Thursday, June 3, 2010

Eat It.

There's this love/hate relationship I have. It deals mainly with me, and someone I see every time I sit down at a restaurant table or get out of the shower. It's with my body.

For the first time in over 5 months, today, I spotted my long-dormant abs. I have a body build that was best suited for when my Austrian-Hungarian ancestors toiled in fields all day and popped out kids left, right, and center, probably in those same fields without missing a step. With my manual labor years behind me, my aversion to pregnancy and desire to adopt, I'm pretty much stuck with incredibly dense bone structure, a perfect 36-27-36 hourglass shape, and a build that could be described as "as solid as a brick shithouse." As it has been.

The primary problem is this: I. Love. Food. Wait, let me expand on this: (WARNING: Food porn ahead. NSFHunger.)

I love cooking, I love eating, and I love drinking.

None of this is conducive with maintaining a weight or shape other than "round." My legs are the only thing that I know will always be there in some sort of cab-stopping appeal, because I won the genetic jackpot on that one, and I have what is now the equivalent of a lifetime of horseback riding under my breeches. And so, reluctantly, I'm a little bit of what is usually dismissively called a "gym rat." I'm dedicated to 4 or 5 days a week of some sort of cardio and weight exercise. Being a "path of least resistance" person when it comes to working out, I chose the things that I can pretty much do in about 6-by-6 feet of room, preferably, standing still. (I told you, I'm lazy.) There's lots of side-bends to work my abs (which do not want to exist in the first place), lots of oblique twists (easy as turning your upper body while focusing on isolating muscles), and lots of weight training. I can punctuate homework or commercial breaks with 50-100 lunges a night, or I can sweat off over 100 calories dancing from sheer happiness and because I just flat-out love to dance. I like it when working out does not take time or much action, which is pretty counter-intuitive to the whole concept, but hey-- it's been working for me.

In part, it works because of the other things that I do. I ride, not nearly as much as I used to, but it's still a full-body workout. I took up running because...well, I don't know. I used to be one of the fastest sprinters in elementary school, but then puberty happened, and I remember looking at a girl on the cross country team during Women's Ensemble choral practice in high school and saying, "Do I LOOK like I enjoy running? The only times I run are when someone is chasing me, or I am chasing someone." And then I went and became a runner in college. Not a runner of any great shakes-- as a genetic sprinter (mom and dad were both track kids in their high school days, and then dad liked it so much he went into the Marines to prove he was one of the best damn runners Camp Lejeune saw during the 'Nam years), I top out around a mile and a half and pretty much decide right there is where I'll lay down and die. Admittedly, smoking does not help this. Smoking other things did for awhile, as I was asthmatic as a child but fixed it by building up some greeeeat lung capacity in my late teens. Now, after four months of eating whatever I wanted and getting my only excercise in walking Florence's cobblestone streets in heels and the periodic odd hike around Italy and raising my smoking to a national past-time level, running seems like it will pretty much be the end of me. At the moment, I am one gigantic pulled, strained, sore, slowly re-building muscle. However, also being a masochist, there's something that appeals to me in a very dark and disturbing place in waking up to go kick myself in the ass.

And when I am not stuffing my face decadently and holding up both middle fingers to calorie-counting, I eat damn well. By that, I mean I eat SMART. I take a long, hard look at what I'm eating regularly, and I think about the nutritional and health values in them, or lack thereof. I've never had to detox or diet in my life, but I'm not above cribbing some ideas or eating tips from them.

It's only going to work for you if you find foods you're excited to eat. Look for foods or diet strategies that seem good and feasible to you, personally. I don't care what your friend is doing-- one of mine has calorie amounts memorized, but I could care less as long as I don't have to be rolled out of a restaurant and picked up by a fork-lift. I started eating Greek yogurt with honey after I saw an extremely appealing ad for it in Cosmopolitan, and it wasn't until about a year later that I found out that it has 4 times the protein in it for the same amount of fat that regular yogurt does. (Also, it brings me right back to a specific time in history-- 8 AM Technical Writing classes Tuesdays and Fridays Fall semester of '09, in sweatpants, unwashed, and considering using the keyboard in front of me as a pillow. I ate a lot of Greek yogurt and honey in that class.) A healthy alternative to tuna salad of tuna mixed with hummus just tasted better to me, and cut out some mayo that I don't really need in my life. I could eat salmon and avocados every day for the rest of my life, and both happen to be high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are one of the best things you can ingest, and something that my body responds incredibly well to. A recent British study found that after eating salmon, skin across subject's faces and stomachs seemed tighter and more toned within 30 minutes. Now, that's my kind of exercise.

Substitution is key. If you're trying to cut something out of your diet, you better have a good alternative to it, or you, my friend, are just going to backslide right into a truckload of Ben & Jerry's. Instead of chips, I started eating Pirate's Booty. Then, I moved from Pirate's Booty to a handful of cashews, or small bags of popcorn with Parmesan cheese sprinkled lightly over the top. And speaking of ice cream, banana slices, powdered with cinnamon, cocoa, or cinnamon sugar and sprinkles and frozen in the freezer for about 2 hours, have the same consistency and flavor as ice cream, with nearly none of the calories, and is also 1 of your daily fruit servings.

I try not to eat much processed foods. This does not mean I won't stop in the drive-by of McDonalds-- oh, no. A McNugget Happy Meal to go, please, and I can also order it in Italian if you want. But 4 nuggets is not 6 or 10 nuggets, and is just enough to satisfy a craving. Last summer, while I was so poor processed and therefore, expensive, foods were out of my budget, I cooked and ate more fresh, local, and inexpensive foods. By the time that I had a disposable income again and was grocery shopping, the shit that goes in to microwave pizzas and flavored chips made me literally sick to my stomach. Cutting the SHIT out of your fridge and freezer is one way to get healthier, STAT. And remember-- if you don't buy it, it's not there.

NEVER, EVER deny yourself something you really crave. (This applies to nearly all things in life, except for when it applies to cheating.) If you don't eat it, you're just going to obsess about it and be unhappy, and what's the point in looking good if you're not happy and a bitch to everyone? Just limit yourself. If you want chocolate, have a square, not the whole bar. (Unless you're PMSing, and in which case, rock on with your bad and bloated self. Worry about that shit later.)

Keep track of what you eat, and you'll be amazed how much you're putting in to your body. I keep a food log periodically if I feel like I'm really getting off-track in my eating, just to see where during the day I'm caving in and snacking, and where I'm really losing it. It also helps to have a visual reminder that you just ate 2 hours ago, so if you are feeling "hungry" again (read: "bored"), you can see that you, in fact, are probably really not. ASK YOURSELF-- "Do I really need this?"

I know that short of a stretching rack and bone shaving, I am never going to be a size 2, or a real size 4 for that matter. I am a size 6. Haven't always been, but probably will now always be. I will never be a Victoria Secret's model, no matter how much of their underwear I buy, or how good my catwalk walk is. (And believe me-- it's good. Miss Jay of ANTM would be proud.) But I know what my body can do-- it can sprint a half-mile, ride a three-day event, gracefully absorb a semester of devil-may-care eating, and keep a man enthralled for a few hours or a night or few. That's the biggest lesson that you have to learn about making nice with your body: it is never going to look just like someone else's, because it's yours. It's pointless to hunger (literally) over a size 4 if where you are healthy and naturally balanced is a size 8. I have friends 5 inches taller with bird bones who weigh 12 pounds less then me, and they're the ones jealous of my body. Body perception is skewed. It just is. I am my body's harshest critic, just as I have a feeling the skin in the buff that you see in the mirror is very different from how anyone else who has the pleasure of seeing it views it. (In fact, I have it on good authority that as long as you're naked, most men are really, really pleased with your bod.) So, as long as it's healthy and does what you need it to do, be happy with your body. That's centuries of family history in there, and only the way you treat yourself is going to change anything. Exercise, smart eating, and a few minor changes in your daily routine, and you'll quickly come to terms with the body you're bringing to the beach this summer.

And a note to the men: Just as women have an obsession with being thin, you seem to have a desire to NOT be thin. I have dated it all-- beer kegs of the undrinkable kind; taut soccer bods; tall and slender men; and ripped jocks. You may call them "chicken legs" or "getaway sticks," but women are surprisingly lenient when it comes to men's bodies. Let me tell you why: because we KNOW you're not the last guy we dated. I went from over 200 pounds of bicep this, six-pack that, lats and quads and glutes, oh my! to a body nearly half the width and on whom that sort of tone-age would be impossible, and do you know what I was thinking? "Hair. Manly body hair. Where have you been; I've missed you so! Thank you, Jesus, thank you!" What we liked in one man is sure not to be what attracts us to another. So, stop hiding under the covers like a woman, or bolting for the bathroom in the middle of the night while you think we're asleep. Because we're awake, and as you slide out of bed and creep out of the room, we've got one eye peeked open and are thinking, "God, I love that ass."


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