Sarah

The following is an inordinately long post, posted out of order (Sarah! on a Friday!).  Please forgive both aberrations.  I wanted to write about this topic next/now, and I didn’t want it to get lost in this past Monday’s wild Columbus Day festivities.  Things will be back to normal this coming Monday (when I will post a sort of second half to this post).  At least, as normal as it gets around here.

Last March my father sent me an email in which he encouraged me to lose weight. “I do not write this lightly,” he said, essentially. “I have been praying about this, and I know that, though you are fit in your own way, even good men might be less attracted to you than they would otherwise be.” And then he asked this question: “Do you want to marry enough to become very trim?”

When I read the email, I cried. He wasn’t wrong, of course. I knew that, arguments about Being Who You Are and Beauty Coming From Within notwithstanding. Enough men have said to me, “You’re the coolest girl I know; I’m just not attracted to you” to know that he was probably right. And he certainly wasn’t being callous. He had never mentioned my weight to me before. Never said anything about my eating or exercise or lifestyle choices or anything. And, in his email too, he offered up his own weight loss resolve: he’d felt the heavens telling him too he needed to lose some weight. About 30 pounds. He’d decided to begin eating a restricted calorie diet and exercising. He suggested a website or two he’d found helpful.

I cried anyway. I hated that this could be true—that it was true. And I felt so embarrassed.

I decided to act in defiance. (Uncharacteristically, I might add. I’m both lazy and prideful enough that I really don’t act unless I believe in the cause I’m behind. Otherwise, why get off the couch? Spiting other people isn’t worth doing squat.)

I pitched an experiment to a fitness trainer friend: Let’s create a perfect Sarah-fitness plan, one that, if I stuck to it perfectly (but reasonably), would have me be at some ideal/target weight in some predefined length of time. Six months. Nine months. Twelve.

Then I’d do it. I’d exercise. I’d lift. I’d do cardio. I’d count calories and avoid dairy or do whatever the plan said and then, at the end of the experiment, I’d look the way I’d look, I’d be the way I’d be, and I’d know, Once and For All (hear the spite there?) whether the only thing standing between me and trimness was me—or whether everyone else was wrong, I was an exception, and I could live my life the way I had been. Which is to say, happy but overweight.

I didn’t stick to the plan. My summer was hard and full of efforts to accomplish some difficult professional goals. I counted calories for a couple of weeks. I lifted for a couple of weeks. I tried to do some cardio. And then, of course, towards the end of the summer, I ran a couple of times a week prepping for the half-marathon. These were all nods to the plan, but they were not the plan itself. Still, my fitness trainer friend hung with me, sending me occasional gchats of encouragement: “How are you doing, Sarah? How’s your eating going?”

Because that, it turned out to be, was the thing. The eating. More specifically, the not eating. The hunger.

My fitness trainer friend told me that she feels like clients need to spend only 30% of their energies focused on exercise, devoting the remaining 70% to eating well. “The thing about eating,” she would say, “is that you can do so much damage in one sitting. Damage you could almost never work off. So watch what you eat, and that’s more than half the battle.”

So, for the past six months, I have been almost continuously hungry.

This is my day. I wake up in the morning, eat some oatmeal at work, eat an apple, a plum, a carrot, some all-natural peanut butter. Just enough of anything to keep me not so hungry that I am driven from my desk to find real food. When it’s time for a meal—a real meal—I try to eat only enough so that I will feel not hungry for about 45 minutes. In fact, that is my goal: to eat little enough that in 30 minutes to an hour, I will feel hungry enough again to have to eat. (To this end, I eat a lot of salad. A lot. I love salad, with parmesan cheese and no dressing. All other food I try to eat in quarter-cup or half-cup increments, with lots of lettuce as filler.  These days, pretty much all of my meals turn into salad.)

You might say—as have others I’ve talked to—that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. That we can eat to be full if we eat the right things. We can feel satisfied AND reach our weight loss goals. And maybe you are right. But that has not been my experience. When I try to eat to be full, everything gets out of whack. I am constantly chasing a moving target. I am using a guide to my eating—a sense of satisfaction—that has, clearly, spent years becoming misguided/misguiding.

I used to think that if I was good long enough, and ate properly for long enough, my sense of satisfaction would change. That it would shift to accommodate the new, proper, healthful amounts of food, so that I could feel satisfied most of the day AND still lose weight. I could have my cake and eat it too.

I no longer think/hope/require that this be true.

Because it turns out, in many, many ways I ask other people to live a little bit hungry. Don’t indulge yourself, I say. Don’t seek complete satisfaction. I say this to people who struggle with hungers for all kinds of things: illicit drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, anger, self-pity, pornography, and for a wide variety of sexual expressions that, because of both my faith and my life experience, I think we’re better off not indulging. Be a little bit hungry, I say. Or a lot hungry. And, if you have to, live your whole life that way. If the miracle of satisfaction you/I pray for doesn’t come in this life.

I’m sorry, I say, but it’s better this way. For you and for the rest of the world.

Sheri Dew once said (I think) that each of us will struggle in this life with at least one physical appetite. It turns out that one of my mine is my actual appetite.

So I wake up every day and I try to contemplate a lifetime of being a little bit hungry. Because it turns out—it turns out—that maybe my dad is right. I think he’s right. It is better this way, both for me and for the rest of the world.

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