Last week, a reporter who was trying to get her head around the concept of Health at Every Size asked me, “So… what do you eat?”
Food, mostly. Tree bark and car parts are much harder for the human body to digest. Next question?
Smartassitude aside, I actually get questions like this a lot from readers — and usually, what they really mean is, “What am I allowed to eat to uphold my Good Fatty status?”
The answer is the same: food. But since I’m still learning intuitive eating as I go along, and I know how weird and… well, counterintuitive it can seem at first, let me tell you about the last 24 hours.
Yesterday, I had a photographer coming over in the late morning to take pictures of me for the article the aforementioned reporter was working on. This meant that I spent the early morning frantically tidying, selecting an outfit, and fucking with my hair. And I forgot to eat. Then the reporter was a bit late, and the shoot took a bit longer than I expected. So there I was at like 1 p.m. with no food in my belly, and I was fucking starving.
Al asked what I wanted for lunch, and I immediately said, “Hot dogs.” Plural. No question. At that moment, I felt like I wanted to eat about 10 of them, and I ended up ordering 2 at the restaurant we went to, which is unusual for me. Fries weren’t even on my radar — I just wanted dense, fatty meat like nobody’s business.
Why? Because I was hungry. Because my body was screaming for something that would fill me up as fast as possible.
Last night, I had plans to cook dinner, but then Al felt like going out. So we went to a restaurant that’s fast becoming one of our favorites. I looked over the menu, which includes steak, burgers, pulled pork, and pumpkin ravioli with sage and dates in
brown butter sauce that is so fucking good, I can’t even tell you. (Not to mention the caramel apple bread pudding on the dessert menu, OH MY GOD.) I like all of those things. A lot. But what caught my eye last night was the tilapia with spinach and roast fingerling potatoes.
I’d never ordered it before, and I was really tempted to relive one of the yummy meals I’d had there in the past — the aforementioned ravioli, or another ravioli dish with vodka tomato cream sauce that was on special, or a huge bowl of corn poblano chowder, or the warm poached pear stuffed with blue cheese, alongside a big basket of fresh bread dipped in olive oil… But as I was considering all those things, I couldn’t get the tilapia out of my head, which told me that was what I really wanted. (Well, that and the bread, which is half the reason we go there.)
Logically, choosing what you really want from a menu ain’t rocket science, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point been paralyzed with indecision while a waiter stood around tapping his foot. For me, indecision is part of going out as often as not, and it’s always for one of two reasons: 1) I’m hungry and 10 different things sound good to me, or 2) I’m trying to talk myself into the “good” thing and out of the “bad” thing, having an internal battle that goes, “I know intellectually that I really love this particular salad, and it will totally fill me up, but… BURGERBURGERBURGER.”
A big part of learning to eat intuitively has been learning to leave my intellect out of it and just order the goddamned burger, because I know I’ll mourn the loss of it if I get the salad. It’s fucking stupid, this mourning of food I could get any time, but then, that’s why I’ve been training myself to just go ahead and order it — to reinforce the idea that yes, I can have this any time, because I am a freakin’ grown up, and no one is going to burn me at the stake for eating a high-calorie meal. (Yet.) And the more I believe that, the more I find myself naturally and truly drawn to a wide variety of foods, instead of having the BURGERBURGERBURGER voices drown everything else out whenever I sit down at a restaurant. That’s the damn point of intuitive eating — but it’s also why it’s trickier than it seems.
So, after way too much consideration, I ordered the tilapia, ’cause it was what I really wanted. And like everything else I’ve had there, OMG, so good. Fish was beautifully done, beurre blanc was awesome, and the very lemony spinach was so yum I wish they’d given me twice as much of it. (I should have asked and might next time, actually. I’ve told this story somewhere on the blog before, but this is also the restaurant where I once ordered the smoked chicken, apple, grape, pecan, etc., salad, and only ate about 2 bites of the chicken, because I was really just into the rest of it. The waiter said, “You left the best part!” and I said, “Ehh, I wasn’t really in a chicken mood tonight, but I could have eaten like 9 more apples.” Then I went to the bathroom and when I came back, there was a plate of sliced apple on the table, compliments of the waiter. LOVE. Also, there’s intuitive eating in action for you — most likely, I hadn’t had enough fruit in the day or two before that, so I became obsessed with the apples and grapes and couldn’t give a shit about the “best part.”)
Then it came time to look at the dessert menu, and Al and I both decided to look, because their desserts are so damn good. But upon looking, we both realized, whaddaya know, we just weren’t hungry anymore. The caramel apple bread pudding sounded good — ’cause it always sounds good — but we just weren’t feeling dessert. I was, however, feeling port. At first, I ordered the Taylor 10-year but was told they only had Cockburn 10-year. I was about to take that, and it totally would have been fine, but then Al said, “For god’s sake, just get the Graham 20. You know you love that.”
Good point. But the Graham 20 was 12 freakin’ dollars a glass, so I hadn’t even let myself consider it. Which is just idiotic, because the 10-year was $10, and if I’m going to pay more for a glass of port than I did for my entire lunch, what’s 2 bucks? But this is the kind of thing I do to myself so often when looking at menus: I immediately identify the thing I really want but feel too guilty to order it — either because it’s obscenely expensive or obscenely calorific — so I try to find something that’s good enough instead. Truth was, the Graham 20 was what I really wanted from the get-go. But I couldn’t order it until Al explicitly gave me permission. (Which means I probably shouldn’t be so hard on those friends who try to dragoon me into splitting dessert with them when I’m not hungry; it’s not like I don’t have my own hang-ups about what I’m allowed to consume and how and when.)
That meal cost a bundle, but it was awesome, and it was exactly what I wanted, start to finish. I am still new enough to this intuitive eating shit to be surprised and pleased when that happens just like it’s supposed to.
So that was last night. This morning, I woke up to a much more normal day — made coffee, puttered, got hungry, and had some oatmeal with dried blueberries and cranberries. Normal morning, normal food, yummy but not anything special. Now, it’s almost time for lunch, and I’m thinking about what I want. Most likely, it’s gonna be tomato soup and a salad with sliced green apple and blue cheese vinaigrette, as that’s what I have in the house that sounds best to me right now. And you know what really doesn’t sound good today? Hot dogs. Especially not 2 hot dogs with everything but tomatoes AS FAST AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY MAKE THEM, PLEASE. Because I had breakfast and am therefore not so hungry I could eat Crisco out of the can.*
So, there’s a snapshot of what I eat. Food. Whatever sounds good to me for any number of reasons — I’m fucking starving; I haven’t had fish in a while; I love the combination of citrus and spinach; oatmeal will fill me up without much effort; there’s tomato soup in the fridge, etc. Food. Just food. And I eat however much it takes to satisfy me at a given moment.
Seems simple, doesn’t it? Except for the part where it isn’t at all, when it comes after 30 years of being taught that my actual desires will inevitably steer me wrong, so I must apply some external set of rules to my food choices or suffer the consequences (e.g., guilt, shame, a fat ass, “loss of boyfriend,” and an early death).
This is also why, when pressed to describe what I promote here — usually as a counterpoint to someone’s assumption that I promote sitting on your ass eating donuts all day — I try to remember to say something like a “balanced” or “varied” diet, rather than a “healthy” diet. Or worse yet, a “good” diet. For the umpteenth and nowhere near last time, eating is a morally neutral act. I mean, if you want to talk to me about animal rights, or supporting small farmers, or boycotting irresponsible corporations, or minimizing environmental damage, then sure, we can discuss food in moral terms. It makes sense in those contexts. But the morality of your diet has jack shit to do with how many calories you consumed or how many chocolates you didn’t eat in a given day, all right? Depriving yourself does not make you a better person, and eating what you feel like eating does not make you weak. (Hear that, India Knight?)
And most importantly, occasionally having 2 hot dogs for lunch does not make your diet unbalanced. Having hot dogs 3 meals a day would. So would having spinach 3 meals a day. But eating a wide variety of foods as your body demands them is the very definition of a balanced diet. Being terrified of certain foods (unless your body actually reacts poorly to them) and ascribing imaginary virtue to others is a recipe for an unbalanced diet. Thinking only in terms of how many calories you’re consuming in a given day is, too. Ditto letting yourself get so hungry you’re well past the point of hearing anything from your body other than “FOOD. LOTS. NOW.” — which not only is why I snarfed those hot dogs yesterday but just might be why so many people on diets assume that if they ever let up, they’d immediately go eat a pound of bacon in one sitting and wash it down with a whole chocolate cake. Ya think?
And for my money, a balanced/varied diet IS a healthy diet — I just try not to use that phrase, because it’s most often used as code for “diet that makes you thin.” Which, as we all know, is often not a diet that’s actually good for your body. I mean, I could be wrong, and science could someday prove that eating nothing but Sweet Tarts is the path to optimum health. But as things are right now, I think listening to my body is the best shot I’ve got at giving it what it needs.
I eat food. I recommend that everyone do the same. The end.
*Dear Trolls, this is what’s known as EXAGGERATING FOR HUMOROUS EFFECT.