeatedly, the things I should not eat. She knows full well I don’t want to eat them, yet she offers, relentlessly. Over Christmas, I spent a few days with her, I finally told her she was like a drug pusher, but with enriched flour and refined sugar! “What, do you work for Gold Medal and Spreckles?”

My mom is frugal, buying what is on sale, that for which there is a coupon in the paper, and certainly nothing “unnecessarily” expensive, like organic produce, free-range chicken and cage free eggs, and grass fed, hormone free meat. She chides me for my excessive spending on things like organic produce, free-range chicken and cage free eggs, and grass fed, hormone free meat. I contend that by investing in wholesome food now, I am warding off expensive medical care and prescriptions later. I call this the “Whole Foods Standoff”, and I’m not sure exactly how a winner will be determined, except that it’s going to be determined after one, the other, or both of us pass into the next life.

Mom always asks me whether this particular food, or that particular food are on “my diet”. I’m not on a diet. This is how I eat. A diet is something you do for a measured period of time to change a condition; usually how much you weigh (and, I contend, water weight), but sometimes some other undesired medical condition. When you have been choosing to eat kale and quinoa and organic food for over two years, that is not a diet, but a way of life. For some reason, I let this get to me, “is this on your diet?”

Mom used to go on diets, every week. Occasionally, I think they lasted a full week, once or twice, maybe even two. I can tell you what night of the week it is by what lands on the dinner table based on the Scarsdale Diet. I have my thoughts about diets, and I think they are backed up with a mountain of evidence gathered by reasonably intelligent people over the course of many years. They don’t work and, in fact, end up making you fatter. Perhaps that’s why the word enrages me so.

I lost fifty pounds. It took me a year and a half. I’ve kept most of it off and the only reason a little crept back on was because of my busy travel season, which makes eating organic and working out nearly impossible for the last few months of the year, which, coincidentally, are the holidays, when no one on the planet is eating anything remotely healthy. I am so relieved to back to a more normal schedule, still with travel, but not constant. I can work out regularly and eat normally and be a bit more comfortable in my size sixes. Though I’m shooting for a size four this year. I don’t care what I weigh, really, I care what I wear. As long as I don’t weigh more than my boyfriend. Every time he says he’s going to lose ten pounds I get real antsy.

This brings up another point. When I shunned my size eights for my size sixes, Mom suggested I hang on to my size eights, just in case (what did I say about those “diets”?). Um, no. I’ve worked really, really hard, I’ve invested heavily in sweat and in dollars to get to size six. Size eight cannot be an option. If the size sixes start feeling snug, I had better buckle down, because I shop at Buckle, and if I don’t, it will be a huge economic hardship to return to size eight. And thus a deterrent, but not as much of a deterrent as losing face.

I hate to admit this, but I don’t always have the willpower necessary to stay out of trouble. I’m an all or nothing. If it’s there, I’m going to eat it all, so my only option is to make sure there is nothing, as in, don’t buy it. This is why Mom’s shopping habits concern me. She will buy several cartons of ice cream, at one time, if they are on sale. She will buy all that the coupon allows, or as much as will fit in her freezer. I am quite happy the extra freezer in the garage died. Less ice cream. When I buy ice cream, and I do, on occasion, I pay way too much for just a little. I’ll buy a pint and I’ll eat the whole thing, if not in one sitting, then within the day. This usually occurs as a reward for running twenty miles or something that makes me feel outrageously deserving. But, as long as that pint of ice cream is in the freezer, it is the only thing on my mind. Let’s not even get started on Oreos, which, by the way, are almost always on sale, somewhere, and so, in endless supply at Mom’s.

I go way back with Oreos. There used to be a copper chafing dish on the back counter in Mom’s kitchen. Early in the morning, my dad would get up, go downstairs, make coffee, and take it up for he and my mom to enjoy in bed while listening to the news on the radio. While the coffee was percolating, he would quietly remove the lid of the copper chafing dish and remove three Oreos from the package hidden therein. He’d eat them. Only three. At some point in my childhood, I became aware of this secret stash of sweetness. As soon as I could reach the chafing dish I was raiding the Oreo stash on a regular basis. The unspoken rule was that there had better be three left in the morning when Dad came down to make coffee. Somehow, my entire childhood, I managed to look freakishly malnourished in spite of my eating habits. At some point after marriage, pregnancy, I think, this all caught up with me.

So, the exodus back to my childhood home, where my bad habits were learned and supported, is going to be an exercise in sheer will and determination. To further challenge me is the fact that not one of the three gyms I belong to are in my home town. They are near enough by that I cannot cancel my memberships, but in every case, they are in a neighboring county requiring significant highway travel and unpredictable traffic. I love my gyms, I consider them a refuge. When I am in need of motivation, when I am feeling weak and need some inspiration, I head to the gym. An hour of cardio, a good, sweaty class, and my purpose and motivation are returned.

I know it all sounds pretty hopeless, but, you know what? I can do this. If I can lose fifty pounds by changing my lifestyle and not by surgery or fad diet, I can do anything. I can certainly learn to maintain my lifestyle in less than favorable conditions, I mean, I guess I already do. I travel a great deal of the time, for work, and I eat in restaurants more often than not. And I have managed to only fluctuate about ten pounds, and keep the size sixes “business appropriate”. Barely.

So, when you spot me in Buckle, rest assured, I’m not there buying size eights, I’m there to buy size fours! And I’ll eat what I want in order to achieve that goal.