Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wait, Watch Her

It's a delicious September day here on Long Island and in my estimation, a perfect day to get back to blogging. I've missed the opportunity to share my daily rants with you, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my time off was a welcome hiatus from my ordinary life.

I want to get back to what's important (our never-ending discussion about food, of course) but I owe you at least a few details of how my summer was spent.
Let's just say I've been around the block a few times. Literally.

I left you in June with the notion that I would inevitably succumb to the pressures of dieting and join countless others in an organized
(read: conformist) attempt to shed unwanted pounds.
And so I did.
I forked over the hard earned cash and joined the club no one wants to belong to. The most difficult task however, was the prospect of owning my number on the scale. I much prefer the don't ask, don't tell policy when it comes to weighing in, but unfortunately, this wasn't an option.
Thankfully, the institution I joined is like Vegas, what happens there, stays there.

I won't bore you with the minute details of my struggle with points and portion control, so, in a nutshell, here's what happened:
I followed the plan.
I complained a lot.
I ate less and exercised more.
I lost fourteen pounds (with fourteen more to go)
And then I quit.

Yep, that's right, I quit.
I probably would have earned useless (albeit pretty) key fobs and incentive charms had I stuck around long enough to meet specific benchmarks (and ultimately my goal weight), but I had an epiphany somewhere along the way and decided that thirty bucks a month would likely have greater impact on my life being put to more entertaining use at a casino.
I should probably also mention that my first trip to a Connecticut casino yielded this beginner two thousand clams from a shiny slot machine. Needless to say, I'm more than willing to consider replacing my food addiction with gambling.
But seriously, after months of following the plan, I became resentful of some of the information presented to members by "meeting leaders." Some days, I felt like a test subject for a pilot program that might have been called "Dieting for Dummies." Most of the question and answer sessions were interrupted by plugs for brand products conveniently sold at meeting locations.

And interestingly enough, the leader and the receptionist who couldn't even remember my first name, and rarely took the time to provide detailed answers to multi-faceted questions (well, how can a ten-ounce cupcake add two pounds of fat to ones hips???) suddenly found the time to hand write postcards telling me they missed me and wanted me back ,after I quit.

And so, although the plan works and it's basically fool proof--if you follow the rules--I credit my slowly shrinking waistline to more than just a commercial diet plan. The fact is, I received more motivation and willpower from my walking buddy than any meeting leader might have afforded me.
I mentioned earlier that I had been around the block a few times and this is the real story of my gradual (and ongoing) success;
On a pleasant night some time in late June, I spied my neighbor walking her dog. We were previously acquainted through neighborhood gatherings and high school theatre events in which both of our teenage daughters were active participants. I always thought she was a peach of a gal but life's hectic pace and our over-scheduled kids never left much opportunity for socializing.
On a whim, I decided to throw on my sneakers and offer to join her (if I had it to do all over again, I would have remembered the socks. At least now the permanent scars from subsequent blisters have some sentimental value). What transpired in the weeks that followed was better than anything I could have outlined in my commercially manufactured "Activity Journal."
My neighbor and I established an almost-daily walking routine that strengthened our resolve as much as it did our legs.
Instead of dreading the three-quarter mile trip around our circular neighborhood as I had before, time flew by, as did the miles, while we chatted about our lives--past, present, and future. We commiserated over snack-attacks, chore-challenged husbands, and our need to manage the chaos of everyday life. We rewarded ourselves from time to time (okay, a little more frequently than that) with impromptu trips to our local Crackbucks for macchiatos and lattes (you're smart enough to figure out which venue I'm referring to. Their beverages are so addictive, we're sure they're laced with something--hence the name).
And for every pound I shed, I gained new insight into the successful management of dieting and friendship and how they aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I probably owe my walking buddy at least half the credit for keeping me on track, literally and figuratively.
That is not to say that we don't fall off the proverbial wagon and succumb to the occasional slab of lemon pound cake. But we get back up, dust ourselves off and acknowledge that life offers little joy without the occasional indulgence in great food (and I assure you, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that comes pre-packaged and stamped with the commercial diet plan seal of approval qualifies as great food).

With summer winding down and two successful months under our belts, I was blindsided by a nasty summer illness whose presence still lingers today. I was benched from walking for a while and it was during this recuperation that I gave some deep thought to the prospect of quitting the club.
Undoubtedly, I was enjoying life as a smaller version of me and I was eager to reach that seemingly attainable target number on the scale. But smaller jeans weren't providing me with the euphoria I expected. I was missing something and my futile attempts at suppressing the truth of the matter were waring me thin but unhappy.
You may recall that I decided to hang up my apron in June. I took off the oven mitts and intended to live life as one of the others (the ones who don't cook or bake, and don't care to). But I was fooling no one--least of all myself. This leopard couldn't change her spots any more than she could exchange her pots for pre-packaged meals. I needed to come to terms with the fact that I missed my kitchen and my gadgets. And more importantly, I missed the experience of sharing great food with the people who love me no matter what size my jeans are.

And so I made the decision to quit.
But not in the sense that I gave up dieting, weight management or portion control.
I tried to explain to my meeting leader (and a nosy receptionist) that I would continue the plan on my own and on my own terms. They scoffed. They regurgitated statistics about success rate (or lack thereof) without the support of fellow members and moderators.
I explained that I had a strong support system (with no prepayment necessary) and that I was eager to experiment with a more realistic approach to weight management. One that allows a food-centric woman to indulge in the occasional cupcake without the need for calculation or confession.
They wished me well but told me in no uncertain terms that I would likely return; and they would embrace me with open arms (after I paid for registration, stepped onto the scale, and slapped on a name tag).
I left the diet center with a bit of apprehension.
While motivated, I was still unsure of how to balance my love of food with my need to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. I didn't want to prove them right and return to the center pounds heavier than the weight at which I joined. And so, where does that leave me?

I am fueled by the knowledge that healthful eating is only as complicated as I make it.
I have heard tell from seasoned chefs that the quality of a meal is only as good as the tools and ingredients used to make it. I believe the same can be said for lifestyle as it pertains to good health and weight management. Like those obscure kitchen gadgets rarely used, but tucked safely away in my kitchen drawer should a need arise, I possess the essential tools to maintain a more slender, healthier me. I realize now that I have always had these tools at my disposal but failed to call upon them in the past for fear that life would be flavorless.
I understand now that I can have it all; I can have my cake and eat it too.
The slice may be a bit smaller but I'd rather have a small slice of real cake than a perfectly portioned low-fat popsicle any day. And if reality dictates that my pasta portion must be downsized, then so be it. A petite plate of pasta beats the pants off a platter of soba noodles any day.

And when all else fails, and I become deaf to the voice of reason, hearing only the sweet song of sinful indulgence, I will turn to my greatest defense--the support of a friend who understands and acknowledges the joys and struggles a food-centric life affords.

I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone.
Like me, there are so many who fight the daily battle between good health and happiness (and let's face it, they're not called Happy Meals for nothing).
If more of us took the approach that whatever food vices or demons we battle, the simple (but sometimes difficult) act of moderation makes a healthier weight more manageable.

Perhaps I am a bit misguided as that meeting leader suggested.
Maybe I am prime candidate for relapse and reconciliation.
But I'm betting on my success.
Visualization worked for me in an effort to improve my chances at the casino. I imagined a windfall sizeable enough to afford the purchase of a laptop. And today, as I type away at my new MAC Notebook, I imagine a happier, healthier me, preparing great food and savoring the flavors of a food-centric and fulfilling life.

For those meeting leaders and members who watched this hopeful woman make her exit, I would implore them to reserve judgement and avoid the urge to assume that her failure is inevitable.

Just wait, watch her.

Until next time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food