While visiting my family in Arizona, Jeremy and I decided to take a little jaunt to Sedona, which is my favorite place in Arizona. Actually it's the only place I like. But I like it an awful lot. And since my parents were happy to watch the kids, whom they only get to see once a year, we got to have the giddy experience of taking a whole day to ourselves.
We started with brunch at Butters Pancakes & Cafe in Scottsdale, which is right around the corner from my grandparents' house and used to be a different breakfast place called The Good Egg, where I'd eat occasionally with my grandfather when I was a teenager. The place looked pretty much the same and I was bemused when Jeremy and I were seated in the exact same place I always sat with my grandfather. The menu was definitely an upgrade, though. I ordered the smoked salmon & cream cheese omelet, along with gluten-free pancakes. And since I wasn't in the mood for potatoes, I asked for grits.
The whole breakfast was delicious (though I was disappointed at the lack of real maple syrup). But the grits were truly outstanding, creamy and buttery and perfectly cooked so they'd have just a bit of bite but not upset your stomach. Probably they were instant grits, but I couldn't tell. I didn't have them with cheese, but I bet they'd be even better.
I spent some time trying to figure out how Butters had flavored their grits so I could make them at home. Then I remembered, Wait, I can't make these at home. I'm not picky when I'm eating at restaurants – I avoid gluten, but I don't worry about cheese, grains, sugar, oils, or where the eggs or meat are sourced. (I bet at least one reader is furrowing her brow right now, wondering why I don't demand that restaurants switch away from vegetable oils and find a humane source for eggs. Well, I decided a long time ago not to fight that battle. If you have the energy for it, have at it.)
At home, though, I am much more careful, and for a while now I haven't prepared grains at home, except the very occasional pasta dish. I have rice or bean chips available for the kids' lunches, and gluten-free bread, but I try very hard not to partake of these foods myself. I've decided that grains are not supportive of my blood sugar and therefore I shouldn't have them. I redoubled my commitment to “Paleo” with the new year, and even though it's been more challenging than ever, I haven't questioned that this is how I should eat.
Then I got into this cookbook and came upon a recipe for slow-cooked grits, along with a discussion of Anson Mills' efforts to restore traditional Southern grains. I dog-eared the page, remembering those amazing grits at Butters, making a note to check out that company, and then had the sinking memory that I don't cook grains at home, grains are bad for me, grains wrecked my digestion, grains contribute to blood sugar imbalance, which might kill me eventually.
That same day, Jeremy flipped through a book of curries that was passed on from his brother, and wondered how we'd gotten away from our once-weekly curry dinner. “Well, because we don't really eat rice anymore,” I said apologetically. “And that riced cauliflower stuff just isn't working.” (I actually love that riced cauliflower stuff, but not with curry.)
“I feel like I could eat rice occasionally...” he said hopefully.
My friend Kathleen has been on the “Paleo” boat with me for a while. She's been working from Loren Cordain's old book, which recommends avoiding fat and using canola oil, so I've been giving her the updated version. We went grocery shopping together last week, and I asked her if she was still doing Paleo now that the holidays are over. She said, “Hell no!” and launched into a description of how she's eating now, which is to say, whatever she wants, whenever she wants. She's done with eating by special rules, she said (as she loaded her cart with delicious-smelling, warm French bread), because she realized that she was using them for a control mechanism. I asked her how she came up with that, and imagine my sheepish surprise when she referenced a book that I'd recommended myself.
Lately I've been asking myself, “How did I get away from that HAES thing? How did I become obsessed with macronutrients again? Why am I hating my body and thinking about my weight all the friggin' time?” And the answer is: when I gained weight. I gained 10-ish pounds along with depression, cold intolerance, fatigue, and dry skin, so it didn't arrive in a vacuum. But that number took on a blinding fluorescent glow in my mind such that I cannot look away. I feel catapulted from “round but proportionate” to “just plain fat.” And all that work I've done at self-acceptance, focusing on concrete markers of health instead of size or weight – it's just tossed out the window.
Friends talk about diets, their new year's commitment to lose weight, and I pretend like I'm not interested while wondering obsessively how I can restrict food within a framework of Health At Every Size – just to get off this ten pounds, you understand, and if another thirty come off at the same time, well, that would not be the worst thing.
Because of my medical history, I'm prone to thyroid disorders, GI sensitivity, and weight disruption. I am, shall we say, “metabolically disadvantaged.” I truly believe that by eating and moving positively, I'll be healthy, despite these tendencies, regardless of what I weigh. But I believe simultaneously that I should be ashamed for how I look, and that it's ridiculous to be “accepting” of a body like this. On my right hand I believe that all bodies are beautiful, and on my left hand I believe I should not leave the house.
I feel pretty frackin' great when I eat the “Paleo” way. But it can be a very rigid, restrictive, rules-driven plan, no less dysfunctional and control-oriented than veganism was for me – and definitely at odds with my purported goal to be “balanced” in my food choices. I want to have my grain-free, sugar-free cake and eat it, too. I want to be relaxed, but it seems like I should be rigid, because the more sugar I have, the more I want it. The more grain-based foods I include in my diet, the more I lean on them for convenience. And the more of both of these that I have, the worse I feel.
There has to be a sweet spot in here somewhere. Right? What do you think?