Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Brunch Grows in Brooklyn

So brunch and I – we have an unhealthy relationship.

Brunch for me is a gateway drug to bingeing: My little pea brain can't handle the idea of a meal that is sorta kinda two meals with maybe a snack thrown in there, at a time of day I don't usually eat. How much can I eat? I wonder. What if I wake up starving? What if I'm hungry afterwards?

Nor can my brain handle the idea of so many foods I love (and that are not known for either their health or satiety factor) stuffed onto one menu. How to choose just one (or two or three)? What if I choose wrong? What if the choice – or the hunger, or anything, really – unleashes a binge, as it used to so frequently? (I remember all-day Sunday binges being a staple of my years living in Washington DC.) Add that many brunches don't accept reservations – so you can queue for hours – and, well, you can see why I am wary.

A friend in New York pointed out that brunch, at least in New York, could be any time until about 3 pm, so I am well within "normal" to suggest a lunchtime brunch.

Which is what I did on Sunday.

Originally I was supposed to meet a (gluten-free) friend from work at some vegan, gluten-free brunch spot. The menu was limited, and I figured I'd be fine. Then on Saturday I happened to be double-checking the location and saw the gluten-free waffles (the reason for choosing it in the first place) were temporarily off the menu. So I asked her to suggest another spot, and she did. I checked out the menu and feared disaster, because I wanted every single thing on it.

Sunday morning I was still torn between the biscuits and gravy and attempting something healthy, like maybe the steel cut oatmeal but without the cream.
She texted me from the restaurant: "Epic wait." Danger, danger.

"What's an epic wait?" I asked when I arrived. "Oh, 45 minutes," she said. Thought it was my normal lunchtime, I wasn't starving. I shrugged and said I was fine to wait.

And I was. We sat down and she said: "I've heard the gravy is legendary. Spicy."

The last word did it for me – no thanks. I saw plates of pancakes, beignets, French toast. Everything looked delicious. For a brief second I wanted all of it. Then I sat and calmly considered what tastes I wanted, and how I wanted to feel when I was done.

I considered ordering a few healthy sides, and then decided I'd just feel resentful. So I ordered eggs (poached) and grits, which came with a choice of vegetable or a meat. I decided I wouldn't feel at all deprived with a vegetable (sautéed kale). And

I ordered an extra side: A buttermilk biscuit.

It arrived with a huge pat of butter already on it. I was calm.

I cleaned my plate, fast but still calmly. It was all delicious.

I felt happy, but not stuffed. I told myself I could have an afternoon snack if I needed it (I didn't – it probably helped that we didn't eat until 2.30 pm). I didn't spend the rest of the afternoon debating various cuts I'd have to make, or wishing I could sit down somewhere and unbutton my jeans.

I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow it did.

"Brunch at Egg was amazing," I texted a friend. "I might be obsessed." This particular friend knows my history with brunch, and I knew would understand, with no further explanation, the significance of what seems like a fairly routine text.

She responded: "I'm glad you're enjoying New York."

Me, too. Now if only I could have as much luck with the wedding I'm attending (somewhat on the spur of the moment) this weekend...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Past is Pending

If it were even a remote possibility, I'd wonder if I were pregnant or going through menopause – I found having my wisdom tooth out a strangely emotional experience.

There was less than 24 hours between when I learned the tooth needed to come out and the appointment I booked to have it done – in fact, there was barely more than 12. I dread anything with a potential to cause pain like nobody's business, and I want it over and done with as quickly as possible.

I was fairly zen about the whole thing the evening before. I felt briefly sorry for myself, remembering that when my sister had all four of her wisdom teeth out in high school, my mother was around to look after her (and my parents paid for it).

I remembered the only other wisdom tooth I had taken out: I was alone in London. I'm pretty sure it was in the last few months of my mother's life, and I remember I went to a screening of a very depressing movie about women in Catholic laundries in Ireland after the surgery. (I think I must have also been attempting a diet at the time, because I recall my post-surgery eats consisted almost exclusively of soft M&S Count on Us puddings.)

About an hour before I headed to the doctor's, I decided perhaps I ought to text my sister, just so someone in my family knew I was having this done.

"Wish I were there," wrote my sister. "Will think soothing thoughts."

"I'm thinking turkey meatloaf" – I actually hated all forms of turkey and baked meat-type-product as a child, but this particular creation of my mother's I liked -– "applesauce, and moose soup," I wrote. My mother was an excellent cook, but her most delicious and legendary mistake was nicknamed moose soup –- she tried to make chocolate mousse for a crowd when we were in fourth grade, and it ended up soupy. We tried freezing it to turn it into ice cream, but everyone in the family preferred it in liquid form, spooned up out of these Mexican pottery bowls my parents had.

"Awww, moose soup," my sister wrote. "I'm thinking pastina." My sister loved the tiny pasta stars, served with loads of butter. I'd eat them if someone made them, but I think I preferred grits.

"With a chaser of spinach soufflé?" Another food I haven't eaten since high school.

I had to race to make it to my appointment, and I thought of my sister and all the years of hand-holding at doctors and dentists office she has ahead of her.

As I arrived at the dentist, I felt suddenly panicked, terrified, and overcome. I sat in the chair and remembered my mother taking me for a root canal when I was in college. I remembered in elementary school her taking me to Dr. Wander, the pediatric dentist, and conferring with him out of earshot about a tooth with an abscess after he'd had a look.

"I have to go to the bathroom," I announced, when they returned chairside.

My mother exchanged meaningful glances with the dentist.

"This will only take a second, and you can go after that," he said. He pulled the tooth, and handed it to me in a tiny pink plastic treasure chest.

I had realized years ago that she suspected all along he'd pull the tooth, a baby tooth, and that she'd no doubt told him I'd be terrified. My eyes welled up just thinking about it.

"Wow, your eyes are really red," said the dentist's assistant, returning to the room. "Are you OK?"

I wasn't, but how to explain that you're 35 years old and crying for your nine-year-old self who was naive enough not to appreciate having a mother to take you to the dentist, and for that little girl who had no idea what was coming.

I shrugged. "I think I've just got myself worked up all of a sudden."

"You've got nothing to worry about," she said. "Dr. Markowitz is the oral surgeon for the Rangers." She said the last word in awed tones. I didn't know which New York sports team the Rangers were – I only know football, basketball and baseball, and they're not one of those. (I later found out they're the hockey team.) Either way, I don't find the notion that he's a surgeon for professional athletes reassuring – surely an athlete is good at withstanding pain?

She left, and the harder I tried to stop the tears, the faster they flowed. Luckily I managed to dry my eyes before anyone came back to the room, and returned to my usual coping mechanism, which is to chat away and ask loads of questions. Did you know that in dental school dentists – or at least this particular one – learned to administer Novocaine by practicing on each other? Ugh.

I sat in the chair, waiting for the numbness, memories washing over me. I remembered trips to the dentist and the orthodontist, and my mother's sympathy – she, too, hated and feared the dentist, and I'd inherited her terrible weak teeth. (My father and sister have excellent teeth.) I remembered the parade of waiting rooms I'd sat in for her over the years, starting with one for her orthopaedist, when she broke her leg when I was in middle school. The waiting room had floor to ceiling glass columns; fish tanks.

I remembered in the last years of her life knowing that she was no longer the person I knew – if, in fact, I ever really knew her – when she would walk into the dentist or the doctor completely without fear.

"Mom just marches in there like it's no big deal," my sister observed. The tumors in her brain had robbed her of any ability to express emotion (we couldn't be sure whether she felt it). When her younger brother died suddenly of a heart attack, she seemed to struggle to figure out what the appropriate response should be.

On her birthday that year, about six months after he died, she said: "He's never going to kibitz me again and sing happy birthday." It's one of the few phrases I can hear her voice actually saying. She sounded like she didn't know what to do with the information.

When Dr. Markowitz finished with me, I went to stand up and nearly fainted. I stumbled to the desk to pay, then across the street to fill my prescriptions. (Ever had a meeting with your boss while on Percoset? I highly recommend it.)

On the subway, again, I started crying, and couldn't stop until I got to Times Square. I imagined what Anna Wintour would think if she saw me, and laughed at myself for the thought.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

After the Storm

I've been thinking a lot lately about the apparent connection between binge eating and the tendency (well, my tendency) to let problems become disastrous or otherwise five-star alarm before sorting them out.

I do it with my (messy) flat. I do it, embarrassingly, with my teeth (I thought about this in the dentist's chair today). I sometimes don't open all my mail. I avoid making choices until, often, I have one all but forced upon me, either by time or necessity or something else beyond my control.

When I'm bingeing, of course, I'm too tired and disgusted and busy feeling worthless to do much else. But when I'm not bingeing, I still don't look after my affairs the way an adult should. (Yes, I am exhausted from working until midnight a lot of nights, and spending a lot of my time doing things I don't want to do. But that really isn't an excuse to have a flat messy enough that no one can come in.)

Is it because I think I've accomplished enough and struggled enough by not bingeing, and therefore should be granted cosmic credit from the universe that absolves me from doing un-fun chore-type things? Or is it connected, in some way, to shame? All of these things – and bingeing, too, of course – are deeply embarrassing. I was marinating in shame sitting in the dentist's chair today, with more cavities than arelatively privileged 35-year-old woman in from a First World country ever ought to have. (Yes, you can insert joke about British teeth here. I'm too busy fearing tomorrow's wisdom tooth extraction...)

Life would be so much simpler and cleaner (in all sense of the word) and dare I say easier if I would just do a little more footwork. A little cleaning here and there and I wouldn't have to make up elaborate excuses why people can't come over, or fear something going wrong in my flat because it's too messy to call the super. A little more dealing with choices (mail, dates, whatever) and just finishing making an actual decision – instead of just thinking about – and I could rid myself of the stress of knowing I need to make a decision. Etc. Etc Etc.

I feel like if I could isolate why it is I do this to myself I would have an important piece of information about why I binge; why the tendency is there. Why do I feel (a) like I have earned some kind of right to a free pass that keeps me from having to do these things, (b) the need to be shamed (because clearly, on some level, I feel that), and (c) that I can put up with the consequences of living the way that I do. (Yes, I'm sure the latter two are linked.)

Anyway. As you might have guessed from the above there's been a lot of navel-gazing going on in Bethville. I've lately been beset by a huge case of what-the-hell-does-it-all-matter (I'm referring to weight here), and – wait for it – shame that I obsess about it so much. But that's a subject for another post, I suppose.


Thanks for the kind words on the run. I do actually know about the trick of wearing extra layers to chuck off at the start, except the New York half required you to wear your race bib on your outermost layer at all times. I also did a reasonably good job of cleaning out clothes I'd like to throw away in the move and, um, still haven't unpacked most of my non-winter boxes. (See shame, as above.)

Monday, 21 March 2011

Fat(ter) But Fit(ter)

This morning I ran my best ever half marathon time: 1:57:39 – 13.1 miles at an 8:59 pace. At 7:30 in the morning, on not nearly enough sleep and less than ideal conditions.

I'm pretty stoked about this for multiple reasons. The first is that I feared that

I'd lost an awful lot of my fitness since I left London. (Yes, I have been working out in New York, but – as I've bleated on about – at neither the length nor intensity I did in London. Though perhaps lately I've been working out more efficiently? Anyway.) The second is that I pulled this off with not quite enough training: Among other things, I didn't start running again until about 10 weeks ago, and the longest run I did was 9 miles, done two weeks ago.

Third, the conditions for this particular race sucked – at least for marshmallow-livered me. It was literally freezing outside -- thanks to a case of Raynaud's (you're online already, so page Dr. Google ;)), the cold and I do not get along. And we had to be in our corrals (makes us sound like farm animals, no?) no later than 7:10 am, so I had 20 minutes of standing around freezing. (Why didn't I just layer up? Well, I did, but Raynaud's in particular affects my toes and fingers, and I can't wear multiple pairs of socks and run). I literally couldn't feel my toes for the first mile.

Fourth, my headphones broke about halfway through the race.

Finally, I can remember a time in the not-too-distant past when running a 10-minute mile was a big deal (and heck, when running a mile at all was a huge deal, whatever the speed). Running 13 miles at sub-9 minutes made me feel, for lack of a better word, like something approaching an athlete.



Another reason I was psyched about my race time: I'm a week post-binge. Yes, the inevitable – or so it seemed – London binge. I am beyond exhausted between the travel, the subsequent week of working until midnight every night, and yes, the race (though really, more that my West Village neighbors, aka the bars, kept me awake until nearly 2:30 am when I had to be up at 5:30 am). So more on the previous soon, though I will say I'm not beating myself up about it nearly as much as usual. Another step forward, it seems.

Monday, 7 March 2011

13 Going on 35 and a Half

Things I am not doing: Packing, cleaning, writing, or generally doing much to make the three days before I leave for London any less stressful. (I am fully expecting to arrive at work tomorrow morning and not to be allowed to escape until I nearly miss my flight Wednesday night.)

Things I am doing: Wondering why you can only buy mini Larabars in variety packs of three flavours (one of which I hate). Pulling out my umbrella to use my bathroom (there's leaks in the ceiling and the window). Listening to the 13 Going On 30 soundtrack (Rick Springfield, Belinda Carlisle et al) while dancing around my apartment in truly ridiculous acid pink sweatpants and matching Flashdance-style top. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that these were given to me by the spin studio I go to – as does a certain Kate Cruise.) I laugh at myself every time I pass a mirror. I'm not sure this is a bad thing.


It's been a strange weekend, though frankly, I'm still not quite sure what's going to be a "normal" weekend for me in New York.

Friday night -- after nearly bursting into tears at work, and as things exploded left and right despite my best efforts to get things done before London – I was supposed to go meet a friend from college and some of her friends for sushi and drinks. I was suspicious of the all-you-can-eat sushi, but it turned out to be a nonissue – I didn't make it anywhere near in time to eat it. I passed up the all-you-can-drink special and had a glass of red wine that tasted like paint thinner. We headed on to a birthday party of a friend of someone in the group that – I didn't discover this until we were en route – was at a bar with a mechanical bull.

My friend yawned. I started yawning. I felt impossibly old. I had a rum and diet Coke and remembered another friend's recent comment about being too old for rail drinks. All I wanted to do was go home, and for once, I didn't try to push through.

Woke up on Saturday morning feeling absolutely wretched. I'm sure it was from the quality of the 2 drinks I had, not the quantity. Busted out a bunch of errands and met another friend from college for a new class at her gym she wanted to try. (I balk at the cost of joining her gym – one of the most expensive in the city – yet when I go to a class like that I almost can rationalize it. Plus the instructor apparently has a cult following – he was hilarious.) Then out to meet previous night's friend from college for a pub crawl her friends were doing.

The pub crawl was in the Financial District – totally dead on a weekend – and most of the participants were married and toting children. I stuck to diet Coke (I don't even really like beer). At one point in my life I'm quite sure I would have either (a) drunk a lot, or (b) binged or (c) both – a seriously misguided attempt to make the evening more fun, or to handle my frustration that it was a Saturday night and this was my option. It was not a great night: Most people I met wanted to quiz me about my job (I guess to lawyers what I do sounds cool, but I wanted to talk about it on a weekend about as much as any of them ever want to talk about their day jobs) and gush about how much they love London (despite only having been there once) and don't I miss it? (Um, yes.) Why would I move from London to New York? Do I think I'll go back ever? Etc etc. Why this line of questioning irritates me so, I can't
explain. I know people are just trying to be friendly.

I left sometime north of 9 pm, feeling like a lame guest, but at least without any great desire to binge. On the way home I passed one of the food trucks that does Belgian waffles. I noted how good it smelled and moved on.


I haven't binged for 57 days – nearly two months. (A quick check of my archives reveals the last time I managed such a feat was in the fall of 2009 – not quite as long ago as I'd thought. I guess what makes it seem so distant was that I was bingeing, on average, at least once every couple of weeks in 2010.)

Part of me feels like I need to fall off the wagon to learn it's not the end of the world – kind of like a kid being told to fall when ice skating or doing gymnastics so she can learn to do it safely. The other part of me is almost certain I will binge sometime in London. It just seems inevitable, in a way: Stress, parties, emotion (not all of which I can predict) and the inevitable dread of returning to the office.

Am I the only one who struggles to plan holidays because there are 2 paths – the binge one and the non-binge one? Sure, there are things I feel like eating and drinking and doing, but all of that goes out the window post-binge. I remember a friend wanting to take me to Sunday lunch for a roast before I left London because she knew I liked it. I was looking forward to it, but because I'd binged the night before, I ended up not really wanting the roast and having, I think it was, a pizza.

As I've done during other vulnerable times, I've tried to plan a few backstops – things that may (or may not) force me stop bingeing, or at least, to stop at a certain point. This would be a plan to meet a friend for a workout one day, and my favorite Pilates class another day. I've never failed to be amazed by my own ability to binge – or find reasons to binge – in new and surprising ways. But maybe this time I'll be amazed by my ability not to. Here's hoping.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Just Another Manic Wednesday

I am that girl I've always hated.

You know, the one who isn't overweight – and technically, I am not -- but complains that she is fat. I'm cringeing and bored just writing the sentence.

Yesterday I hit 149 lbs, and yet today I feel as large and lumbering and conspicuous as ever. I wanted to wear my coat in the office to hide myself. It didn't help that the third person in the office asked me if I were going to carry on doing the challenge once it was over.

"You should!" said our nutrition director cheerfully.


I think part of the problem is that I am, honestly, much lumpier than I was. I lift weights maybe once every couple of weeks if that, and my clothes all fit differently (which is not any kind of synonym for better, alas). I can wear a lot more of my wardrobe than I could a few weeks ago, but some of the clothes I'd expect to fit at this weight just don't.

And the weird, almost-detached consideration of food and bingeing continues.

Yesterday there was a party at the office and I could imagine exactly how I'd plot and sneak to get to the leftovers. Today at the frozen yogurt shop I could imagine eating massive handfuls of the chocolate chips.

"Are those butterscotch or peanut butter?" I asked, pointed to some caramel-colored chips.

"Butterscotch," the woman answered. "But we have peanut butter ones, too."

I could imagine cramming them all in my mouth, with great speed and of course, great shame.

I'd expect myself to be doing this sort of thinking if I were starving all the time – a well-documented effect of starvation is preoccupation with food. But I am (counting blessings here) genuinely not. Obviously I can always eat – only post-binge, and a couple of times, when my mother was dying, have I ever been incapable of eating.

Zzzzzzzz. Anybody out there?

Fifty-three days clean.


I wonder if some of the thoughts of bingeing are because I am beyond exhausted and feeling trapped, and the only way I know how to escape is to binge.

Today I had to cancel a dentist appointment and a dinner, and I wanted to crawl under my desk and either take a nap or cry at the thought of all the things I have to do before I go to London – and how bad things will be when I get back. I have emails (both personal and email) I haven't answered for weeks, and I hate feeling always behind; always a million things I could or should be doing.


In other happier news, I spotted one of our fashion editors wearing a top I own – one I purchased with no advice from a magazine or anyone else. "I love this top," she said when I asked about it. Guess my taste isn't quite as bad as I'd thought!
Bon Appetit magazine has moved to our floor. It amuses me no end to pass by their desks on the way to the bathroom. I love seeing file folders that read "Breaded Pork Chop" and "Crostini Misc." They don't drink their water out of paper cups or water bottles like the rest of us – they use Mason jars.

I adore those jars and use them to hold kitchen implements, and I told that to a (very cute) guy who, it turns out, used to work at Vogue but went to culinary school and now works in the Bon Appetit test kitchens. As you do, I guess.

"It's great because when the ice melts the mouth of the jar keeps it from cascading at you the way it would in a regular glass," he told me. (Don't say you never get any useful information from me.)

I told him that I hadn't required an ice cube since I moved to New York, but that I'd keep it in mind if and when the temperature rose a good 50 degrees.