My college-boy is the healthiest eater I know. Yes, his food choices skew toward take-out chicken, burrito bowls, and cheeseburgers, but he still impresses me. He is the rare person who eats when he is hungry, and then stops when he is satisfied. He doesn’t feel compelled to finish everything on his plate, all the chips in the bag, or all the Chubby Hubby from the freezer. He simply stops. He doesn’t judge himself if he occasionally feels too full. He is lean and healthy. What the “experts” call, an intuitive eater.
As you may have guessed, I am not an intuitive or mindful eater. Quite the opposite. My mind tends to shut down when it’s around food, ignoring all those feeble brain waves desperately sending me signals that I am not hungry. The wimpy voice that pleads, “Step away from the brownies!” That poor voice. She always shows up, like a faithful, defeated friend who hopes maybe this time I’ll listen.
I imagine what life must be like for those who don’t have demented arguments with themselves about the basic act of eating. Or how peaceful it must be to simply feel content. Here’s a day in that imagined life…
I wake before the alarm blares. I do not run my hand over my stomach to check if it is flatter than yesterday. I stretch, and kick off the covers, greeting the beagle at my feet with a scratch behind his ear, instead of cursing him under my breath. In the bathroom mirror my reflection smiles. I do not moan at my puffy eyes or blotchy skin. I tap my wet toothbrush against the sink and admire my straight teeth without thinking they are not white enough.
For breakfast I do not pore over my choices, analyzing calories, carbs and protein. Instead, I make myself oatmeal, using milk not water. I toss a liberal handful of walnuts into the bowl, along with a hunk of brown sugar. I make my teenage daughter’s school lunch, which includes a sandwich on the kind of chewy sourdough bread she likes instead of the dry 40-calories-per-slice whole wheat I typically use, a small bag of chips rather than cucumber slices, some grapes and a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookies from our cookie jar. Because we have a cookie jar. With cookies in it, not salt free pretzels.
When my daughter comes downstairs, I do not scrutinize her clothes or raise my eyebrows at her sleepy tangle of hair. I offer her the toasted sesame bagel she loves, slathered with cream cheese that comes from a package without the word “lite” on it. When she picks up a banana I do not suggest she eat only half.
My day spreads before me with choices. I lace up my running shoes and jog out the front door into the May morning that belongs to me. I do not worry that I am wearing shorts and that strangers in passing cars will notice my flabby thighs. I breathe in the delicious scent of my neighbor’s lilac. I am not concerned that my running bra shows my “back fat” or that my arms jiggle as I move. I am running with music I love pounding through my head, propelling me forward into the sunshine. I do not entertain thoughts that I should be lifting weights, going faster, or doing plies at a ballet barre. I just run. I stop when I am tired and happy. I do not run until it hurts.
I shower and change without avoiding the full-length mirror. If I glance at myself it is with compassion and fondness, as if seeing an old friend. I admire my freckled shoulders. I do not manipulate my neck so that there are no creases or wrinkles; there is just my neck, long and graceful. I accept the lines as earned. I am fifty-eight years old.
I pull up a chair at my desk to do some writing. I notice I am hungry. I do not attempt to talk myself out of eating. I trust myself to know what hunger is. I walk to the kitchen and cut myself a slice of banana bread. It is studded with walnuts and topped with streusel. I do not berate myself for my choice. I do not want yogurt or berries or a kale smoothie. I make myself a cup of tea, and sit back down in front of my computer. The banana bread is sweet and tastes of nutmeg. I notice this because I am eating it slowly, savoring instead of inhaling. My hunger ebbs and I begin to write, sipping my hot tea, leaving a couple of bites of banana bread on the plate. Maybe I will eat them later. Maybe I won’t. I do not feel the need to remove the plate from my sight. It sits there while I enjoy my tea, my writing, my quiet mind.
Later that afternoon when I go to the grocery store, I load my carriage with food to cook with. I collect fragrant fruits and fresh vegetables, but there is also beef, pasta and butter. I do not choose anything with the word diet or lean in it. Nothing is packaged in tiny 100-calorie bags, and I buy two pints of Ben & Jerry’s.
While leaving, I spot someone I know and go out of my way to say hello. I do not avoid her, thinking I look sloppy and fat, and she probably doesn’t like me anyway. We talk for ten minutes, catching up on our lives and kids. She compliments my new haircut and I don’t make a face.
That evening I cook dinner for my family, trying a new recipe from a magazine that is not Weight Watchers. We eat and talk, sharing the day. We laugh. I do not write down my calorie intake. When my husband or daughter asks for seconds, I give them more. I do not ask them if they’re really still hungry or if maybe they should finish their vegetables first. I take it as a compliment and pass the bread.
After dinner I take the dog for a walk. I see neighbors putting out the trash, and kids riding bikes. I acknowledge everyone and they smile my way. I do not look down at the ground when a runner speeds by. I keep my chin up, make eye contact and nod. He waves, his music blaring from his ear buds. It is a rare spring evening and I am part of it.
The hours between dinner and bed are spent sitting with my husband watching a ball game or a favorite sitcom. We might read, he might do a crossword. My daughter in the next room slogs through her homework, asking the occasional question we are both available to answer. I do not hide upstairs because I fear I will eat if I am down near the kitchen. I am participating in my family, contributing what I can. I do not call myself names because I don’t know anything about calculus. There is a dog on the couch next to me. He doesn’t care about math.
I eat a bowl of real ice cream and feel satisfied and nurtured. I do not make an evil concoction of frozen strawberries, ice and fat-free Cool Whip and try to disguise it as food. It is cold, and it is matter, but it is not food.
When I undress for bed I do not change behind the bathroom door. I slip off my clothes in front of my husband, hopping around on one foot trying to get my leg into my sweatpants. I do not wonder if he finds my body repulsive or if he notices my unshaven legs. I climb into bed and meet him halfway. I fall asleep wrapped in his arms, allowing my loving husband to love me, as is.