Sunday, 31 October 2010

Stranger in a Strange Land

Maybe it will hit me tomorrow when I'm shown my office. Or sometime in the next couple of days, when I'm alone in my flat-erm-apartment for the first time. Because it still hasn't hit me yet that I'm a Londoner no more.

These last couple of weeks have felt surreal -- maybe because I've been so exhausted and overwhelmed and crazily busy. I knew moving my stuff across an ocean was going to be hard, but I'm almost glad I didn't know quite how hard it was going to be (and it's not over yet). It probably hasn't helped that I've eaten rather strangely -- I literally had a scone with jam and cream for three out of my last four meals in London (and on one of those days, both of my snacks were Montezuma's dark chocolate with sea salt.) But despite the temptation to stuff my face with every last thing I might not eat again anytime soon, I resisted. (I may yet be demanding care packages of mince pies and sticky toffee pudding though...)

When I drove in from the airport, I spotted a pub called Baker Street that looked neither like (a) any pub I've ever seen or (b) anything one might find in the whole of England, let alone on Baker Street itself. Yesterday I spotted a place called Elephant & Castle and mentioned to a friend that that was the name of a tube stop in London. Another friend told me about a bar she likes where lots of Australians hang out, and I said -- half-joking -- that I'd spent more than enough time around Earls Court. Except then I realized no one there would understand the reference, and I didn't bother to correct her when she referred to it as Kings Court.


I do feel a bit like a stranger in a strange land. I fumble for American words sometimes, I alternate between calling the subway the Tube or the Metro (but never managed to call it "subway"), and I'm not quite sure what to say when people seem disappointed that I haven't acquired an English accent. The other day in the bank I asked if there are places besides post offices that sell stamps. And thus far I am incredibly disappointed by the fabled American customer service. I'll spare you the gory details, but I told the electric company that after 8 years wandering in the wilderness of England, I expected better from them and that to be told they couldn't turn on my gas and electricity over the weekend was as disappointing as being told Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy didn't exist. (I also pointed out that surely they'd do something about it if there were a gas or electric "emergency," but I digress.)

Anyway, a quick note to say I'm still here, still chugging along (I did binge 8 days ago, bu have managed to keep up the exercise amid the madness), and hope soon to be posting more regularly.

PS I did end up throwing out the scale. Much as I loved the idea of a scale in the US that gave me my weight in stone (and I may yet ask the next English visitor to import one for me!), it didn't make the final cut for my suitcases and by that point the moving boxes already had gone.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Way Past the Lowlands and the Deserts of Failure and Doubt

Last night at the market I spied bakewell tarts and decided I wanted one. Or really, that I might still want one by snacktime today, which is when I'd first allow myself to eat one. (I'd had dinner last night when I saw them, so was done eating for the day.)

There were eight small tarts (200 calories apiece) in the package. I noted the "two free" but didn't pause. I didn't fear eating the whole package, as I've done so often in the past. Mostly, I wondered if I'd even want one by today, and if leaving the country in less than two weeks would justify the waste of food if I didn't. (As in: My time here is too short to eat things I don't want to eat!)

Today, after a frustrating morning that included some 90 minutes wasted getting to a Pilates class that didn't happen because the instructor didn't turn up, I arrived home starving, grumpy, and resentful, partly because I'd planned my morning around this class, and partly because I knew I'd have no other time to exercise today. (And partly because I love this particular class and the time I have left to do it is – you guessed it – severely limited.)

I was heading to a friend's for lunch for about 2 pm – quite late for me, and I had no idea what she'd be serving, which tends to make me slightly anxious. (Partly because I don't do brilliantly with unknowns, and partly because I still can become quite resentful -- and vulnerable to a binge -- when I waste calories on things I really don't want to eat.) I thought perhaps I should eat a snack that was a bit more filling, aka with a bit more protein and maybe some good fat. But what I wanted – really wanted – was the tart. So I had one. Nothing crazy happened. I was fine. Almost like a normal person or something.

And the lunch? It was lovely, though carb-free. (And before you ask, this friend is as English as they come. She has had an obsession lately with juicing and detoxing and such, so maybe I should just be grateful I wasn't served an entirely liquid meal, and of the non-alcoholic variety, too.) I know from mucho experience and experimentation that I don't feel full without carbs at a meal – I am so going to be a pariah in New York!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Questions to Ponder During Today's Packapalooza

Do I bin the scale or donate it to the charity shop?

How Many Calories Can I Buy For a Pound?

This morning I woke up to find a ¾ eaten package of Fox cream malted milk biscuits in my bathroom sink.

Don't ask. (You probably don't need to.)

I binged. And honestly, I can't remember on what – something that's never happened to me before.

I knew I had £40 in my pocket last night, and a quick accounting suggests I spent about £3 on a binge. You'd think there's only so much damage one could do with £3 (one of my favourite healthy snacks in the world – a Nana's oatmeal cookie, 263 calories of naturally sweetened yumminess -- costs £2.10 a pop, and a mini bar of Montezuma dark chocolate is about £1), but crappy food is cheap. That ¾-eaten packet of biscuits was a mere 89 pence. I could literally consume thousands of (empty) calories for less than a pound.

My mistake last night – and one I have frequently made – is to do a double workout before a big night out. I'll do an hour of weights and then an hour of cardio (I aim to do this once a week, but it doesn't always happen), thinking I've burned off a good bit of the night out before I've even taken my first bite. But as my former-gymnast, rugby-playing gym manager told me tonight: "You've used up all your glycogen, your body is exhausted, and that first drink hits you so hard." (In England apparently this isn't such a bad thing – this being the land of "eating is cheating.")

And in fact that first drink smacked me straight into loopy land. I went with a couple of friends to a pop-up supper club in Camden, and from the first sip of the first cocktail I knew – just knew – that it wasn't going to be pretty. But in the moment, of course, I didn't care. I just wanted to escape the ocean of doubt and fear in which I seem lately to be swimming.

I dragged myself out of bed just before noon (how on earth am I going to work in an office?) and somehow managed to file my daily story in time for my 2 pm deadline. I took a half hour nap, then cranked out the other story I had due today (for US News magazine), ran a couple of errands, and headed to Frame, a Shoreditch gym where I have some credit to use up. Tonight was cardio barre, with the model Ben Grimes DJ'ing a live set. (Her set was fun, the class was less so – I didn't even work up a sweat, and I'm not sure anything got much firming besides my resolve never to take the class again. Not that that would be hard as I'm busy next Friday night and I'll be in the US – eek – the following Friday.)

With T minus 12 days until I get on a plane for New York, I can't afford another day where I feel as crummy as today (and nor can I afford to keep bingeing). Goal for next week's leaving drinks: Three drinks tops, or maybe I'll not have any at all (the latter I actually find quite easy – easier than any other limits). If I'm emotional when I start drinking I can really be a mess, and I'd prefer not to say goodbye to London in that state.


I spent a lot of time today freaking out about how much weight I've gained (won't get on scale) and whether any of my clothes will fit by the time I get to New York. (The bingeing/weight gain also has made it spectacularly difficult to pack, because I don't want to try things on to decide whether to get rid of them.)

But this evening I realized that there were at least two instances in the past week where I very, very narrowly avoided a binge: One was in New York, and the other was on Tuesday, during and after my last army job. And in the immortal words of Meatloaf, two out of three ain't bad.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Sleepless in NYC (and DC)

It's been a crazy couple of weeks.

I've slept literally about 24 hours max over the entire period, finishing articles and flat-hunting and errand-running and baby-feeding (my sister's!) and freaking out. And waking up after two hours' sleep and freaking out some more.

And bingeing, there was plenty of that too. Four days' worth. In a row. And – I know I say this every time I binge lately – in terms of severity, worse than any I remember. It started on Thursday night. I'd just arrived in the US at a conference I needed to attend after staying up all night Wednesday packing – and after having arrived back in London just a few hours before after a nerve-wracking drive across France to the Marseilles airport.

I was about to hit the gym to perk up a bit, then realized I probably ought to attend the conference event since that's (part of) what the magazine paying for my ticket expected me to do. I ignored the canapes, which I usually can do pretty easily, but had a couple of drinks. The next thing I knew I was agreeing to attend a dinner for magazine staffers (I thought I should be social) – eating a gigantic hamburger and fries and corn bread and heaven knows what else, and then bingeing on (get this) the handfuls of Clif bars I'd been given (Clif was one of the conference sponsors) and the chocolate that was in my welcome pack.

I woke up exhausted and bloated and embarrassed (it was a semi-public binge), managed to eat acceptably all day (and even to ignore the dessert buffet at lunch), but then went seriously crazy at night (the party was full of soul food: macaroni and cheese, truffled grits, braised short ribs, bread pudding with sauce, s'mores chocolates...). By Saturday night, the black tie event, I struggled to zip my dress. Ugh. Of course, that didn't stop me from eating not one, not two, but THREE servings of a not-particularly-good dense chocolate hazelnut cake. (I was ping-ponging between three tables – one with magazine staff, one with a cute but very cheap Jewish entrepreneur [more on that later], and one with the subject of a story I wrote years ago when I lived in Washington DC.)

On to (finally) meet my nephews and attend the bris, all of which made me surprisingly – and very – emotional. (Then again, I'm slightly overwrought at the moment anyway.) I cried nearly constantly throughout the bris (despite what was being done to the poor things, only one of the babies did!) And afterwards, I ate. And ate. And ate. Macaroni and cheese, noodle pudding, rugelach, cheese, a bagel, oatmeal cookies...

Then somehow, Sunday night at dinner, I stopped. I'm not sure how, since once I start bingeing when I travel I rarely (if ever) have broken the cycle until I get home. And it can be tough to stop eating after a daytime binge._And_ I was sharing a hotel room with my grandmother and her aide – I don't generally do very well with zero personal space.

My flight back to London is about to board, so I'll skip the list of other challenges for the moment (and how close I came to bingeing again on Thursday night) and just say: I'm freaked out about my job (I was greeted at lunch with my boss with a schedule that dictates what nights I shouldn't make plans because I'll be stuck in the office, closing the magazine), I'm freaked out about the logistics of moving, and I fear I won't get a decent night's sleep until November. I did find an apartment (but because of some dawdling on the part of my dad – long story – and because the owners are religious Jews, I couldn't sign the lease before I left and yet have had to hand over my life savings, a promissory note to my first born child, and, I don't know, eleventeen pints of blood for it anyway. See 'I fear I won't get a decent night's sleep until November,' as before.) Anyway.

Signs you're not in London anymore: When I ordered tea with skim milk at the hotel, I was served a mug of tepid water, a tea bag, and an unopened pint carton of milk.

Also, one of the apartment brokers was laughing at me because I kept asking where the closest Tube was, and referred to the stove as "the cooker." Ah well – my boss says everyone in the office keeps asking when "that British girl you hired" (they mean me!) is starting...