I Am That Girl Now

Friday, June 17, 2005

Take your medicine and fuel up

It's getting rarer all the time, but you'll still get the occasional folk cure nudged in your direction by a friend or relative. A swift check of the internet reveals that fennel and fenugreek should be consumed to increase lactation (a staple, I'm told, of wetnurses over the centuries), garlic and horseradish for allergies, soybeans and ginger for dandruff, apples and dried blueberries for diarrhea, and rhubarb for constipation. The most obvious example I can think of is one that every woman has at least a passing acquaintance with: if you get a bladder infection, drink cranberry juice.

Doctors prescribe changes in diet to fight, prevent, or manage high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and high blood pressure (to name a few). Diet is part of the treatment plan for cancer and HIV as well as something to specially manage during pregnancy. Special diets are part of recovery from almost any surgery. And of course we all know about how to prevent osteoporosis-- more calcium!

This stuff is so obvious, so much a part of our culture, that it's too obvious to really notice: food is medicine, or, as the Neijing Suwen puts it, "Medicine and food are of the same sauce." Not just in those cases. Not just when it's a special thing you have to adhere to for a purpose-- each food has benefits and side effects, like medicine. Addictions can form with some, just like medicine. Food can have an immediate effect on heart rate, perspiration, congestion, wakefulness (hello, turkey), and how often we have to go to the bathroom for one reason or another. Too much of certain kinds of foods can make us horribly sick. And we commonly-- and often unconsciously-- use food as treatment for stress and emotional turmoil.

In short, for those of us who don't want to have to deal with food in a medicinal context-- and I was one of those for a long time-- I'm sorry to tell you that you're already doing so. If we're not managing our diets with an eye toward pro-active treatment, we ultimately end up using food as a reactionary treatment for how we're feeling-- and then often throw on another food treatment in reaction to how the original treatment made us feel. It's the culinary equivalent of using a daily prescription versus the sort of wildly swerving pill-popping that one associates with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis-- one pill to put you to sleep, another to wake you up, another to give you energy, another to relax you, et cetera.

We're already using food as medicine. Daily. Constantly. There's no getting around it. And for those of us with a long history of culinary pill-popping, it's not only scary and bewildering to stop using food in a reactionary manner and start using it as a pro-active tool.

Currently, I'm on the Body For Life plan. I eat six times a day, roughly every three hours, with my calories divided more or less evenly between the meals. Each meal is one part carbohydrate (fruit or whole grains, mostly), one part protein, and at least two meals get vegetables thrown in as well.

I'd heard of the six-meals-a-day thing before and thought "feh, whatever." Give up my giant meal in the evening? Once my calories were first restricted when I joined Weight Watchers, I was very stingy with my daytime calories; I had to be convinced to use some of those precious Points on breakfast, and then convinced all over again to use some on snacks. Keeping to the big meal in the evening (and, I have to admit, my habit of grazing in the kitchen after dinner) gave me the illusion that I was almost like everyone else, so I really fought anything that would make me deplete my daily calorie bank before dinner. Hell, the only reason I eventually gave in and started eating a morning and afternoon snack was because I was getting pretty dizzy and out of it between meals.

In retrospect, it was a question of constant fueling. I was using most of my energy in the twelve hours of the day between waking up in the morning and getting home from work, but I was only using half my fuel supply-- and then I dumped in the other half during the four hours that I was mostly going to spend sitting on the couch.

It was also a question of quality fueling. Most of my food was low in protein, if it had any at all. Meat, again, was something that appeared in my evening diet; my breakfast, snacks, and lunch were all nearly bereft of protein.

I was always exhausted by the end of the day and couldn't figure out why. I never had any energy. I was crabby most of the time. In spite of my weight loss and increased fitness, I kept getting sick. I was virtually unable to deal with stress. My cravings were pretty noisy, constantly, and I would rarely go more than a few days without having to do battle with the niggling thought of sneaking off and binging.

Again, in retrospect the problem was pretty obvious-- my body was displeased with how I was feeding it and was demanding an immediate fix. I find that when things are bad enough to make the body start sounding alarms and demanding fixes, the body is not clamoring for long-term solutions, but for dramatic, immediate, down & dirty fixes. In short, when I wasn't giving it enough quality fuel to run on throughout the day, my body started screaming for foods high in carbs, high in sugar, and high in fat-- instant fuel, quick to burn. Newspaper. Newspaper doesn't burn for long, though, and since I still wasn't supplying the constant supply of nutrition that would have provided normal fueling, the body would panic again and demand another binge.

And oh, the physical reactions that go with that sort of eating. The headaches, the low nausea, the lack of energy, the vague sense of fever, the aches and pains, the nasty digestive issues on the way out. It's really not unlike having the flu, for me. I'd feel horrible after a binge; horrible physically, horrible emotionally, horrible mentally.

These days, that pattern has vanished. I had one binge on Memorial Day after a full weekend of non-stop parent time-- my "ack, trapped, TRAPPED!" reaction-- and that's been it ever since. With the fueling problem taken care of, all I'm left with are the emotional prompts for binges-- and I'm a lot better at dealing with those than I used to be.

Here's the other thing: my general state of being, physically and emotionally, is a LOT better these days. I've got energy, it's easier for me to deal with stress, my PMS symptoms went from being off the charts to being negligable in just one month. I never go into a meal starving anymore, because I'll have just eaten a filling meal three hours before, and as a result I don't get that MUST EAT ALL FOOD NOW-- FOOD GONE, SERVING NOT BIG ENOUGH, EAT MORE! reaction because I'm not having to wait the proverbial twenty minutes for my stomach to realize it's full. Since all my meals are small but substantial, I'm not going from one extreme to the other (an apple for a snack, then meat & pasta & veggies for dinner-- WHAMMO) and so I'm really being able to finally focus on the fact that this is, in fact, a serving size: this is what will fill me up, this is how food works.

In short, I'm healing. All these things I had such trouble keeping to in the old days are a lot easier now. I'm using food as medicine, and this time I'm using it pro-actively, to feel good every day and have the energy to get much, much more done.

It's not just about eating the fewest calories. It's about what will fuel you and really make you feel good-- constantly, not just in frantic guilty spurts of chips and chocolate and ice cream. And God help me, it works.


  • You are so brilliant! How do you come up with such wonderfully informative and insightful topics every day?

    I lav-ah it!

    By Anonymous Cynthia, at 1:17 PM  

  • Cynthia, I have a GLUT of them. If I don't get them out here, I can't stop talking about food and exercise and my theories on healthy living, and my husband is like to throttle me. Glad you like 'em!

    By Blogger Meg, at 5:18 PM  

  • I am learning this now. I have not banished any of my old WW foods... I keep my Skinny Cows, my various snack bars and other snackish foods - things that I know are pretty much "empty calories" or points, in my case - but they serve a purpose for me, they keep me from feeling deprived (like today, when that little one point WW bar got me through the worst part of my cookie lust).

    The difference is, that I've been eating breakfasts. I've been eating good, solid breakfasts, and following them with a small snack... and then I have a big lunch and usually another snack (sometimes two) before dinner (dinner is sometimes late around here). I've also found that most nights - certainly not all, but most - I am eating only one or two other snacks after dinner, as opposed to the grazing you talked about.

    So... I guess what I am saying is I hear you. I'm not where you are yet (heh, in many ways), but I'm getting there. I'm making better choices, and I've noticed - with some sheer, unadulterated excitement - that even my snacks have been leaning more towards healthy. Like some reduced fat cheese, for example.

    Anyway, thanks for this post because it reminded me to be proud of how I've been eating... and I'm also trying to pay attention to it because I don't want to take it for granted! I know all too well the evil binge voice can pop in anytime, and I'll have to do battle... I just am starting to feel like I'll be better able to talk her down next time!

    By Anonymous Mae, at 12:59 AM  

  • hey meg - about the golden protein pancakes: the batter is actually better after being refrigerated (an hour or overnight). It's thicker and doesn't spread so much (and you can add more vanilla - yum!) when you cook it.

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