But, coronavirus

Have you ever done the “in bed” thing with fortune cookies? My friends and I thought it was a riot in our 20s. It’s a simple game: You add “in bed” to whatever fortune your cookie gave you. For example: “You will meet a mysterious stranger … in bed.” Or: “A new adventure awaits … in bed.” Very funny. Har har.

That’s sort of how it feels now with coronavirus. Every time I worry about our relaxed rules, I add that asterisk: But, coronavirus. For example: “I’m drinking a glass (or two) of wine per night. But, coronavirus.” Or: “The kids are sitting in front of screens for 5 hours per day. But, coronavirus.” Or: “The kids are bypassing carrots and hummus to stuff their faces with ice cream. But, coronavirus.”

Maybe you have your own version of this fun game. Whenever I’ve broached the subject with my friends, they admit that they’re succumbing to the Quarantine Slide. They’re making bigger, stiffer drinks than they used to. They’re baking way more cookies than they used to. Their kids are spending way more time on screens than they used to. But come on. Coronavirus!

In the early days of the pandemic (before we were even calling it a pandemic), I reached for these crutches because I was scared. And it was a new kind of scared. No one had any definitive answers about how this wily virus infected, presented, or killed. In the early days, when the virus was primarily in Washington state, the federal government dismissed it as “just a flu,” and something that would just go away. I remember saying to Steve, way back in March: “No one is coming to save us, are they?”

Now, the mood has shifted. We’re all antsy and anxious about being cooped up with our families for two months. It’s not normal for people to be together all the time. We’re worried about the economy. But we’re also, increasingly, really angry. We’re judging each other. We’re railing at the government. We’re looking for theories that confirm our own suspicions. We’re lashing out at teachers and officials that we feel are doing the wrong things. We feel as though we have no control, and that’s emerging as fury. And so, we reach for our calming crutches to take the edge off.

Except, here’s the thing. It’s been over two months for us here in Washington. The coping strategies are becoming habits. And habits are hard to break. By most accounts, this probably won’t be our last quarantine. We’ll emerge for awhile, and then, as cases spike, we’ll withdraw again. I need to find other ways to blur the edges than my nightly glass (or two) of wine.

Here’s my cycle: I wake up with a wine headache, and I vow to abstain. Then, I’ll have a day where doing dishes is a Sisyphean task, where Evan falls dramatically from his chair when asked to do math, and one of the cats pukes on the computer keyboard.  That lovely, velvety glass of Pinot Noir just beckons me. It promises — and delivers — exactly what I “need”: a way to turn down the volume on the irritation and anxiety. Pouring that glass, I feel like failure, but when I sip it, I feel like I’m tumbling back into a pile of fluffy pillows.  And then, I wake up with a wine headache again.

I’m not drinking to excess. Usually, it’s one glass. Sometimes, it turns into two. But that adds up, and I’m concerned. Both about this “need” to find edge-smoothing from alcohol, and the insidious calories my Velvet Friend is delivering to my waistline. If I’m honest, the latter is what makes me most worried. And that’s because my big crutch — which is detestable rather than pleasurable — is my eating disorder.

In times of stress, my decades-long struggle with food and weight pops back up like an unwanted houseguest. It’s a long story, so I’ll give you the Cliff Notes: At 15, I wanted to lose a few pounds. I got positive feedback for that weight loss, so I lost more. And more. Before too long, I was 89 pounds and my dad was weighing me every week. But I was clever: I took some old ankle weights from my figure-skating days, cut off the straps, and stuffed them in my pocket.

I “cured” myself so my parents would get off my back, but by then, the die was cast: Restriction was where I went during times of stress. Sometimes it was food; sometimes it was punishing, hours-long workouts that I disguised as “training” for my many running races and triathlons.

When Bini was 2, I realized that my destructive behavior was incompatible with my efforts to be a decent mother. So I took a year, and did intensive therapy. I worked with a nutritionist. It was a very uncomfortable process. And I did make some progress. But again, I wouldn’t say I was “cured.”

So. It’s 2020, we’re in quarantine. I’m home all the time. People keep bringing me baked goods. There’s always a delicious bottle of wine ready to be uncorked. I’m spending a lot of time in my own head. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. It’s fertile ground for my old nemesis.

But I’m terrible at restricting my food anymore. It’s not very fun. So I’m back to my punishing workouts. I ride my Peloton until I look like a wet cat. I lift heavy weights. I swing kettlebells. Exercise is helping people stay centered, right? But Steve isn’t fooled — he knows what I’m doing. I know what I’m doing.

But, coronavirus.



Confessions of a repentant food snob

All of my healthy, healthy food, and some corndogs. I don't actually like corndogs, but I think you get the point. I hope.
All of my healthy, healthy food, and some corndogs. I don’t actually like corndogs, but I think you get the point.

I’ve been abiding by some set of food rules since I was 15 years old. Fat-free, vegetarian, Weight Watchers, Atkins, Cabbage Soup, starvation. Many of the rules were of my own making. All of them were designed to give me “safe” guidelines from “scary” food. It was insane. But it was my life, for a really long time.

Two years ago, I went to see a nutritionist named Erin Dudley, and she saved my life. That’s the topic of another post. Erin taught me how to eat like a normal person again — a normal, healthy person — because I had totally forgotten how. Her rules replaced my other, unhealthy rules — but they were still rules.

Erin stressed to me the importance of eating the highest quality food you could find. Of course, I took it to the extreme. I remember being at Target and looking at a thing of mushrooms. I needed toilet paper, socks, toothpaste, light bulbs and mushrooms, but instead of buying the mushrooms at Target, I put them down, paid for my other stuff, and drove to Whole Foods. To buy organic mushrooms.

It was at this point that I became a food snob. I subscribed to a community-supported agriculture program and toughed it out through the fall and winter, when all you get is root vegetables and pears. If a recipe called for a tomato in February, I just didn’t make the recipe.

I also liked to evangelize my “new way” to anyone who would listen — and to people who really couldn’t have cared less. I lectured my mother about the importance of eating local. I sneered at her Foster Farms chicken. I remember having impassioned conversations with my mom friends about only buying organic, BPA-free canned foods. Also, about how much better a carrot tastes when it’s fresh from the ground. I’d kind of like to go back in time and punch myself.

Five months ago, I switched to a (mostly) grain-free diet. I didn’t do it to lose weight; rather, I hoped eschewing rice and pasta and bread and pizza would help correct some long-term health irritants that I won’t go into.  My doctor suggested outpatient surgery as one route to alleviate my symptoms, but told me that other women had seen great improvement going grain free. I wasn’t thrilled to give up my carbs, but I didn’t want to do surgery, either.

So, I waded into the Paleo morass, with its unique cross section of food rules and food snobbery. This could have been dangerous territory for me: I could have backslid into an eating disorder, or I could have become even more tiresome with my endless food yammering. But somehow, I managed to take what I wanted from the diet and disregard what I didn’t.

Yes, I bowed to the god of coconut oil. I made my own grain-free granola. I made bone broth. I tried, unsuccessfully, to make pizza crust out of cauliflower. I spent a shit-ton of money on food and more time in the kitchen than a celebrity chef.

However, I also ate dairy. I drank wine. I ate deep-dish pizza in Chicago, because DUH. I ate bread in Paris, for the same reason. Actually, I did more than eat bread — I had two pains au chocolat in one day, and felt not the slightest bit guilty.

The rules of the Paleo diet bugged me, but I think the  sanctimony bothered me more. (Probably because I recognized myself in the tedious lectures about legumes.) Well-meaning Paleo people will post recipes on blogs and get taken apart in the comments for their use of almond flour or agave nectar. The universe does not need another online argument about whether or not sweet potatoes are “allowed.” And then, there were the lasagna noodles.

One day, while looking for a use for leftover chicken, I found a recipe on PaleoOMG, for Creamy Rosemary Chicken Lasagna. Yes, lasagna. I have two other people to feed, and though they’ve been good sports about the grain-free thing, sometimes they just want some freakin’ pasta.

Anyway, I was going to use the $6 gluten-free noodles they sell at Whole Foods, but just for fun, I clicked on the link for lasagna noodles in the recipe. They cost $55. That’s not a typo. To be fair, it’s $55 for four packages, but that works out to over $13 per package. For noodles. Over 47 million Americans are on food stamps, but I guess it’s OK if poor people eat cheap food, isn’t it?

There are people, and a good friend of mine is among them, who have genuine food allergies. She cannot eat dairy or gluten or fibrous vegetables or garlic because if she does, her body will revolt. People like my friend need food rules. I get it.

But other people are just bored, I guess. They need a hobby, something other than making Paleo mayonnaise. They need food rules to feel safe, like I did. They need food rules to feel superior.

I chose to go mostly grain free as an experiment, and it was an experiment that worked — in more ways than one. My aforementioned long-term health irritants are much improved, so I avoided surgery. For now, anyway. And also, I proved to myself that I could restrict what I ate without getting all crazy and extreme. I’m restricting because it makes me feel better. But if I want a damned cupcake, I’m going to have one.