The first time I really questioned food was after watching a documentary on Netflix called Hungry for Change.
At the time I had battled my weight long enough to feel completely overwhelmed and desperate. I didn’t even know where to start. I had tried gym memberships and counting calories, which were doomed to fail when I was “saving” calories by eating smaller portions of Hamburger Helper so I could sneak in a beer or two after dinner. I had no idea how little I understood the nature of food—or what was passing for food in my house—and my body.
I didn’t even know I was Hungry for Change.
The documentary follows the progression of a worn-down woman stuck in typical ruts—sedentary job, take-out pizza, diet soda, no veggies, not enough exercise—and how subtle shifts in her habits completely turned her life around. Throughout her transformation health experts weigh in, and people who have battled their own bodies and minds share excerpts of their journeys into lives of happiness and vitality.
When it was over I sat in front of a mirror and bawled, spewing fervent apologies to my poor body that I had unwittingly abused for years. Until then I never understood the hell I put it through with my actions, and how hard it’s worked to keep me functioning. Our bodies do the best they can with what they’re given. When we’re under stress, for instance, our bodies are programmed to store fat. They don’t know the difference between stressing over missing a work deadline or being chased by a wild animal; the physiological response is the same. We’re in a time of feast with no famine, surrounded by food choices that beg the question, “Is it really food at all?” The deck is stacked against us if we don’t know the nature of the game. Is it any wonder our bodies are so confused, and we keep getting bigger and sicker?
The first time I went grocery shopping after watching the documentary, I nearly boiled over in anger. It’s not that I believed macaroni and cheese was healthy before, but suddenly I was forced to see all the foods I grew up loving—the boxed pastas and frozen pizzas in ready-made heaven—for what they really were: food-like products masquerading as actual food, but containing more chemicals and additives than actual nutrition.
Ok, I should’ve known that. But I also didn’t realize that food companies purposely add ingredients to foods with the singular intention of leaving you wanting more.
Wait—I thought the point of food was to satiate your hunger, not leave you clawing for another box? Is that why it takes iron-clad willpower to pass the Velveeta Shells and Cheese without putting a few boxes in the cart?
I’m not suggesting that the food companies are responsible for expanding my waistline. I put every bite of food in my mouth by my own free will. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little duped by the food I trusted for comfort. After years of blindness I was starting to see the truth in the packaged food for the first time, and I was pissed. I still wanted to eat all my favorite foods, but how could I—an adult woman armed with this new information and carrying about seventy extra pounds—justify it anymore?
So, I shuffled through my usual aisles pouting over all the food I wasn’t putting in my cart and wondering what the hell I was going to cook now that my staples were off the table. I still remember rolling into the produce section like a stranger in a strange land, without the first clue what to buy or how to cook it. Was I reduced to salads? What exactly does a person do with Swiss chard? The only thing I’d ever done with a lemon is add it to my beer or put it in a butter sauce.
And what the *bleep* is jicama?
If the produce section was my new playground, I’d have to spend a lot of time getting to know the equipment.
As traumatic as that first trip to the grocery store was, it did get easier. No, my cupboards aren’t free of boxes and my freezers aren’t void of pizza, but the first step in getting my health in order was realizing just how little I understood about the toll my food choices were having on my body. Hungry for Change is responsible for sparking my awareness and starting me down a new—and very long—path. It introduced me to experts that I still follow today, and opened my eyes to juicing (imagine, the Carb Queen juicing veggies and loving it) which is the quickest way I’ve found to feel good now.
Hungry for Change didn’t solve all my problems, but it was the gateway to a whole new world, a place I live in more and more every day. If you’re ready to be shocked about all the things in the magical world of food that you didn’t know you didn’t know, check it out.
If you think you know it all already, it might just surprise you.
Food is confusing.
It shouldn’t be, but like most things we make it that way. The books I read and documentaries I watched in hopes of understanding what and how I should eat only sent me on a spiral deeper into the confusion and illusion of what food actually is and what constitutes a “healthy” human diet. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out.
BUT there is one book that sets itself apart from diet plans, protein shakes, juice fasts, portion-control containers, and every eat-this-and-do-these-exercises-for-a-bikini-body-by-summer promise. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food (which is also available as a documentary on Netflix; I’ve watched it and still highly recommend the book) takes readers on a history of food: what it used to be and what it is (and isn’t) now, as well as practical, nearly fool-proof advice for eating real food in a world—and particularly in a country—where “food” is a term loosely applied to all manner of crap we grab from a drive-thru window or cut a slit in the plastic and toss in the microwave.
Its no-nonsense approach avoids bologna (literally) and suggests a change in our entire dining culture to solve the problem of food, and all that stuff that masquerades as such.
If you’re at all confused about what and how to eat (as I clearly was; see below entry from 2014 if you don’t believe me), it’s worth the watch and the read.
“Even after adjusting for age, many of the so-called diseases of civilization were far less common a century ago—and they remain rare in places where people don’t eat the way we do,” Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food.
Honest change, or total acceptance.
Watching someone eat a bagel breakfast sandwich—smelling that greasy delight—after my juiced drink of rubbery carrots and cucumber, makes me want to give in to total acceptance.
Feeling the bulge of fat hanging over my capris and the tightness of my engagement ring after a weekend of binge eating and drinking tips the scales toward honest change.
And teetering in the middle of these two extremes is where I’ve lived for ten years.
Ten. Years. Since I turned 21. Since flat tummy turned into a cute little ponch that grew into a tractor tire. I was afraid to weigh myself this morning because I didn’t want to know. But dishonesty will get me nowhere. It keeps me in the dark and gives me permission to keep doing exactly what I’m doing: drinking every night, binging far too often, and living with abandon every weekend. Now I’m bigger than ever (am I trying to see how fat I can get before I do something about it?) and I’m getting married in less than two months. WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO ME????
Thinking about what health approach to take, my mind is jumping from one to the next with no clear way to go. I’m reading The Body Book by Cameron Diaz, I’ve read French Women Don’t Get Fat but still eat far too American for it to be of any use, I’ve juiced to my heart’s content (spent my money on booze and burgers last weekend; won’t be able to buy fresh veggies this week), my brother Mikey, the Marine, says that eating a massive breakfast gets the day started right (but if I’m not training to serve my country, do I need a mammoth breakfast??), I’ve watched a plethora of documentaries—all which seem to suggest that cutting meat is a sure bet for health—I’ve tried shakes, I’ve bought supplements (and forgotten to take them), and made plans only to promptly break them…I am a mess.
Why does it have to be so hard?
I read about cellular meditation first in Bronnie Ware’s “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” an author and a book that also deserve a place among the Pioneers.
It was Bronnie’s bewildering account of bringing the focus of her meditation to her cells that lead me to the book “Cell Level Meditation,” by Patricia Kay, MA and Barry Grundland, MD, which I read last summer between trips to Brazil and Canada. Cell level meditation is a simple process, really, that involves only space, breath, and body, yet I usually avoid settling in for this type of meditation because of the intensity of the experience (Bronnie, for instance, vomited violently afterwards, slept, then awoke hours later as if anew—something I wanted to experience myself but not on your average Monday evening when trying to sneak in a 20 minute meditation before The Bachelor).
The few times I’ve practiced it have taken me on extended journeys into the darker parts of myself that haven’t seen the light of day in a long time. At its most gentle, I cried while extending love to the parts of my body that needed it, at its most severe I became a sobbing wreck on the floor surrounded by old love letters from a fallen soldier (more on that later). When I start I never know where I’ll end up, or how long I’ll be there because there is no time limit on healing. You just dive in and keep going as long as you can.
Profound physical healing has accompanied these sessions, without fail. They’re exhausting, and totally exhilarating, but not for the faint of heart. Going in I’ve always found something I didn’t know I was looking for—that is to say, they never went as I thought they would. Which is why we should all be doing it. You may think you know what you need to heal—or, like most of us, have no clue—but your cells hold the key. The answers are there.
Just be aware of your body, be aware of the space around it, and carry your breath to the cells. Wake them up. Talk to them. You’ll be amazed at what they have to say.