Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Fair of the Vanities

In one of the many, many lines of hers I wish I could have written, Wendy once described enjoying the continuing compliments about losing weight as vaguely inappropriate, like staying at a party for too long. (No quote marks because I am at the office and my copy of her book is at home.)

So here I am, metaphorically still skulking about considering drinking apricot schnapps (the only liquor left) while one of the hosts has fallen asleep and the token new couple of the evening is snogging in the corner. I lost a pound and a half this week, and suddenly my if-I-even-gained-a-pound-it-wouldn’t-fit pink, black and white coat is loose, I can get into a pair of size 30 Seven jeans, and none other than Friend Bearing Chocolate announced on Friday that I was looking “very slim and elegant.”

How that happened in a week that included two lunches out (including one where – under pressure from a buff male PR who no doubt has the metabolism of the Energizer Bunny – I had half of a slice of chocolate tart with white chocolate ice cream) and three dinners out (including a second date with a foodie and another evening where I sat next to a woman to whom I had to explain that Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was not a compilation of the magazine, but never mind about that), I have no idea. (In my defense, it also included lots of ignoring of the bread basket, plus five days of workouts plus a 12-mile hike Sunday, in the middle of thanks-for-ruining-my-weekend Wino – that would be Amy -- watch.)

I should pause to note that I am actually somewhat grumpy about the 1.5 pound loss – because I’ve been hopping on the scale all week and it was showing a 3 pound loss for a couple of days. Sigh. That should teach me not to weigh in more than once a week.

My next few weeks include a visit from my dad, work trips to Spain (possibly) and Venice (definitely), and a criss-cross across the U.S. in late September, as I have a wedding to attend in Washington DC, a grandma to visit in Miami, work in New York and LA, and possible other places to visit in between. So much as I would like to set ambitious goals of when I’ll reach goal (currently eight pounds away), I think I may have to content myself with holding steady.

• * *

Second date. Yes, I said second date. I didn’t describe the first one because I didn’t want to jinx it, but now I think it’s over, anyway.

He’s a philosopher-turned-computer-programmer who actually suggested a first date that involved dinner – and actually chose a restaurant and booked a table. I had a minor freak out on the way over to meet him. One: The restaurant was where the Fig and I had our second date. Two: I stopped at the pub where the Fig and I first met up to check my makeup. Three: Um. What are we going to talk about for two hours? (Never mind that I can usually talk for England if it’s required.) Four: He’s a computer programmer. See No. 3.

I arrived to find him reading the Economist and – geek that I am – this immediately calmed me down. (Private Eye or the New Yorker would probably have had a similar effect.)

We had fun. It took nearly three weeks to meet up again, and again, it was fun. But… he’s 29, peppered his conversation with multiple references to his plan to move to New York soon, and he’s just all over the place. Which is fun for an evening but not otherwise promising. I scanned in the last 30 pages of my copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude (he lost his copy just before he finished it) and e-mailed it to him to say thanks for dinner – this was the second £100 dinner for which he has picked up the tab – but am not holding my breath.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

I Am, Like, Totally a Responsible Adult

I lost a half a pound this week.

Which, considering that Saturday’s barbecue degenerated into drinking games – which I lost, and horribly – and I honestly cannot remember whether I consumed one Snickers bar or seven, or if the chocolate I consumed was indeed Snickers, I’m going to accept happily and move on.

(Move on into a future that will be drinking game-free, because, um, what a dumb idea. And before you ask: I’m 32, and haven’t played a drinking game since college, if I even played one then. The game was not my idea – it was raining, and the person whose idea it was actually stayed out clubbing until five a.m. No, I don’t even really like Snickers bars very much. And yes, I spent much of Sunday consuming vegetables, drinking water and – to continue the I-am-totally-an-adult theme -- playing Guitar Hero on my friends’ PlayStation. But you weren’t going to ask about the Guitar Hero, were you? And the friends are older than I am. So there.)

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Head Games

Tuesday I started to write a post about my yo-yoing feelings about my weight and how I look, but my feelings have changed (again and again) since Tuesday.

I was feeling positive Tuesday. After days of the Aimee Mann song "Calling It Quits" playing in my head, I'd been debating doing just that. Not giving in on the whole weight loss caper, just stopping now and trying to maintain, as opposed to getting frustrated trying to go lower, bingeing out of frustration, then not stopping until I've put the whole 60 pounds back on plus more.

But Tuesday as I tried Power Plate (is it me, or does that sound like some kind of New Age diet?), I thought: I'm going to do this. I'm going to blast through the last nine pounds I have to get to the very top of the weight range for my height.

And then the rest of the week I've not been so sure. I'm sure that I want to do it - I'm just not so sure that I can do it. I think about how many events I have over the upcoming weeks - dinners, barbecues, drinks, holidays (both of the American and British definition), weddings, the Venice Film Festival - and I think about how my weight is going to go. At best, it will go up down up down - at worst, well... that's why I'm trying to sort myself out on paper now. I'm at the point where small cheats (of the kind one might do at any of those events) add up to no losses - or even gains.

To complicate matters, I'm frustrated with my progress. I catch sight of myself in pictures and random mirrors and am not thrilled. I read success stories that include bikini-buying and think: "I am nowhere near that" (not that a bikini is something I ever plan on wearing). And – for some reason, the worst - Wednesday, in pre-date (more on that later) frenzy, dug out some trousers from the last time I reached what I thought was this approximate size. They were a bit too tight, one pair unwearably so. Will nine pounds make that much difference? I fear that it won't. I say "fear" because I fear what sacrifices it will take to lose these nine pounds – and the further sacrifices that would be required to get, and stay, lower than that. I remember starving in diets past, and exercising for hours, and lying to friends and family to avoid eating. While I know I am capable of that, I also know that I shouldn't.

I’d really like to lose that nine pounds. I’m just worried about where I ought to draw the line about what I’m willing to do to get there.

* * *

So the dates. Actually, there were two -- one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. Wednesday's was with a German guy I didn't fancy in the slightest but figured perhaps I ought to give it a chance. I was irritated with him from the moment he arrived -- I'd been standing near the doorway of the pub because I needed to check my phone and the reception in there is terrible. He arrived late, didn't apologize and said of my location: "Did you think I was going to miss you?" He then proceeded to finish my every other sentence, and not at all in the way that I would have finished them. Worse, he kept touching me -- not in any overly sexual way, just overly familiar. From about the 15-minute mark, he kept patting my knee (we were sitting together on a sofa) or my arm. Ugh. I debated saying something -- it was making me uncomfortable -- but couldn't think of what to say that wouldn't make it even more uncomfortable. Of course, he e-mailed the next day, wanting to go out for dinner next week. No, danke schoen.

Thursday I went out with the most persistent British man I've ever met in my life. We met a couple of months ago at the Cuckoo Club. He's a friend of a friend -- they went out on a few dates, and (he doesn't know I know this) she thought he was great but just didn't fancy him. He's texted several times since then, and I finally thought, "Oh, why not?" (I confess I was worn down slightly by the persistence -- it is somewhat flattering.) It was a fun if very British (alcohol, no food, though at least he did pay) date, but I think I feel the same way about him that my friend does.

Monday, 13 August 2007

By Jove I Think She's Got It

There’s a little bit of Eliza Doolittle in This Thing I’m Doing (and if you think it’s because I’ve got that awful Madonna I’m-American-trying-to-be-British accent, please kick me. Hard.) I’m a binge eater trying to squeeze myself into the corset of a “normal” eater. And nowhere is this more difficult than on a vacation.

Foodwise, I do best with routines, and I can – and do – tend to eat the same things repeatedly. (I’m not the only one – a nutritionist years ago told me most people eat the same 14 or so foods.) And because I live alone, I’m usually free to eat what I want, when I want.

Not so on vacation, where generally there are other people’s likes/dislikes/hunger levels/sleeping patterns (hello, breakfast!) to contend with. There is my own deep-rooted fear – slowly being dug out, but very slowly – of people seeing what and how much I eat for days on end, plus my fear of whether it’s normal to be hungry when we’ve just eaten X, and only about Y hours ago. And if I am hungry, can I admit it? And finally, there is fear around vacation eating. Much as I’d like to allow myself treats – and as much as I know I need to allow them – it’s hard to let go, even a little bit. My trousers usually feel tighter immediately, my head spins, and I start to fear what other things I might eat. Besides, I feel like I have even less leeway than usual, because all the eating out one does on holiday leaves you with even less of a calorie buffer zone.

But I did fine this weekend in Cornwall – both in terms of what I ate and how I (thought I) handled it. (Of course, this is before I have a peek at the scale tomorrow, but my new motto is -- or I'd like it to be -- that the scale is just a five-second snapshot of the 604,800 in the week.)

I had hand-made Cornish ice cream on Friday afternoon, and half a bottle of sparkling wine from a local winery I love, then passed on pudding at dinner, although of course my size 2-friend had one. Saturday I wanted a Cornish pasty -- I adore them, despite being unable to stop thinking that a pasty belongs in a strip club -- but kept finding only cheese ones (my stomach seems to be objecting to dairy overload, and I didn’t want to test it right before my surfing lesson* – yes, my surfing lesson!). Had to eat before lesson and food options in small towns limited (as was time), so ended up with a greasy steak pasty of the crappy variety I could have bought from a corner store in London. I managed not to be too cranky about it – or worse, binge later out of crankiness (as I embarrassingly have done in the past – binged literally because I didn’t get to eat what I wanted). Nor did I spend too much time obsessing about calories of said pasty and being cranky that I’d wasted them on something that wasn’t very good.

Saturday night all the puddings sounded delicious, but we were in a small-town pub that was very decidedly not of the quaint variety serving home-cooked food. My meal had been very average, and I didn’t want to eat an average pudding. (Size 2 friend had pudding again – on top of the huge cheese pasty she’d had earlier, the chocolate bar she had after surfing lesson and the huge English breakfast she had that morning while I was having my poached eggs on toast.) Besides, I was banking on pudding Sunday, when we had a lunch booking at Fifteen Cornwall.

Yesterday we did a walk in Cardinham Woods, then headed to lunch, where I’d given myself permission to order whatever I wanted. Fifteen had a special three-course meal for ₤24.50, but I wasn’t so thrilled with any of the starter choices – or, more importantly, the puddings. Sixty pounds ago I never would have dared do this, but I said to my friend – who can be extremely cheap – that the prices weren’t outrageously different if you didn’t do the deal, and that I wasn’t crazy about any of the puddings. She grimaced a bit, but didn’t say anything. So I had a lovely ginger parkin with butterscotch sauce and clotted cream -- from the regular, pricier menu. (And it was well worth it.)

We took a little walk along the coastal path afterwards, and I tried not to think too hard about how tight my jeans felt (and mostly succeeded). My mind flitted briefly to what I would say if I was hungry what seemed to me to be too quickly after a three-course meal. (I wasn’t.) In the gas station I bought a banana to stash in my handbag just in case.

This morning I got up and ate a normal breakfast – didn’t even think about trying to cut back, the way I might have in years past. When we stopped at a rest stop midmorning, size 2 friend had apple cake so greasy you could see the spots through the waxed paper. I was tempted, but I ate some berries and drank my water.

I adore Cornwall, but it’s good to be back.

*I'm sure I can't be the only person who has noticed that a wetsuit could just as easily be described as a neoprene catsuit, and is about as flattering.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


Hoping to get some advice on what size to buy, I e-mailed a knitwear designer whose stuff I love with my measurements. My actual measurements, not my driver’s license/maybe when I lose another 10 pounds/wish-I-were measurements.

She wrote back: “You could be a small or a medium.”

A small?

A small!

Monday, 6 August 2007


I started so many posts about my food this week, but I haven’t been able to finish them. I guess it’s because – not quite six months after I finished my therapy for binge-eating, and a little over eight months into This Thing I’m Doing – I can’t say anything that feels like there should be a period at the end of it, only an ellipsis or a dash. Or maybe it would just end abruptly in the middle of a thought. You get the idea.

On Tuesday I didn’t finish my Magnum, Wednesday I ate my first fresh peach in 11 years, and several times during the week I struggled with this unreasonable anger when the server at Wasabi didn’t fill up my lunchtime container of rice to the tippy top (and anger again yesterday when my friend was served twice as much cheese as I was with our ploughmans at the pub). Call it a snapshot of my ever-evolving relationship with food.

First, the Magnum.

Few things say "summer in England" to me quite so much as a Magnum bar. I don’t crave them much when it’s cold out, but I could – and during certain weeks of summers past, did – eat them every day.

It’s been a cool, wet summer in England, but my thoughts have turned to Magnums anyway. I remember having a conversation with the Fig about them, for starters. And lately I keep seeing them – they are everywhere, in every newsagent on every corner – and telling myself: "When it’s warm, I’ll have one." (I should say for the record that my rule on foods like Magnums and Ben’s Cookies is that if I think about them enough, I go and have one.)

Tuesday was the first day in recent memory that there was no rain. It was warm and sunny, and despite my best efforts, I’d been hungry all day. Which made me even edgier and more binge-prone than I already was.

I got off the bus a few stops early, planning to buy plums for dessert. (I’d eaten my sushi on the bus – I was that hungry.) But the plums looked unappealing. That’s when I spied the Magnum freezer, and thought: "Oh, why not?"

As I walked home, I ate my Magnum in my usual style – first eating off the chocolate coating, then moving on to the vanilla ice cream. Which tasted, I realized, like creamy whipped chemicals. (This is what I have been dreaming about?)

I kept taking more bites, thinking: "Let me just try again, and maybe then it will taste like the delicious I-must-have-you-every-day Magnum of my memory."

The bar half gone, and still I kept eating, you know, because that’s what I do with food – I finish it.

My head spun the way it did when I binged – the self-loathing still intact enough for me to be furious with myself for continuing to eat the bar, and panicked because I couldn’t stop.

I paused. I realized I couldn’t throw the bar out because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t – of what I might buy and eat otherwise.

I threw the remaining third of the bar away without difficulty and went home to think about it. The only times I’ve ever stopped eating anything like ice cream have been either because I was post-binge full, or in mid-binge, putting the ice cream down to eat something else instead – something that deep down somewhere I am convinced is going to fill whatever empty hole I was trying to fill. (In all those years, I never did find the magic food, of course. I just kept bingeing.)

I feared that evening I might feel cheated and angry – the way I felt as a child when my mother promised dessert but then didn’t end up serving it. But then I thought: I’m 32 years old, and if I decided I want something – and, per rule above, I think about it enough – I will go and have it.

Now, the peach and the rice (and cheese).

It seemed somehow fitting the day after the Magnum revelations to go and eat a fresh peach. I haven’t eaten one since 1996, aka the Summer of 1,000 peaches, when over a period of weeks I whittled my calories from 1,200 down to three peaches a day. I’d run for an hour every day, and I’d go to bed with my fist pressed against my stomach, sickeningly pleased with how hungry I was.

Why peaches? Because of my obsessive tendencies I try not to look at calorie charts any more, so I can’t say this for sure, but… if I recall correctly, peaches were chosen over nectarines because they are approximately the same size but have half the calories. Yes, that is the state of mind I was in at the time. (It’s a state of mind that every once in a while – at my heaviest – I would rue that I couldn’t return to.)

As for the rice and cheese: I’m still working on understanding this unreasonable anger I feel when I’m given not quite a full portion of something, or not as much as someone else. I think part of it is a holdover from when I was child and I knew that one portion was all I was getting; my mother wouldn’t let me have seconds because of my weight. As for my feelings when my portion is smaller than someone else’s – I think that must be partly fear and embarrassment. I worry that I’ll still be hungry, and whether it would be OK to have more even if the other person doesn’t, because surely I can’t point out that my portion was smaller. I worry that I’ll finish much more quickly and be embarrassed about my empty plate – or that I’ll sit there and eat things I shouldn’t just because I’m still sitting at the table.

I worry, therefore I am.