Tag Archives: Michael Pollan

When You Start Seeing Metaphors Everywhere . . .

. . . you know you’ve spent too much time in the therapist’s office. WGT is a big fan of metaphors, and uses them frequently to make eating disorder related points. She is also a firm believer that anything that happens in your life is the universe trying to make a point about something else in your life. Get pink eye over the holidays? Alright, eyes . . . not doing what they’re supposed to do . . . Maybe something’s wrong with how you see yourself . . . She’s got a million of them. And now I’ve started doing it, too.

Today, for the first time in a very long time, I took a ballet class. Ballet was always my favorite dance discipline. It’s the one thing that I never didn’t want to do . . . double negatives are confusing. To simplify: ballet always seemed to be the last class of the night in high school, and the first class of the morning in college, and NEVER did I ever not want to go. I was never an exceptional ballerina . . . bad feet, poor turnout, limited flexibility, legs too short, torso too long . . . (this sounds like harsh self-criticism, but in the ballet world these are just matter-of-fact observations) but I always loved it, even with all the body shit that goes along with it.

Anyhow, today in class, I had the great good fortune to have a private class with one of my favorite teachers. She first taught me nearly 10 years ago at the studio where I danced when I was in high school. Now, she owns a studio about 20 minutes from my house (this practically makes us next door neighbors in Toronto). It was really great to get back into it after so long. I’ve been dancing, but theatre dance is very different from traditional ballet.

I noticed something today about the majority of the corrections she gave me. In an ordinary class, the focus is on technique. You work to do things properly, no matter how high your leg goes or how good it looks to the outside. On stage, however, you learn little tricks and cheats to make things look more impressive. You plie (bend your knee, for all you non-bunheads) slightly under your heavily bussled skirt and pop your heel, and your leg lifts a few inches higher. You twist your body just so in your faux corset/bodice thingy, and a side bend looks like a really impressive back bend. These cheats become second nature and start to feel like the real thing (can you see where I’m going with this?)

During class, my teacher pulled me into the mirror (ugh) to see what my leg was doing whenever I went into arabesque (that’s when you stand on one leg, stick your other leg straight out behind you and try to pretend like you’re not in pain).

I decided to use a picture of a male dancer to demonstrate here because a) let’s face it, a lot of female ballerinas are pretty triggering, b) David Hallberg’s got some stellar technique, and c) he’s pretty to look at . . . I know, I know, I’m all about the “judge ye not another’s body lest yer body be judged”, but hey, nobody’s perfect. I should point out that usually the term “arabesque” refers to a standing pose, not a jump, but LOOK HOW PRETTY!!!

Anyhow, back to MY arabesque. My arabesque has never been overly impressive, but I learned that by moving my leg into what another of my ballet teachers calls “secabesque” ( a combo of 2nd position and arabesque AKA diagonally back from my shoulder) and angling my body, I can fake a half decent one. This is, however, not good technique. It’s a cheat. And it has become my normal.

It’s amazing how cheats and tricks have become the norm in so very many areas of my life. I’ve been trying to overcome some of my physical ones in yoga, humbling myself by sacrificing flexibility in favor of proper alignment. In food, I’ve been cheating for years, eating what Michael Pollan calls “food-like substances”: ones that substitute chemical nastiness for calories. I’m also pretty sure my eyelashes aren’t as long and my skin isn’t as clear as my makeup would make it seem. And, if you must know . . . I’m not a natural ginger. Heartbreaking confession, I know.

But apart from these things, how many other things do we all fake in life to make things look prettier? How often do we pretend to like someone we don’t want to be around, just to avoid awkward confrontations? How many times do we say that we’re “fine” when inside we’re silently screaming? Who among us hasn’t typed LOL when, in reality, we’ve barely cracked a smile?

As much as being real is scary and would hurt a lot in the short term, what would the world be like if we could all take each other at face value? I rail against reality often enough for this post to make me a hypocrite, but I’ve learned to accept considering change as a step in the right direction. You gotta start somewhere, right? If you’re interested in thinking about maybe changing with me, who also might someday consider changing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” ~The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

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Food, Glorious Food . . . ?

Obligatory Title Explanation: Food, Glorious Food from the musical Oliver, as performed at the “Hey Mr. Producer” concert

While digging through my underwear drawer this morning, I found something I wasn’t expecting. Get your mind out of the gutter right now. I’d forgotten about this secret stash, safely nestled between the A-cups of bras I don’t quite fit back into yet. (I’m not sure why, when I live alone, I feel the need to hide things, but a girl’s gotta have a little mystery . . . even if it’s only from herself). Ladies and gentlemen (do I have any gentlemen readers? If the “eating disorders” and “musical theatre” tags don’t bring them surfing in, maybe the “underwear drawer” one will . . . ), today I found my secret stash of Splenda.

I’ve mentioned once or twice (maybe more . . . sorry) that I gave up artificial sweeteners in pursuit of understanding “real food”. Forgive me for the repeats, but my brain is just getting back to normal . . . still a little bit in broken record mode. To understand just how big a decision this was, you need to understand just how much of a problem my sweetener use was.

  • I had a secret stash. (first red flag?)
  • I carried at least 10 packets of Splenda with me at all times, just in case Starbucks was out
  • I visited Starbucks at least once a day to *ahem* commandeer enough Splenda to get me through the next day
  • A venti coffee had both sugar-free hazelnut syrup (aspartame) AND 8 packets of Splenda
  • I argued regularly that Splenda was healthy, because it was not made from chemicals, like aspartame and the rest, but chemically altered from sugar
  • My very small bowl of breakfast shit sometimes had up to 30 packets of Splenda on it . . . you gotta do something to make shit taste good
  • Diet Dr. Pepper (aspartame) was considered a staple in my diet
  • I chewed at least a pack (15 pieces) of 5 Flare gum/day (aspartame)
  • Dinner’s bowl of shit was covered in sugar-free ketchup (made from Splenda)
  • Sometimes, for a “snack”, I would eat Splenda and cinnamon mixed together, “Fun Dip” style
  • My tongue had a permanent layer of chemical residue

Even though artificial sweetener isn’t as bad as, say, cocaine, its use has been linked to all kinds of health problems including headaches, depression, cancer, chest pains, anxiety, and there is even something called “Aspartame Disease“, which can mimic fibromyalgia, MS, and Parkinson’s. Not that I cared about any of that. I would have cared, however, had I learned that Splenda actually does have calories . . . they just package it in such small amounts that they can call it “zero calorie”. In reality, 1 cup of the stuff has nearly 100 calories! FML.

Anyhow, I hadn’t gone a day without artificial sweetener in more than 5 years . . . since the first month my last stint in treatment. It wasn’t allowed in our facility, but after the first month I started sneaking it back in. Small scale shit-disturbing, but shit-disturbing nonetheless.

My secret stash, carefully hidden in an empty pack of 5 Flare gum

When I decided this summer that I did NOT want to add another hospitalization to my list, I started allowing my therapist (I need a good code name for her . . . I’ll come up with that later) to add things to my meal plan. Quite frankly, I couldn’t remember how most foods tasted, so I had to trust her completely. (I also didn’t know the calorie content of most non-diet foods, because I point-blank didn’t eat them) Chick peas blew my mind. Quinoa was the best thing ever. Meanwhile, I was still holding onto my 30-calorie-for-100-g sugar-free fat-free yogurt. Mmmmmmmm. Then, I decided to brave Greek yogurt. HOLY FUCK!!!!!!! I had never had anything like it. It actually tasted like, well, something with flavor!

I started thinking back on my life growing up. Milk was always skim. Cheese was always light, and usually came in fat-free plastic-wrapped slices. Peanut butter, popcorn, juice, soda . . . everything was diet, light or “lite”. I didn’t get enough fat in my diet by at least half. While most kids are handed a stick of rhubarb to dip in sugar, my dipping cup was filled with Splenda. I realized I really didn’t know what “real food” tasted like. I made the decision: If I have to gain weight anyways, and will have to eat food to do that, I might as well learn what food is . . . not what Michael Pollan refers to as “food-like substances”.

I figured, as well, if I was going to eat real food, I should stop covering it with artificial flavoring. Nowadays I use honey, agave, maple syrup and the occasional packet of Stevia (low-calorie extract of a plant . . . all natural). Yes, they have calories, but because real food has flavor, it doesn’t need as much sweetener to make it palatable.

I can’t tell you if I feel better on this “real food” meal plan, because pretty much anything feels better than starvation. But food tastes pretty freaking awesome. I couldn’t get over how much better even an apple tasted when my tongue wasn’t numbed out by sweetener.

So now you know the story of my “real food movement” and ban on artificial sweetener. Now I can stop repeating it and I can stop repeating it.

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Filed under Blatherings, History Lessons