A Hamburger Today

Served: Learning to Feed Myself Better

20080616-servedbug.jpgA few months ago, I wrote about my complicated relationship with food. It's a relationship made all the more tangled and messy by my food-centric career.

Loving food and fearing fat (body fat, not butter or avocados or triple cremes), have dominated my thinking since a pretty young age. I am not alone in that, unfortunately. Nor am I alone in being embarrassed by my obsession. I am a smart, educated, woman of some depth. Instead of worrying if I should eat the bucatini laced with ramp pesto, I could be writing a poem, or learning a language, or a million other, happier things.

It's a sometimes painfully sensitive topic. My boyfriend Micky knows to pick his words really carefully when broaching the subject of weight, or diets, or what I'm eating and not eating. I hope soon he can stop walking on eggshells, and I can laugh at myself a little, and occupy my mind with bigger and better pursuits.

But first: to tackle this.

Writing about my journey from normal to unhealthily skinny and back again in April felt like a big step, even though some of your comments were a bit harsh. Other comments were so supportive and lovely. Because people struggling with food issues often relegate most of their turmoil to the space inside their heads, it was enormously helpful to hear from people who have gone through similar stuff.

My New Dieting Journey

Upon reflection, and viewing some tear-inducing unflattering pictures, I decided that I would be happier with my body if I lost some weight. I also decided that I couldn't possibly severely restrict myself the way I had before. A reader or two decided it looked like I employed reasonable, even healthy, eating habits. Let me tell you from experience: an ounce of cheese,even wonderful cheese, and a small frozen yogurt does not make for a sensible, nourishing day's intake of food.

This time, I was going to focus on my health, not just the scale. This time, I was going to be sane. I would permit occasional splurges, and eat things I loved, and forbid myself from obsessing. I felt determined to learn from past mistakes. I told myself: I deserve to live in a body I like. I deserve to eat nourishing, delicious food every day.

And so I built new routines for myself. I've been a consistent exerciser for years, so no change was needed there. I started to eat breakfast: Greek yogurt, whatever fruit was the best and cheapest at Whole Foods. No more processed food. If I was going to enjoy something caloric, it would be Bavarian blue cheese drizzled with lavender honey, or Micky's almond and berry pain perdu, or his buttery polenta, or Thai coconut milk gelato from Capogiro. Only things I loved and deemed truly awesome. I wrote down what I put in my mouth, religiously, which made it less tempting to nibble on mediocre candy in free milliseconds.

I used to snack a lot at work. I rarely ate real meals, so I was often ravenous and felt entitled to munch on preserved orange olives, just baked brioche, or the chopped off ends of chicken breasts, complete with perfectly crispy skin. When my staff brought in pita, hummus, and Swedish fish I helped myself.

My new intention is to try everything and snack on nothing. So when Micky offers me a silky bite from the big wild Alaskan salmon that was swimming in the Copper River yesterday, I say an enthusiastic yes. I will taste the oxtail risotto they served in little cups as a canape for a wedding last week, and then that's it.

The rest of my food comes from real meals. A lot of salads, veggies, soups, ratatouille, fish, tofu, and more veggies. Which happen to be my favorite things anyway. And they are foods that leave me feeling satisfied, and nourished, and with other good feelings.

Then there's the eating adventures that populate the life of any foodie. Dinner at Blue Hill Stone Barns for Micky's birthday or a trip to investigate our new competitor next door in Philly or an extravagant dinner party hosted by a chef friend or an excursion to New York that surely involves checking restaurants off our want-badly-to-try list. And tonight's a big one. I'm having dinner at my own restaurant for the first time ever, and I'm excited.

I'm also nervous. These culinary events are dangerous territory. I'm sure there's some perfect formula for conscious indulgence that leaves ones pleasantly, not overly, full. To savor the cherry-brined duck breast because it's unfathomably good, and not feel guilty about it. To have a bite of the chocolate cake then put the fork down. I've read plenty about it. For those not inflicted with eating issues, fears, phobias, and hangups, this comes naturally. But for me, putting these things into practice is a daunting challenge.

Now What?

I lost a considerable amount of weight. Do I feel better living in my body? A little. I like shopping for clothes more. Thirty pounds lighter, I still have days where I feel fat.

I flinch at those who tell me I look great now. The implication is that I looked not so great before. I was never officially overweight, but I guess I was officially less attractive.

"What do you care?" Micky says, "You wanted to do this for yourself, not for anyone else. And you're so beautiful to me whether you are more or less skinny." He gets an instant million and a half great boyfriend points. And he's right. I need to quiet my chronic people pleasing tendencies for my own well-being.

I worry more. There is a ton of butter in Micky's polenta, and in the sabayon on the chestnut cavatelli. Rather, in everything. Alas, the secrets of restaurant cooking.

It's a loop. I promised myself I would steer clear of obsession, but a little obsessing was a really helpful tool in losing weight.

I know I have a lot to learn still. I'm wishing for myself a delicious, fun, and non-neurotic dinner this evening. Any many delicious, fun, and non-neurotic meals to come. I will get there sooner or later. As a food lover and professional, it is really important to me.

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