I finally retired my microwave. I put it in a big brown box and took it to my neighborhood Goodwill. Iâve been threatening to do it for years. I realized that Iâd been relying on it almost exclusively to prepare most of my food, and that couldnât be good for me.
You see, Iâve been thinking for a while about my body, and how the signs of aging are manifesting. Iâve been struggling with my weight since my return to the US, and my recent graduation into crone-hood seems to have exacerbated those signs. Iâve noticed a decrease in muscle tone, and sagging here and there. One day I was getting dressed and looked in the mirror. The sight of myself triggered a laugh and a memory of an interview of the late Maya Angelou on the now defunct Oprah show. Maya once said about her body,Â âAnd the breasts are very interesting. Â They are in an incredible race to see which will touch my waist first.â As I continued assessing the âdamageâ in the mirror, I lamented that all the traces of the kid who used to get teased and jumped on for being so skinny are long gone.
Yes indeed – Iâve having serious conversations about my relationship with my aging body and how to best care for it now.
Iâve been thinking about the history of my relationship to food. As a child, I was given a solid foundation on how and what to eat, but Iâd fallen off the wagon, especially since knee surgery and retiring from performing full time. You see, when I had to be on stage six nights a week I was always told, âThe day you canât fit into your costumes is the day you donât have a job.âÂ So I monitored, dieted, denied, deflected, denounced, refused any and all foods that I thought would add inches to my waistline. For decades. I worked out six to nine times a week â sometimes pulling two-a-days three times a week. For decades. I rarely ate chips of any kind, and the only pastries that made it to my house were the cream puffs from Crow Lane Bakery (Bermuda).
But that kind of discipline is part of my distant past. Bedtime snacking has evolved into late night performance art. Iâve been thinking about how much I now dislike exercise, which is really inexplicable since one could argue that workouts shouldâve been encoded in my DNA by now. Having knees with thinning cartilage doesnât help. The hard core workouts I used to do are completely out of the question now. Donât get it twisted – I can do everything I did onstage when I was twenty-eight. However, it takes more than a few days to recover!
Iâve been thinking about how the results of all this have manifested in a body size I could never imagined. As I said, I donât look in mirrors much anymore. And I never liked shopping (I knowâ¦weird for a woman) but I truly loathe it now.
After a visit to my doctor three months ago to check my blood pressure (yes, I had to go back on blood pressure meds), and noting a line on my medical chart that classified me as âborderline obeseâ, I decided that enough was enough. I realized that I needed to start somewhere, and that maybe conscious eating was a start.
My cosmology says that there is a spiritual answer for every physical situation. So I prayed for answersâ¦wanting to understand why I preferred takeout to cooking at home, and how all of this got out of control.
Family drama that began at age nine and the resultant trauma somehow allowed me to internalize this twisted, bass-ackwards concept that people only cook when they donât have enough money for take-out or to go to a restaurant. Therefore, cooking reinforced my errant perception that I was poor. Later, I remember overeating when I had the chance, because money and food was occasionally scant. I wanted to make sure my brothers ate, so I would go without, passing those precious meals to them.
As an adult, when access to food was not an issue, Iâve told myself that I didnât really have time to cook. I reasoned that I could either spend ninety minutes most evenings cooking and washing up, or I could order takeout and sit at my computer and make a dent in that gigantic stack of papers I had to grade.
I also became aware that the lack of fun activities and community involvement was feeding my ADDICTION to pastries â specifically cake (ANY EXCEPT fruit cake), donuts (never met one I didnât like), and cookies (snickerdoodles, sugar, chocolate chip, double chocolate chipâ¦). AND, I also realized that pastries especially, have become the antidote for years without a steady, reliable significant other in my life. Literally, the lack of âsweetnessâ in my life has sent me hunting for a substitute, and I found itâ¦at Royal Farms in the Krispy Kreme case!
Cooking for one also has reinforced my sadness about being single, and eating meal after meal alone has only added insult to injury. And the washing up afterwards? I became angry for having to do it.
So, now that I understood how and why, I asked myself, âWhat now?â
A change in mindset was required.
I know that change begins with oneâs consciousness. You have to face yourself and your baggage. I began with stepping on the scale. My heart was racing! Ugh! Didnât like the number that appeared, but I talked myself down. âItâs just a numberâ I said, âand a good place to start.â Then, I did something else that scared me. I took off all my clothes, and I stood in front of a full-length mirror â naked. I cried. Then I dried my tears and took a selfieâ¦after putting some underwear on of courseâ¦just in case my phone fell into the wrong hands. I found a tape measure and took measurements, and wrote them down in my newly designated health journal. I went to Target and bought a new scale that measured not only weight, but body fat, water weight, and the BMI.
I realized that I needed to learn how to cook quick, but scrumptious, taste bud satisfying, healthy meals that would fill my stomach and feed my senses, rather than cooking meals just to save money or feed my emotions after a tough day.
I pulled out all of my old Cooking Light magazines, my old notebook with favorite recipes thatâs been gathering dust for the last nine years at the bottom of the baking rack in the kitchen, and I dusted off a few favorites. Knowing that sweets are the bane of my existence, I ordered the Paleo Dessert cookbook. I started watching a few cooking shows on the Cooking Channel. I began experimenting with recipes and more and more often, instead of counting my pennies and heading to the Chinese takeout, I went home and whipped up something with the groceries Iâd already bought.
(Side note: Iâm still working on the meal planning. Planning meals = structure and advance planning, to which Iâm allergic).
I was feeling good about my new accomplishments, but I still didnât enjoy the process. My answer came one night while I was plating up my smothered chicken (made with low fat, low sodium cream of mushroom soup) and garlic mashed cauliflower with asparagus. Cooking is all about nurturing! Itâs the ultimate act of caring for and nurturing the physical vessel. Cooking for oneself is all about self-love. When Iâm cooking, Iâm loving myself! Why this was such a huge revelation for me when all those adages about cooking with love, food being prepared with love, about love being a necessary ingredient for wholesome food abound, I donât know. But this simple understanding has made all the difference.
I can proudly say that I cook seventy percent of my meals now. Occasionally Iâll make myself a wine spritzer and sip while cooking. And when I do cook, I make enough for several meals and freeze the extras. I brown bag my lunch on eighty percent of the days I work away from home all day. And yes, there is the washing up, but Iâm learning to also consider that a labor of love as well. Iâll bring my tablet into the kitchen and have one of my favorite Britcoms playing in the background while sudsing up.
Iâve downloaded a step tracking program on my phone, upgraded my Planet Fitness membership, and Iâve even discovered some great heart-pumping, fat-burning workouts on YouTube that I can do while seated for those days when my knees donât feel like cooperating. Iâve committed to three CONSISTENT workouts each week with the aim of working my way up to five.
A toaster oven now sits where the microwave once sat. But more importantly, knowing that Iâll have to wait a bit longer for my food to cook has made me more conscious of how I use time. Waiting for my vegetable lasagna to cook gives me time to meditate, lay out clothes for the next event/day, or just savor a glass of water. Waiting allows me the space to be mindful, and I think the food tastes so much better when I anticipate how awesome it will be once it collides with my taste buds.
Do I miss my microwave? Absolutely. Like the time I warmed up some hot (organic turbinado sugar-sweetened) tea on the stovetop and went to answer the phone. Forgot about it until the smell and smoke of burnt sugar swallowed up my house. Donât know why the smoke alarm didnât go off. Thankfully the only casualty was the pan.
All of the above-mentioned practices, along with intermittent fasting (12 hours between my last meal of one day and the first meal of the next day) have moved the scale downward. Iâve lost seven pounds in the last eight weeks, and my clothes are starting to feel a bit looser. I have more stamina on stage, Iâm climbing stairs without getting tired and winded, and Iâm sleeping better and longer. My new role model and hero is Baltimoreâs Ernestine Shepherd, the 82-year-old-body builder who began training in her mid-fifties and still works out and teaches at gyms across Baltimore City!
I’m taking baby steps.
The biggest payoff is the recognition that there are other ways in which I have not been loving and honoring myself. Iâm on the hunt to find and root those out. Because the best gift I can give myself is me, and thatâs the sweetest gift of all!