Friday, March 25, 2011

Peace with Food

Confession: I hate being hungry.

I know, no one likes to be hungry. But my aversion to hunger seems to go beyond what I would consider normal. At some point early in my life, hunger became something I avoided at all costs. The sensation actually made me anxious, and I do everything I can to avoid feeling that rumbling.

As soon as my stomach starts to feel empty I immediately seek out something to quell the sensation. In fact, I'm often thinking about what I can or will eat long before hunger even makes an appearance. Which means food has always had power over me.

That desire to avoid emptiness eventually transferred into something more sinister, a disordered relationship with food that extended from eating at the slightest hint of hunger to eating whenever I felt emotionally empty. I know I'm not the only one. I realize that most women, and a good number of men, have some sort of strained relationship with food. But I'm pretty sure my problem crossed the line on more than one occasion from simple emotional eating to what I would have called binge eating. I never purged, but I could eat more than a thousand calories in less than an hour. This binging has subsided over the last few years, as I've discovered ways to better deal with that emotional emptiness, but that fear of hunger still remains.

So imagine my anxiety when I found out that my yoga teacher training group would be completing a juice fast together. At first I was excited to face the challenge. I even volunteered to fast for an additional day. I was caught up in the excitement of the group, interested in experimenting with my diet in a new way. Then the fear started creeping in.

What if I couldn't do it? What if I got really hungry? What if the cravings were too much? What if I wasn't strong enough? The self-doubt and insecurity crept in one question at a time.

To deal with the anxiety, I started planning immediately. I weaned myself off caffeine. I decreased my sugar and white flour intake. And I bought plenty of juice--apple, pomegranate, white grape and cranberry--and vegetable broth

After my dinner on Thursday night, a dinner which I enjoyed slowly and mindfully knowing that it would be my last meal until Sunday afternoon, I settled into the knowledge that my diet would consist only of liquids for more than 60 hours. Then something unexpected happened.

I felt relieved.

Friday I drank juice, water or herbal tea when I was thirsty. If I got hungry, I had a cup of broth. But I never once worried about what I would eat, where my next meal would come from, or when I could finally have solid food again. The anxiety was gone. I knew I would eat on Sunday, and in the meantime, I didn't really think about food. And I felt so alive, it was like every cell in my body was vibrating with energy.

When teacher training started Friday evening, we had a group yoga practice and I found myself able to get more deeper into some poses than I'd ever been before. My focus was intense. My body was responding in new ways. Saturday was a bit more difficult. By the afternoon I was starting to feel a bit more lethargic and the physical hunger was becoming more intense. The anxiety never came up, though. It seemed I was moving beyond my fear of hunger and into a new phase of my relationship with food. It had no control over me anymore.

I could trust that I would never have to eat anything unless I chose to. That would be my challenge once the fast was over. To maintain my sense of control over food. Not for the purpose of going to the other extreme and severely limiting my food intake. But for the purpose of allowing myself time and space to be hungry, to really experience meals when I did choose to eat, and to recognize the effects different foods have on my body.

When we finally broke fast together on Sunday afternoon, every bite was like a flavor explosion in my mouth. After tasting nothing but water, diluted juices, vegetable broth and unsweetened teas, the taste of a strawberry was powerful. The saltiness of a peanut made my mouth water. The crunch of a carrot felt like a blessing.

Almost two weeks later, I'm still having revelations about that fasting experience. Each time I find myself eating when I'm not really hungry or mindlessly munching on a snack during the day, I remember that feeling of power that came with emptiness, and I relax. I've finally found some peace with food. I have the power now, and I know how to use it.

(Photo credit: Shermeee)

This piece was cross-posted at, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Chaotic Garden

This is a fiction piece written in response to this week's Red Writing Hood prompt from The Red Dress Club.

Julie pulled on the gloves and sighed. The sun was already getting hot and she had a long morning ahead of her.

The day her realtor brought her to this house, Julie was hurried and barely interested in the listing. It was smaller than she wanted, in a neighborhood she wasn't familiar with and the price was slightly above her budget. When she walked through the front door, into the open, airy living room that looked straight through the dining room and into the modern kitchen, her mood brightened.

It wasn't perfect, though. The upstairs needed some work. The bathroom hadn't been updated, the closets were practically non-existent, and the bedrooms needed a new coat of paint. And then there was the postage-stamp sized backyard.

It was an absolute mess, an eye-sore, really. The ivy and honeysuckle vines were taking over the fence, covering almost the entire length of it. There was a pile of broken bricks in the back corner, and an overgrown patch of what seemed like purposefully placed weeds along one side of a small, cracked patio. The chaos of it seemed to reflect the chaos of her life. All she could see, though, was the flower garden she could put in along the fence. The herb garden she could grow where the wild patch was. The bistro set she'd place on the patio so she could drink coffee and read books in the sun. It was the potential of the small backyard that sealed the deal.

Three years later, she still hadn't tackled the project of tangled vines, weeds, broken bricks and cast-off items. It was still a mess. After the honeymoon period of painting and decorating and unpacking was over, she just hadn't found the time or energy to pull out the gardening tools and trash bags and transform the yard into something she could enjoy. She had purchased the bistro set the weekend before as an incentive. It only needed a place to go.

The weather was getting warmer, the days were getting longer, and Julie refused to go another summer drinking her morning coffee and reading books indoors. She picked up her trimming clippers and got to work on the vines. This messy, overgrown backyard was an oasis waiting to be uncovered.

This post was written in response to the new weekly prompt at The Red Dress Club created to help develop memoir writing skills.

Write a short piece, either fiction or non-fiction, about something ugly - and find the beauty in it. Word limit is 600.

Constructive criticism is welcome.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(De)Caffeinated Yogini

Ask fifty adults practicing yoga whether they drink coffee, and there's a good chance at least half of them will say yes. But traditionally, yoga and any stimulant did not go well together. Many yoga teachers recommend letting go of caffeine as you become more dedicated to a yoga practice. Other well-known yoga teachers show up to class sipping coffee from a Starbucks cup.

There's no rule that says you can't drink coffee if you're a serious yoga practitioner. Why then, did this yogini decide to let go of caffeine? Excellent question.

I've been a near-daily coffee drinker for years now. My morning routine during the work week entails me entering the building, taking off my coat and brewing the coffee for the office. I've usually finished my first cup and am going back for my second by the time the rest of my coworkers start trickling in an hour later. I like the smell of it, the taste of it, the way it warms my body. Coffee has been my quiet-time companion for a long time. But I wasn't addicted. There were weekends when I would go completely without coffee (but not necessarily caffeine) and saw no real changes in how my body and mind functioned. No headaches, no sleepiness, nothing to indicate that I had to have coffee.

Still, I had started getting the feeling that caffeine was weighing me down. Not literally, of course. But as much as I had convinced myself that caffeine didn't control me, I found myself drawn to that pot every morning, like a fly to honey.

During our last teacher training weekend, we started discussing preparations for our upcoming juice fast, the topic of caffeine came up and the conversation got a bit heated. "How many of you are addicted to caffeine?" our instructor asked. About half of the group raised their hands. "And how many of you drink coffee but don't think you're addicted to caffeine?" Most of the rest of us, myself included, raised our hands. Then the instructor challenged us to explore that idea.

Like so many things I've been doing lately, I took that challenge seriously and decided to experiment with letting go of caffeine. I truly didn't think it would be that difficult. I only drank a couple of cups of coffee most days of the week, and some days I didn't have any. How hard could it be to let that go?

Surprisingly hard.

I started my week with one cup of 1/3 decaf. At about 2:00 that afternoon I thought I was going to fall asleep at my desk. I got irritable and so very sleepy. At first I couldn't figure out why. Then it occurred to me that I usually had a cup of black tea or a diet caffeinated soda after lunch. Maybe I'd been drinking more caffeine than I thought.

The next two days I stuck with my 1/3 decaf blend. Just one cup. I was miserable during the day. But I was also sleeping soundly through the night, when I would normally wake up three or four times.

On the fourth day, I shifted to one cup of 2/3 decaf and did that for two days. On the sixth day, I had a decaf Americano. And on day seven, I went coffee-less.

It's been almost three weeks now, and aside from the two decaf Americanos I've had, I've been caffeine and coffee free. And I feel fantastic. I'm sleeping so much better. I have more energy. I'm alert and wake during the day without the aid of any stimulants. That's not to say there aren't days when I feel like I could really use that jolt of caffeine or when I want a hot drink, but for now at least, some deep breathing, a brisk walk around the block or some herbal tea are doing the trick. I can't promise that I won't ever drink a caffeinated beverage again, but right now it feels great to be a decaffeinated yogini.

(Photo credit: Demion)

This piece was cross-posted at, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Friday, March 04, 2011

Washed Away

This week's response to the Red Writing Hood prompt is an exploration of my (somewhat fuzzy) memory of a day during the summer after my junior year in high school.

Early summer afternoons at the Harbor Market could be extremely boring or very busy. It was hard to predict from day to day. On this day, it wasn't particularly busy. I stood at the cash register, methodically keying the prices of a customer's grocery selections into the machine and bagging each item. I took the customer's money and quickly but carefully counted out the change.

"Have a great afternoon," I said, smiling.

As the customer walked away, the phone rang. "Hi honey," my mom said. "You're not alone there, are you?"

My heart beat faster, pounding in my chest. That question never preceded good news.

"No, Stacie's here. And Penny. What happened?"

"There was an accident at the jump off. Tom and a friend were swimming with some girls and the water's really choppy today," she said.

I interrupted her. "Who was the friend?"

"I don't know his name, honey. They didn't say, but I think it was the one he's always with."

"Marc? Was it Marc?" I asked, frantic to know the details.

"I'm not sure."

"What happened? Are they okay?"

She paused for a moment, probably wondering how much detail she should give me. "Tom and the girls are fine. Shaken up, but they're okay. The undertow was really pulled the friend under. Tom tried to get him, but he lost his grip. He couldn't hold onto him. Search and Rescue is looking for him now, but the chances aren't good."

I just listened, silent. It couldn't be. She was wrong. This was a mistake. I knew it was Marc. It had to be. But he was too young. I just saw him. They'd find him. But what if they didn't? What about Marc's brother Todd? What about his parents? How would that survive losing him?

My mind raced with logical explanations and dozens of reasons why Marc couldn't possibly have drowned. I don't remember hanging up the phone, or even leaving the register. I found my way to the back of the store where Stacie and I held each other and cried, waiting for more news. Waiting for confirmation that Marc was gone.

They found Marc's body, which I never saw again, along the rocky shore of the harbor. The water had claimed him, taken him violently from us. That summer our small high school, so many of whom knew Marc personally, said good-bye to a vibrant, fun-loving young man in the prime of his life. We said good-bye to our invincibility, to our innocence. The water washed them away, along with Marc's last breath.

It was as if Marc's death came with a message: "Life is hard. The world is full of threats and danger, and we are all vulnerable."

How could we not be when even our beautiful, peaceful lake could take our loved ones away without a second thought?

This post was written in response to the new weekly prompt at The Red Dress Club created to help develop memoir writing skills.

Water gives life. It also takes it away. Write a short piece - fiction or non-fiction - inspired by one or both of these statements. Word maximum is 600.

Constructive criticism is welcome.

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