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January 25, 2008

Thanks! (and then apparently I ramble on for a while.)

Thank you so much for the rockstar list of crockpot recipes you all shared in the comments earlier this week! I even went home and made one of the suggested dishes the next night -- I used the other half of the turkey breast (the butcher at the store had cut the big turkey breast in half for me, and I used one half for the dinner featured on this column and froze the other half) and to it I added half a jar of fire-roasted tomatillo salsa and half a jar of chili verde salsa and a little water. While I may not be much of a cook, I am fully stocked on condiments. You know the saying... party hard and use a condiment... yes?

Anyway, I put the lid on my turkey-salsa crockpot dish and cooked it on low all night long. Even though the turkey was frozen when it went it, the next morning it was cooked through (used my meat thermometer again to check!)

crockpot-turkey-salsa1.jpg

crockpot-turkey-salsa2.jpg

And then thanks to all your book recommendations, I went online and purchased two books of slow-cooker recipes, Fix It and Forget It (lightly) and 200 Low-Carb Slow Cooker Recipes: Healthy Dinners That Are Ready When You Are!

It's funny -- when I first clicked on the "lightly" version of that Fix It & Forget It cookbook, I didn't panic and feel like I was about to slide down Diet Hill again. I like looking for healthier ways to eat and prepare foods, pretty simple. But when I clicked on the low-carb cookbook, it was a different story. I initially thought it looked good because I like cooking meat in the crockpot and making a side dish separately so the flavors are different. But then I almost had a moment of panic. My brain was like, "Uh-oh. Are we going on a diet again?" All I could think about was Atkins and the time (ok, multiple times) I woke up in a cold sweat, wondering if I had really eaten a bagel ... or was it just a nightmare?

But my dieting days are over, I know that. This is only my second New Year's Day in MY ENTIRE LIFE SINCE AGE EIGHT that I have not woken up full of resolve to go on a diet and lose weight, and it's a hard habit to break. I know I'm not all the way "there" yet -- I'm not as thin or healthy or strong as I want to be.

But I am much, much closer. And saner.

When I was thinking of 2008 New Year's Resolutions, I decided to take a look back over my first full year of not dieting and evaluate it. I estimated what percentage of the past twelve months I ate healthfully, ate so-so, or ate poorly. In the end, I was about 80% very healthy and 20% really, really crappy. There's still not a lot of middle ground with me, but I am very happy overall with my progress. It was an incredibly stressful year, full of more high-anxiety events than probably any year ever before. And I eat when I'm anxious. I also eat when I'm sad or bored or mad or happy or, well. You get the idea.

Lately I've been having a really hard time eating healthy stuff and so cooking my first ever single-girl crock pot dish was a good step in the right direction. When I eat healthy food, food that is real and has no unpronounceable ingredients and is missing the eleventy-nine preservatives and additives of fast food, I feel better. It's a pretty simple thing. Eat whole, real, nutritious food = feel good. Eat crappy fast food and frozen meals = feel bad.

But sometimes I pick the bad food -- really bad food that has no positive nutritional value at all. Maybe it's habit, or comforting, or laziness. I wish I'd been born a naturally skinny person who could eat any old thing and never gain a pound, but I'm not. I often have to remind myself that this is not a dieting-based life anymore, that there are other goals for the body besides "skinny" and that even when I'm mostly-okay with my body size I still need to eat real food ("vegetable, not battered and deep-fried") to have energy and healthy digestion and minerals and vitamins in my system.

Sometimes I'm embarrassed and ashamed of how screwed up I've been about food. I dieted for so long that I actually forgot food was necessary and good for you, after a while all food was the enemy and was Bad. There was a time in my dieting history where I tried to go without food altogether, and I would starve myself and drink Diet Coke and think that was a way to live ... like I could really exist and function and be sane on diet drinks or coffee and cigarettes.

Even just thinking of that makes me sad. Food is good for you, and necessary and awesome! But I became so convinced that my weight determined what kind of person I was in society that I actually thought drinking caffeine and chain-smoking would be a better alternative to a baked potato. I was afraid of food, purely terrified of its power over me. I was scared that without a diet I'd just be an eating monster, and you know what? After a while I was. I was so out of whack that I had no idea how to feed my own body unless someone was telling me how to count grams or carbs or points or calories, measure it and weight it just so. If I wasn't on a plan and following it to the letter, I was out of control.

Deciding to never diet again has been an un-doing process for me. I've had to work toward un-doing over thirty years of training and beliefs, like understanding that my pants size does not determine if I am a good person or a bad person, and that happiness will not arrive once I am a size whatever, and that my quality of life and my health (both physical and mental!) are more important than an ideal someone else picked out for me. It's slow, it takes time. Rome was not built in a day, and neither were my mixed up files of Mrs. Basil E. Foodenweiler.

Doing any kind of public appearance makes me crazy about my weight. I get nervous, I panic having all those eyes staring at me, sizing me up, judging (even if it's kind judgment). It's my own insecurity and it happens and you keep breathing -- since I'm contractually obligated I can't hide or blow it off. This has been excellent for me, because I have to face my fears and do the event anyway. So I go and feel self-conscious and then it's usually fine and really, in the end it's the anticipation of the scrutiny that does me in. After a while, I'm even able to make jokes about the things people say -- because like it or not, people do look at you, your body, weight, hair all of it and they sometimes make comments. (Once, in a town I will not name, someone walked up to me at a book signing and instead of saying "Hi!" or "Hello!" or anything, she just said, "You're not THAT fat." I had no idea what to say. I didn't even know what she meant -- was I fatter than she expected? Not fat enough? Hard to say. And how to answer? Do you say "Thank you?" It was REALLY AWKWARD.) But of course most folks are kind and say nice things. The unexpected anxiety I encountered along the way was that even nice things seemed hard to hear in the beginning because I just wasn't used to so much scrutiny. I wasn't accustomed to 180 people in a row commenting on my hair or body or outfit and it made me want to run to the hotel and eat a whole deep-fried horse. It made me panic.

(They do not serve whole deep-fried horse at most hotels, by the way.)

Which is why I feel pretty pleased with achieving 80% healthy, 20% shitty last year. In 2007, I tried very hard to focus completely on eating normal nutritious food and never ever dieting again. Even in an ideal, stress-free, scrutiny-free, pet-loss-free world that would be tough to achieve. But the goal worked for me in two big ways -- first, I managed to achieve a sort of balance in my eating. I've made mostly healthy choices about food most of the past year, with a few small blips of horror and sloth. I ate pretty healthy food, and sometimes I slipped into old habits and started eating drive-through crap. But on those occasions, I managed to turn it around. That's the key. Sometimes it took weeks, but at least it wasn't months of shitty eating, or years again, and I could see over time that I function better as a human when I'm just eating good, natural, wholesome food.

The other way my year of undieting helped me is that I actually got healthier. I lost a few pounds over the whole year and I became a little less crazy and critical of my body. I experimented with all kinds of healthy foods (parsnips! who knew!) and even finally rediscovered that ol' crockpot.

Of course there's a stuff I still need to work on. I want to exercise more (read: "at all.") I don't want to enter the last half of my life fat and out of shape and always saying, "I'll try that when I lose some weight..."

I don't want to be that person anymore. I know I may not be able to change the fear or nervousness or naturally introverted stuff about my personality, but I can push through it and still live my life and try new things and just deal with my scared parts. Two years ago I would have only thought that sort of life were possible if I went on a diet. I would have started A Plan, and made a shopping list, counted grams of something, or calories, or ounces. I would have eaten frozen meals from a box and never touched a banana because it was Bad! Too Many Carbs! Just prior to my Big New Plan, I would have eaten huge amounts of crappy fast food in preparation of Going On A Diet. For a while I would've been really good at dieting. Then I would have failed spectacularly, falling off the wagon, and eating everything I'd denied myself because I'd really screwed up anyway. Might as well hit up McDonald's before Jack In The Box. Then I'd gain back the weight, feel even worse, eat a lot and eventually start the whole process all over again.

I never admitted any of that stuff to anyone before last year. I thought it was weak and horrible and made me a worthless person.

If I have done one thing right it's to get off that insane circle of self-destruction. BECAUSE IT WAS INSANE. Slowly I started to see that life gets lived even when you are not perfectly at goal weight ... so I finally had to stop "waiting until I got skinny" to take chances and do new things. Going on that book tour was life-altering because I was sure I couldn't do it until I was thin. But I did do it, and I was not skinny, and we all lived and the earth did not stop spinning on its axis. Now that the tour is finally, officially over I feel like I can exhale, let go, and feel kind of proud of myself for doing something I assumed only Skinny Me could ever do.

Makes you think, "I wonder what else I can do that I always thought I had to be skinny to do? I wonder where I can go, see, visit that I just assumed I'd get to once I was skinny?"

It's exciting. It's kind of liberating to know you can just live your life and do okay, learn as you go, do the best you can, and you get it right at least eighty percent of the time -- without a single gram of anything being counted, weighed or measured. The truth is I gave up dieting and I lived. I did not eat all of California. I did not spin wildly out of control without A Plan. I learned more about nutrition and experimented more with good food than I ever have in the past. I survived scary, anxious things without skinny thighs and lived to tell the tale. I had many times where I chose to eat fast food or overeat or eat out of anxiety and I didn't give up, I kept reaching for healthy. I did not hide (all the time) behind my weight, hoping to live one day in the future when I was thin. I even learned to love my crock pot again.

Life is good. Pass the condiments.

Posted by laurie at January 25, 2008 4:00 PM