Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Friends in Fat

I’d been looking forward to the Fat Summit, as Peridot nicknamed it, for months, but when the weekend arrived I was a little nervous. Besides the usual summer camp will-they-like-me and will-I-be-the-odd-one-out kind of anxiety (I know, I know), I also feared I’d be annoyingly controlling about my food in response to the bingeing I’ve been doing with alarming regularity.

But I am back, newly grateful to live in England and have the opportunities I’ve had (like the amazingly gorgeous heather-covered walk we did Saturday), newly inspired to kick up my exercise routine a notch (those hills in the Peak District are an absolute killer), and frankly, newly proud of what I’ve accomplished to date on the weight loss/weight maintenance/exercise front, even if it’s been a rocky few months. I think sometimes in the day-to-day struggle I lose sight of the fact that – up five pounds or no -- I’ve lost more weight than you’re allowed in a checked piece of luggage on an airplane.

On Friday night, Lesley mentioned a Beck exercise she’d done with hunger – and how her husband was saying hunger was nothing to be afraid of. I decided to experiment over the weekend with my own hunger – embracing it, I guess you’d say, instead of panicking. I decided I’d eat when other people wanted to eat, instead of looking at my watch and thinking: Yay, it’s 1 pm, so I get to eat lunch now. (This did feel slightly like a step back when I consider how hard it has been for me to learn to be a bit assertive about what I need when it comes to food and hunger, but it was just a weekend experiment.)

We had lunch at 2 pm Saturday and brunch at noon Sunday, and I was fine. (I never do brunch because putting two meals together sends my head into a tailspin about exactly how much I’m allowed to eat.) I even managed a run Sunday morning fuelled only by a plum – normally I wake up starving and cannot even think about anything, let alone working out, until I’ve had breakfast. But I was fine. A little cranky, maybe, by pancake time, but otherwise fine (I think). It was a good lesson that – as a friend of mine used to say – nobody ever starved to death between meals.

It’s now Wednesday and I’ve gone 10 days without a binge. Will this be the time I get to 30 (and beyond)? I hope so.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Definition of Geographically Unsuitable

So I met a great guy this past weekend – and he lives in Vilnius.

“It’s a three-hour drive from Riga,” he explained, as if Riga were a tube stop away. (I actually have been to Riga, and frankly I probably could get there faster than I ever manage to get anywhere on the tube, but that’s another post altogether.)

He’s cute, clever, American and terribly charming. His friend M. – the linchpin for the group of us who’d travelled up to a castle in Scotland for the weekend – casually had mentioned to me that we had a lot in common, including that we spoke a bunch of languages.

“How many does he speak?” I asked.

She answered: “He can flirt in any language.”

Oh dear.

The whole thing was a nonstarter, frankly. Nothing happened (beyond a bear hug goodbye – to be fair, it was hurried and public) and I may not ever even see him again. But it’s been a while since anyone caught my eye quite like that. It was fun.

* * *

So. Castle in Scotland. What’s that, you say? Have I cast aside my penny-pinching ways?

In my defense I agreed to this weekend in May, when finances didn’t seem so dire and I was facing what seemed to be a terribly bleak summer, having just split up with BN2. The weekend turned out to be a blast: 2.5 blackberry-free, carefree days in a castle owned by Diageo, the drinks company. (My friend works for them.) I drank (not too much), I ate (WAY too much – it was a three-day binge), I played croquet.

I felt wretched all day Monday and most of Tuesday. Now it’s afternoon Wednesday and I’m just beginning to feel vaguely like myself again (although seeing the muffin top in the mirror is not helping – my waist seems to disappear almost instantaneously). I don’t dare get on the scale. But somehow I don’t loathe myself quite as much from this binge as I usually do. Everyone was enjoying themselves this past weekend – I just went quite a bit overboard. Progress, not perfection…

You Can't Get Something For Nothing

Since I’ve been both bored with my exercise routine and cash-strapped, my policy over the past few months has been not to pass up a free exercise trial.

Spinning at a new studio? Check. Thai boxing/yoga/kettlebell fusion? Check. (Wish I could afford that last one – it was awesome.) Last Thursday I got up before 6 am to be in the park for a free circuit training session. There seemed to be a crazy amount of bugs, and true to form I got a lot of bites. (When I was in Bali a couple of years ago with a friend, the joke was that I should be put outside the yoga studio as a mosquito offering and then nobody else would get bitten.)

These were midge bites – British for super-nasty flies. A few of them were bleeding –at one point one of the trainers pointed to the blood on my sock and asked me if I were OK – but I didn’t think it was a big deal.

Much of Thursday I felt slightly off. A bit sweaty, headache-y and tired, but hey, I figured tired was a natural reaction to barely six hours’ sleep. The skin on my legs and ankles felt a little tight – like a sausage about to burst – but I shrugged that off.

As the day wore on I found it more and more difficult to walk. At dinner at a friend’s, I looked down and saw that my feet literally were twice their normal size, and that my ankles had been replaced by cankles. The skin looked shiny and about to burst. I was having trouble catching my breath.

“You look gray,” said my usually preternaturally calm friend, sounding slightly panicked. It was 10 pm. He suggested calling NHS Direct. All I wanted was to lay down.

I’ll skip the boring bureaucracy bits and fast forward to 2:30 am, when the NHS doctor made a house call to give me antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory shot. (There’s been an awful lot of awful things written and said about the NHS, some of them probably by me, but I was awfully grateful that this particular service of the NHS allowed me to stay at home, nice and comfortable, instead of sitting in an emergency room half the night.) Lesson one: Bug spray isn’t just for the country. Lesson two: You can’t get something for nothing.

Not that I appear to have learned that second one -- I’m still tempted (name withstanding) to give these fit for a princess bootcamps a (free) trial…

Thursday, 13 August 2009

New York, New York

I’d never even dreamed of it, I was both awed and terrified when the possibility was presented to me, and yet I could see it so clearly: my life in New York as an editor for a magazine I love.

For nearly two months I’ve been living in limbo: nostalgic for London when I wasn’t even sure I was going anywhere. The possibility of New York and this job cast its shadow everywhere: Do I sign up for a race in December? Do I lock myself into a 12-month mobile wireless contract? Do I book a night at a pop-up supper club for sometime in October? The other week I went to the cricket mostly because I wasn’t sure if I’d be here another summer and have the opportunity. And just Tuesday I caught sight of the huge yellow bins that store the sand to grit ice in the winter. I wondered if I’d be here to see it.

And now – overnight – the possibility is gone. It feels a bit like a breakup – I am mourning the (work) life I started to dream about but now can’t have.

I knew it all seemed too good to be true. The answer to my financial problems, my general work malaise, the total vortex of uncertainty that is my life, and BN2 all in one midtown Manhattan office. I couldn’t wait to ditch a poorly paid recurring assignment that doesn’t even pay my rent, yet sucks up tons of time and energy (and fills up my inbox with questions from some of the dumbest editors I’ve ever encountered.) Oh yeah, and just think of the (nonfood) treat – I had a particular necklace in mind -- I could buy when I got the job.

I knew something was wrong when – after saying how great she thought my edit test was (and it was a bear to do – I submitted it with renewed respect for the magazine) – I had tentative plans to chat with the editor last week.

She didn’t call; I wasn’t immediately suspicious. Then a few days passed. Silence. (This is one of the people who’s been sending me friendly emails throughout the whole process.) I wasn’t overly keen to have the conversation, frankly – as much as I’d started to dream about going, and telling myself I’d try it for a year, I was still terrified of actually doing it.

Finally yesterday I sent a cheerful email saying I was sorry we’d missed each other and suggesting some times for next week.

She responded – hours later – with a note saying that if I’d been reading about the company lately (there’s a seriously grim article here), I’d understand why they now were filling the position from within.

I deliberately resisted checking my email last night – I knew something was up – and so I received it this morning, just as I was starting another day of poorly-paid-recurring-assignment. Not exactly the shot in the arm I needed to dive in, let’s put it that way.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Why Crumb Cake is Better than Men

I weighed in this morning: 147 (10 stone 7). I guess my days of a binge and then rapid return to my pre-binge weight after a few days of super-clean eating are over.

I don't particularly like the way I feel at this weight, but nor am I feeling particularly inspired to try to lose the four pounds. I know, I know – I never thought I'd hear myself say that, either. Maybe I'm just tired.

Anyway, I'm much more interested in stopping the binges in the first place. They've gotten entirely too frequent for my comfort. So... it's been 11 days since my last one. I'm determined to get to 30.


Last night I had an excruciatingly painful date with an Australian guy who runs a funeral home.

Don't ask.

He was very impressed with his own knowledge of history and how little he pays for rent (gee, that's a turn on, as is the story about his roommate who was jailed for nine months for defrauding the NHS). He also thought he was hilarious (which probably tells you all you need to know about what I thought about his sense of humor). He had black crescents of dirt around his fingernails, and I couldn't help wondering what sort of macabre task he'd just finished. Thirty minutes in, when he said he needed to run to the bank and made a joke about whether I'd be there when he got back, I seriously considered doing a runner.

Instead I slowly sipped my glass of white wine – I consumed half a glass in the time he drank two pints -- and debated my options. Staying and drinking until I found him remotely attractive and/or amusing was not one of them.

Who could I text and what excuse could I ask them to make? I couldn't think. I remembered the Fig's joke about escaping a date by claiming a friend was locked out, but it was only 8:30 pm – surely the imaginary friend could find an imaginary coffee shop or pub for a little while.

I debated staying and being polite, but 11 pm seemed light years away. Besides, life is short and my own lately has been chock-full of obligation and work I don't want to do. I didn't want to spend an entire evening making conversation with someone I already hoped I'd never see again.

So I confess I pulled one of the worst ones in the book. I claimed work – a particularly demanding American newspaper editor demanding changes that would require major reconstructive surgery on my piece. (In other words, they couldn't be filed via blackberry.) I delivered the news when he returned and stayed – out of politeness – for another half hour, thanking whatever illness I had that caused me to have watched an episode or two of Six Feet Under so I could fill the time by asking him to make comparisons.


Speaking of gay sex (hmmm, probably not a phrase I'll be using regularly), last week I interviewed two guys who run one of the yummiest bakeries in London. Did anyone see that story about the woman who married the fairground ride? Well, I'm going to marry these guys' crumb cake. (At least I won't have to pretend I enjoy its sense of humor.)

The guys were vastly entertaining – entertaining enough for me to only be thinking about all the gorgeous concoctions in their kitchen once every seven seconds instead of once every three. I was asking them about any funny mishaps they'd had because of the difference between British and American ingredients, and then told them about a friend's hunt for Crisco when she first moved here (and her subsequent horror in having to use lard).

The guys looked at each other.

"Should we tell her where you can find Crisco?" one said to the other.

They smirked.

"Oh, go on," said the other.

"You can buy Crisco at any gay sex shop in Soho."

"Oh right," I said. "Because gay guys do a lot of baking."

They laughed. Can't wait to print that particular tip in the family friendly Southern US magazine for which I'm writing this story...

Monday, 10 August 2009

Miss Independent

BN2 used to complain that I didn’t think as part of a team. He didn’t like it, for example, that I usually wouldn’t ask his help when solving a problem. I’d tell him this was because of conditioning – for most of my life, there hasn’t been anyone to ask.

I don’t say this as oh-poor-me. It’s just that with a terminally ill mother, a father who was gone most of the time, and a sister with whom I wasn’t close (and who would cry if her math homework was too difficult, so not exactly a problem-solver), I got used to handling things alone. I didn’t and don’t take asking for help lightly.

I’ve been proudly, fiercely independent mostly because I’ve had to be. I don’t let most people in on the details of my struggles – nobody likes a whiner. (Maybe this is why so many overweight women are the first to make jokes about their own weight – we want to be liked, and we figure the fat is already the first strike against us. We can’t be un-fun to be with, too.) But when I was in the US last month I started realizing that my careful editing of my life for public consumption could be getting in the way of what I want and need. Put simply: If I don’t let people know that I’m struggling, then they can’t help.

Telling friends and contacts I was having little luck finding work is humbling. It’s particularly grim telling it to other journalists who still have full-time employment – they look at you like you’ve got a disease they’re afraid of catching but fear they may already be infected with.

“So tell me who you’re writing for,” an old editor of mine said when I was in DC last month.

“Well, I’m not, very much,” I said.

“You must be writing for somebody,” he said. “You can’t have no work.”

I had to tell him I was, in fact, awfully close to that.

His jaw literally dropped open. I knew I should be flattered, but I wasn’t. The rest of the lunch – the only one I had all week where anyone let me pay for my share – was supremely awkward.

I’ve also not enjoyed having to be so open with so many people about something I consider personal: money. I hate constantly suggesting credit crunch friendly alternatives when friends really want to go to whatever the new hot place is – and having to turn down invitations because I know the bill will get out of hand. (At a friend’s birthday last month I tried drinking only diet Coke instead of the champagne-fuelled evening everyone was having, thinking I’d quietly pay for my own drinks. But oh no, the bill was divided equally and in such a way I wasn’t able to protest. There went £60 I’d have much preferred to use elsewhere.)

Twice this week friends insisted on paying the bill, which was lovely but then sent me into a spiral of worry. (These were just random friends in London, so very different than the editor-friends in DC I knew were just chucking the lunch on the expense account.) I know there’s sharing one’s problems and then there’s whining, but am I seeming that sad and pathetic?

I know, I know. I worry too much.

* * *

Managed yesterday to have a pretty clean day in terms of food and exercise. I ran to Pilates, did the class, then walked over to meet a friend for lunch (chose healthy, safe option.) Dinner was also healthy, although we did split a bottle of wine despite my best intentions (I also had drinks on both Friday and Saturday, which is a lot more than I usually do.) I also couldn’t stop myself from eating nearly the whole box of huge, gorgeous cherries I bought at M&S, which is probably why I never buy them in the first place. (Maybe it’s just me, but I never ever feel full from cherries or berries, no matter how many I eat.)

I’m slightly worried about this week, which includes a first date (I see more alcohol in my future) and a party weekend in Scotland with people I don’t know that well (hello, there are so many binge triggers there I’m afraid even to start listing them). Must work out a plan.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Petit Choices

So I’ve been bumping along this week, not quite in the zone and anxious about it.

I’ve exercised, yes – well, four days instead of my usual five. But I’ve also eaten, and not all that carefully. Out to dinner on Wednesday. Out to dinner on Thursday. A few extra snacks here and there. Friday I scale-hopped in the middle of the day (I know, I know: what was I thinking?) and saw 10 stone 10. Not pretty. Presumably that’s probably about 10 stone 7 (147 lbs) if I weighed myself first thing in the morning, which is about four to five pounds above what I was pre-binge.

I guess it could be worse, but I can feel it and see it. Yesterday I stopped by a friend’s birthday drinks and felt like I had muffin top above my jeans. Then I had to squeeze – and I do mean squeeze – into a fancy dress outfit that fit perfectly fine a few weeks ago.

It’s not a nice feeling.

And yet this morning what did I do? I went to brunch with a friend and ordered a brie and cranberry panini and then had one of his pancakes with syrup. (I didn’t touch my chips, though.) Hardly a disastrous meal, but I broke a couple of rules here: One is that I don’t go to brunch (the combination of breakfast and lunch does my head in, thinking about what I think I should be “allowed” to eat since hey, it’s technically two meals) and two is that I don’t eat off other people’s plates.

Yes, rules are made to be broken (occasionally) and seeing as I’ve spent the day trying to decide what I’m allowed to eat after that brunch (in other words, my head filled with food) I may think twice about doing it again. But in the past, this is where diet downfalls have started for me: In the petit decisions (can anyone tell I just read French Women Don’t Get Fat when I was in Paris?). Sometimes in the past I have leaped off the diet tightrope with a massive bellyflop, but other times it has been a few tiny stumbles after another, and I never quite regain my footing.

Tonight I am having a Chinese takeaway, something I’ve not had for a year, I think. It is a caloric meal, but it is a single meal, not a binge. Tomorrow I will wake up, have breakfast, go to Pilates (well, hopefully run to Pilates, which has been my routine of late), and then probably meet a friend at a restaurant that has a good choice that doesn’t require too much thought. One foot in front of the other. I can do this.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ice Cream in Paris

This was supposed to be the jaunty entry where I wrote about my adventures with tit tape – definitely not something this Former-and-Fearing-I-Will-Soon-Be-Again-Fat-Girl thought would ever be in contact with her 32Es.

However, before I got round to writing I got round to bingeing.

Yesterday. At the cricket. With a revolver.

Well, not really. (Not sure what made me think of Clue at this particular moment. I think too much food always makes me a little loopy.)

I had a feeling yesterday might be disastrous. Me + hunger + alcohol + exhaustion + obligation = nothing very good. Frankly, I had debated skipping the cricket, except (a) I've never been, (b) I was going to be in the members' area at Lords, (c) who knows when I might get the opportunity again, (d) it was a friend/quasi-contact who has invited me to various things lately and I've had to keep turning him down, (e) I slightly resist the idea of turning down events because I might eat there.

I had one glass of white wine and felt quite drunk – dehydration? Exhaustion? Who knows? I was having a hungry day and so kept thinking about the snack I'd tucked in my bag, which I ducked off to the bathroom to eat. Then my friend suggested a piece of cake at teatime (whoever heard of a sport with tea breaks?) and I couldn't resist. I spied banana chocolate chip muffins while we were there and it was all over – I couldn't stop thinking how I was going to plot to get one. And so I did. Two, in fact – on top of the Victoria sponge I'd already eaten.

I won't go into the gory details of the rest of the binge, but suffice it to say it carried on to the sweets stall, on to stops the way up the road to the St Johns Wood tube, down another road on the way home, and – after several hours' break -- finished with cheese, bread, crackers, and squirty cream. Sigh. At first I sank into food the way one sinks into a comfortable chair after a long day, with an aaaaah. I was tired of feeling hungry. But then it just became almost how full can I feel?

I felt so ill I could barely sleep last night, and still felt hot and full and sick when I woke up this morning. I'd originally planned to go to the gym this morning, but wondered if perhaps a couple of days off is really what I need, anyway. I'm in Paris until Monday night, and I debated not bringing my trainers at all (though did end up throwing them in the bag at the last minute). I'd planned not to eat until I felt hungry, then decided that might be a recipe for disaster. So then I thought I'd eat breakfast and maybe skip my snack. Of course I spotted chocolate in the train station and decided I had to have some (but just one bar). I bought lunch for the train and ate it. A bit later I got a call from my friend in Paris, wondering if she and her husband should wait for me for lunch.

I paused. I wavered. I used to love that about travelling – that you could turn up somewhere and eat without anyone knowing how much or if you'd eaten recently. I told her to go ahead. For the rest of the train ride I thought about eating a second lunch in Paris, then decided against it, thinking: I cannot have another two-day binge. That cannot become the pattern.

I struggled a bit to stay on track today: Waiting in a long queue to buy a Metro ticket, and staring at what was available. Then when I arrived at my friend's and saw a package of biscuits on the counter. Then again when she offered me lunch. And at various other points throughout the day.

I ate my dinner (salad, grilled salmon, rice and some vegetable-type side dishes at a Japanese place) and wasn't exactly upset when she and her husband suggested an ice cream at Berthillon. I ordered a scoop of white peach sorbet and a scoop of bitter chocolate sorbet in a cone, something I haven't eaten for years. Frankly, I ordered the cone because at that point I just wanted more food, but I realized it takes an awful lot longer to lick an ice cream than it does when you eat it with a spoon. I am usually a speed-eater, but I was still working on my cone until nearly the moment my friend finished hers. That never happens. I'd felt antsy after dinner, both like I wanted more and also fearing that an ice cream cone could set off a binge. But I felt satisfied when I finished my cone; happy.

My friend is the sort of person who – in her own words – saves sweating for sex and, even when starving, would rather take the time to make something lovely to eat rather than wasting time with anything that doesn't taste delicious. I've vowed to try to eat as she eats for the rest of the time I'm with her. In general I do need rules and guidelines to keep myself in check – after all, for 34 years I've been a pretty poor judge of portion and satiety -- but maybe what I really need right now is a little experiment in moderation; how to enjoy myself without going completely off the rails. And where better than Paris and with friends who know everything worth eating here to really enjoy food?