Life is starting to buzz with excitement for the holidays. Will is all about "Crimpas" this year. He gets so excited by the trees and Santa Claus decor in Costco. But I am not about to rush past what I have come to realize is my favorite holiday... Thanksgiving. With each year I add to a rich bank of beautiful memories and traditions surrounding this happy day. I have been working excitedly on a list of delicious ingredients and new recipes to shop for as soon as I get home, in preparation for my Thanksgiving dinner contributions (not hosting this year, but I have a very gracious mother-in-law).
I am currently in a state of singular contentment as we approach this Thanksgiving. My fall started out a bit rocky... In the first month post-baby, I immediately dropped 15 lbs effortlessly. Then I stabilized at a weight 10 aggravating pounds above what I was pre-pregnancy. For a whole month I watched the needle on the scale stay in the exact same spot, as I cut out sugar, limited carbs, and worked out relentlessly for the prescribed hour a day. Nothing.
I started listening to "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan; and if you ever have found yourself in stressful turmoil over which contradictory health expert to be a disciple to, this book is for you. I have found a lot of peace and confidence in following Pollan's logical train of thought, his Socratic questioning, and his philosophical conclusions. His research is cohesive and fascinating. And he is concerned with not only the nature of food, but the nature of man and the act of eating. The way he described Americans as having a "national eating disorder" was compellingly insightful.
I think the political science major in me really needed this approach. Those years of burying oneself in Plato's "The Allegory of the Cave" and Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, of responding to Nietzsche's brilliantly disturbing aphorisms and Rousseau's conclusions... Every genius who had a different theory about humanity, what we really need and how to get it... Probably I am too much of a liberal arts kid in that I need something to make sense as a philosophical idea rather than be shown evidence in data and scientific research. In my defense, the problem with science is that it is always changing, always uncovering fallacies in its former "proven" theories. One could argue that in the past century, science has done more harm than good when it comes to messing with our eating habits - upending traditions that kept us thriving for ages because some doctor discovered margarine or soy milk.
Pollan's book not only led me to the sourdough starter I wrote about last week, it also led me to go back and buy French Women Don't Get Fat, a book I had been saving in my Amazon wishlist for over a year now. His points about "the French Contradiction" were so fascinating I wanted to read more about how this culture of notorious foodies, of wine and cheese and buttery pastry lovers, approach their meals. Pollan makes an irrefutable point - if a culture has been eating a certain way for thousands of years and they're still around, it's probably a safe bet that their food traditions are sound.
Not only are the French still around, they are slimmer, less likely to have heart disease, less chained to the treadmill and more smugly self-satisfied than ever. While we Americans grow more obsessed with strict diets and food-allergies and relentless exercise regimens with each passing year, and yet (as a nation) get fatter and more insecure, predictably susceptible to throw ourselves at each new fad diet and propel its author to the top of the Bestseller's list.
French Women Don't Get Fat is no fad diet. I adore Mireille Guiliano's writing. She appeals to me because, like Pollan, she looks at the whole picture, not dizzying herself or over-complicating the situation by confusing research and trends. She hearkens back to "the good old days", when everyone got their food in season from either their own backyard or the neighboring farmer's, when they prepared everything from scratch and celebrated sitting down to eat every meal in communion. Her ideas for adapting these time-tested, old-fashioned ways to modern life are excellent, in my opinion - simple and doable.
One of the things that I needed to hear was someone pointing out how the American approach to working-out can be a vicious cycle.
I haven't had the love affair start up again with running like I thought I would. Sarah over at This Is Our Story (my blogger app won't insert the dang link, sorry!) put it so well: running post-partum is awkward. You feel clumsy and uncoordinated. Your core is still feeling loose and disconnected from the rest of you, and combined with the heavy milk-laden breasts and sleep-deprived body - no part of running feels "good". Then there's the problem of, despite the 10 extra pounds I was still carrying, intense cardio while breastfeeding causes me to get so dizzy and nauseous all the rest of the day unless I'm literally eating something every 2 hours. And I just don't like grazing. I don't get excited about any of my meals when I'm eating constantly to keep from feeling sick.
The pictures I'm sharing are from a few Sundays ago when I went out to try to run - and all I wanted to do was walk and take pictures of my breathtaking neighborhood at its autumnal peak. I felt simultaneously thrilled by the beauty surrounding me and angry and frustrated with my uncooperative body.
I didn't start running until Will was about 9 months old. It was exactly 2 years ago. It was the week before Thanksgiving. I just jumped right into a couch to 10k training plan, and I loved every minute of it.
But I think I need more time. Henry is not yet 4 months old. He still nurses around the clock. And I don't like the feeling of "needing" to do anything else right now... I don't like feeling like a hamster in a wheel - workout so you lose weight, eat too much from a cardio-induced spiked appetite, oops! Work out longer and harder tomorrow... Etc. I balk at the idea that my body will not naturally lose the extra body fat that it naturally stored up during my pregnancy and stabilize at a healthy weight - that instead I have to force it down with all the discipline and humorless determination of a drill sergeant.
When I started reading FWDGF a few weeks ago, and instantly applied some of the ideas and good habits to my daily lifestyle, I was afraid to step on the scale after the first week, because the American in me thought I'd been "bad" and didn't want to face a discouraging number. I had not felt deprived or pushed all week. I had eaten plenty of deliciously satisfying meals, a glass of red with dinner nearly every evening, and I hadn't worked out at ALL besides a few pleasurable walks through the neighborhood.
I forced myself to face the music and in trepidation stepped on the scale... I had lost 2 lbs! What?!!
I can't tell you how liberating that was. I have had consistent success each following week. Some weeks that I was a little more indulgent for whatever reason, I still dropped a pound. I am no longer stuck at a point on the scale, and although its moving slowly, it feels incredibly sustainable and consistent.
I'm tired of the American "good" food vs "bad" food, of "being good" and pushing your body or "being bad" and taking it too easy. Of a system that approaches your body with rewards or punishments. I needed to step back and just nurture my body a little! It has worked so hard this past year! Growing a small, perfect human, pushing him out so beautifully, and now fattening him up so nicely! My body is kind of kickass!
Don't get me wrong, I am from a family that has always exercised. My dad has swam a mile at least 4 days out of every week for as long as I can remember, and I was raised to love seeking out the high of endorphins. I will certainly keep doing so.
But it will no longer be this drudgery. It will no longer be to "control" my weight. I am not going to approach my body with such fear any longer. I am naturally dropping weight by tuning in to my body's indicators. After all, I was not designed to be 10 lbs overweight. Being overweight makes everything harder on your body! I feel at peace that if I pay attention and get rid of the emotional anxieties that surround eating for so many of us Americans, I will naturally slim down. It probably will be a bit slower than if I were on a strict regimen... But I think the tradeoff will be a firmer stabilization. After all, the 6 pounds I have already lost this way didn't feel in the slightest like "work"... Especially not compared to the month I spent working up a storm and losing nada.
I have been continually surprised at how much less I need to eat to feel truly satisfied if I'm eating good food and sitting down for a whole lovely little experience at each meal - satisfying the soul as well as the stomach. No snacking, no eating on the go, no multi-tasking (this is the hard one for me! No magazines, books or Instagram can interrupt the singleminded focus on my meal!) oh! But a surprising reward already has been the effect on my toddler. Picky and difficult to nourish ever since the first failed introduction of puréed peas, Will has spent the last year eating on the go in order to just get him to eat something! Smoothies, fruit packs, distraction from Netflix at the table or eating in the carseat... Whatever it took, I have caved to desperate antics to get him to eat.
When I started taking all my meals sitting down at the table with nothing to distract me, and I made him sit with me and have a nice conversation with a serving in front of him as well (and maybe a candle plus light background music in the evenings)... My picky child's palate expanded overnight! After just three weeks of eating this way at every meal, he happily expects it and sets his own place at the table as I prepare the meal. He soaks up my now-undivided attention in our conversations, he gets excited talking about how good the food tastes... His thing is he'll take a bite and go, "mmm!! This is the best I've EVER had, Mommy!" It's been a huge change. And I'm kicking myself for not establishing these good habits right from the start. Live and learn.
We Americans are known for our work ethic. We push through long, exhausting weeks without taking the daily naps or guilt-free breaks of many Europeans. We feel as though we have to "earn" every indulgence first. [Coincidentally, Mireille says this is backwards - indulgence should come before the fast. At first I thought that was crazy, until I realized its actually pretty Catholic - Fat Tuesday precedes Lent after all!] Reflecting on the bizarre American relationship with food as we come up on Thanksgiving, I can't help thinking we inherited a bit of a Puritan distrust of our bodies from our Pilgrim ancestry. We are so hard on them, and so easily do we feel guilty and angry at the slightest "loss of control" the littlest need for a break, for nurture. We cannot seem to indulge guiltlessly and in moderation as the Old World did and largely still does. I mean, here we are about to celebrate the ONE holiday we have that is based on food, and every magazine and article out there is shouting "READ THIS on How to Enjoy The Holidays and Not Gain Weight!" It is almost as if we collectively fear the indulgence we are about to take. Enough with the anxiety, people.
I like pushing my body to work hard for its own sake, especially if this is out in the fresh air. I get a bit of a high from a good run or a half hour muscle training workout. But I am really loving learning a more French approach to caring for my body. It feels right... It intrinsically fits. It is good, being such a hard-working mother, to stop and nurture my body with a little more faith and appreciation, as opposed to whipping it into shape thanklessly.
I'll run again someday, I hope soon. But for now I am loving the quiet, peaceful walks and simply focusing on losing the feeling of anxiety over health for good. I'll run when my body is ready. When it won't be work at all but a pleasure. When I have completely forgotten what it feels like to be a hamster stuck in a whirling cylinder.