I am Italian by association and proximity and probably also by my relationship with food. My best friend comes from a hardcore New York Italian-American lineage and therefore, after nearly a decade of friendship and slowly making her family my family, my soul has become Italian and my heart has become a meatball.
Long before I became an Italian, I kind of already had a lot of the attributes. I’m loud and pretty argumentative. I love hard. I gesture a lot with my hands when I talk. I’m sorry these are mostly stereotypes but from what I’ve seen and experienced, they’re pretty accurate. My most nuanced attribute though is my relationship with food. For me food is community, love, entertainment, socialization, reward, comfort, and a pastime. The same can be said for alcohol but I can blame my upbringing for that. I have always and will always have food at the center of my life. I don’t even feel bad for saying that considering the fact that my greatest sense of community and love comes from experiencing food with others.
The best and most luxurious part about my love (obsession?) and connection with food is that I can’t cook it. Growing up my mother cooked but not often and definitely preferred to go out to eat. Many nights she would announce we were having a “whatever night” and my brother and I were left to pick and make whatever we wanted. This meant cereal for me. So as I transitioned into an adult, I had no cooking experience and I still haven’t been interested enough to gain any.
I met my best friend at 18 and given her familial background, she lovingly cooked (delicious but terrible) food for me. Every weekend when we lived in Nashville I would stay with her at her apartment and we would gorge ourselves on sloppy joes, french bread pizzas, hot dogs, steamed broccoli… wait for it… with cheese sauce, and other unspeakable delights. The tricky part about Nashville was that was the long and short of my food experience there (that and big chain restaurants, 3AM eggie sandwiches, and fried cookie dough). It’s not that I didn’t have the opportunity for more food experience, it’s that I didn’t allow myself to have any outside of my time with Allie. The other five days of the week were spent meticulously tracking and eating only 800-1000 calories of junk (snickers bars, easy mac, peanut butter, bagels) a day. More on this later…
One of my earliest negative memories was being 4 and incredibly embarrassed if anyone outside of my dance class saw me in my ballet tights and leotard. I definitely thought I was fat (I have since seen photos from this time and I actually looked malnourished). I don’t know who or what to blame for this mindset (certainly not my mother); maybe it was doing ballet so young, being told to “suck your happy meals in”… Whatever it was, it stuck with me – my whole life – and the reality I’ve come to accept is that it will always stick with me.
Soon, by the age of 8 or 9, my self fulfilling prophecy came to fruition. I went from average to chubby and thus began my plight: yo-yo-ing. I had a terrible pediatrician who was not so gentle about my movement into the 90th percentile. She spoke freely in front of me about how my mother should put me on a diet and take me to a nutritionist and how it was not normal for me to be the size that I was. I already knew all of these things, so having a doctor slap me around with them was pretty overwhelming. These incidents would become frequent. I had a classmate tell me that his mother (who was a nurse) said I was overweight (3rd grade). My grandfather suggested I start drinking diet sprite instead of regular sprite and said it was because I was getting chubby (4th grade). Everyone seemed to have an opinion and it definitely validated my own.
My mother desperately wanted to rescue me from the throes of self-loathing and insecurity. Her incredibly painful experience as a child (not weight related) seemed to be seeping back into her life by way of her daughter. She didn’t want to force me to fix anything but she did want to provide me with the option to fix things I didn’t like. We went to a nutritionist, we followed the rules. Nothing happened. I continued ballet (and was actually pretty good at it). Nothing happened. I played tennis. Nothing. I joined Weight Watchers. I had a small (read: temporary) success with WW but nothing to write home about. When I quit dance, we joined a gym. Nothing happened. My mom began to try less traditional outlets: Chinese medicine with a holistic “doctor”. We journaled my food, nothing seemed to add up. So finally we went to a real doctor and “why”ed me into all sorts of blood work. No thyroid issue was uncovered. They put me on BC (WHY!?). I gained weight. They took me off BC. I kept the weight. By senior year of high school I was approaching 200 lbs and my period started to go rogue. A few months would go by with no period (and no sex life, don’t worry) and then it would sort of come. We went to a special OBGYN with “out of the box” treatments and a program known for weight loss and asked her “WHY!?”. Her ass-hat nurse decided I had to have PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome). Without confirming this (I’m not even sure how doctors confirm this), I was given a script and shooed off. Metformin is traditionally used for people with type II diabetes but in some cases it can help women with PCOS to have a more regular period. And… AND! Most importantly. It could possibly help you shed a few lbs.
Sure enough, despite all of the house parties and cranberry vodkas and cheetos (to soak up the booze and my fat sorrows), by the time I was leaving for college I was down 15 lbs. 15! I was pretty happy about that but knew the weight loss side effect would only be initial and I was on my own for the rest. I hated myself and definitely found comfort in self-loathing comedy about my weight. Oddly enough, it was this open, harsh, somewhat funny approach to my weight and my love of food that helped me click with my soulmate (Allie). She had a similar sense of humor and most definitely loved food the way I did (but it certainly didn’t look like we shared this).
After I moved into my dorm, I decided to surrender to the fact that drugs would ever be the only thing to assist in any meaningful weight loss for me. I ate whatever but “whatever” began to dwindle into nothing. I don’t even know how. I think at first it was an accident, the Metformin made me nauseous most of the time and tore my stomach apart for the first few months of college. I hated the cafeteria food and I didn’t have much spending money so I squirreled away cheap food that could pass as a meal. My clothes started to loosen but I didn’t really notice until I went home for fall break. Everyone was dumbfounded by the change. I hopped on the scale (with some confidence for once) and discovered I was down 40 lbs since the beginning of summer. My clothes barely stayed on my body and everyone was giving me positive feedback. It felt good. It felt foreign. The idiot I wasted my feelings on for 2 and a half years was astonished but also seemed kind of happy about it so I decided I needed to keep it up.
I returned to school wanting to pay more attention to how I was eating and what I was eating to maintain this weird phenomenon. My (ex? recovering?) anorexic roommate showed me a calorie tracking website and told me tricks to adding tons of fiber to your food without tons of calories. I also noticed she weighed herself daily so I began to track my calories obsessively and weighed myself EVERY. DAMN. DAY. Most adult women should be (probably are) groaning at this concept. Women’s weight on a day-to-day basis can fluctuate pretty wildly. In my life I’ve experienced up to a 6 lb difference between days. This is emotionally grating on someone who is desperately trying to be thin. But it worked, so I stuck with it. I ate terrible nothing during the week and binged on anything and everything I wanted on the weekend. After one year and 50 lbs, I moved home. I didn’t like the school and added bonus: I had a new asshole to hang myself up on who lived closer to St. Louis than Nashville.
Allie and I parted geographical ways but stayed in touch and visited each other frequently. She (correctly) hated my new boyfriend but he cooked for me and that’s what I need in a companion. That is love to me (plus I didn’t want to learn to cook for myself). The weight stayed off but my emotions nosedived and so did my relationship. It ended as abruptly as it started and I crashed and burned. I lost another 11 pounds in the weeks after my break up. So single and skinny (skinnier), I set out for attention and someone else to cook for me. I got drunk every night and eventually started to gain some of my trusty weight back.
I’ve found that most periods of my life are defined by either loss of weight or gain of weight. It’s easy for me to pick out a period of my life and know exactly what my weight was doing during that period. Unsurprisingly, most weight changes are marked by some emotional hurdle but there’s no telling if I’ll go down or up or how temporary the down will be (the gain is never short). My most recent loss period was in preparation for my wedding (duh) and the slow gain was marked by the newfound stress of marriage and the lack of urgency. I’m trying to incite a down as I write this. Or rather I’ve been trying to incite a loss but with much difficulty. I’m juggling so many new obstacles and realities that I wasn’t dealing with before.HALP.
It’s important to recognize two things about my marriage. One is that my husband is an incredible cook who never tires of being the only cook in the house. The other is that all of our best and most sensational shared experiences are food related. We fiercely love food. I would even go so far as to say it’s a hobby. We love finding new restaurants to try and eating and drinking things worth discussing. If you’re an out of town guest, you bet your bippy we’ll be eating the whole time.
We both have an intense sense of bonding when we’re enjoying good food so it’s unsurprising that we willingly spend all (most) of our money on good food and wine. Our honeymoon in Croatia was almost entirely dictated by the food we wanted to eat there. We intentionally visited two of the wineries that Anthony Bourdain visited in No Reservations and we have NO regrets. Both wineries required rental cars and the biggest price tags of the trip but I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
This is a Skradin Arancini coated in 24 carat gold flake from the Bibich Winery‘s tasting menu. This is without a doubt the best dish I have ever eaten in my entire life. The risotto is cooked for up to 12 hours so that the decadent and salty local meat completely dissolves. A labor of love.
The harsh transition of me meticulously chronicling my issues with weight to raving about food is a pretty stark example of my struggle. Sitting here, staring at that fried ball of risotto is just making me want to describe every course of this meal. It’s making me hate that I drank a green smoothie for dinner. It’s making me question if it’s worth it to try a strike a balance. To try and sign a symbiotic contract with food.
PCOS may associate with my weight issues but I no longer think I get to use it as a scapegoat. Food moves me but every calorie is a war (thanks, Our Lady Peace). I’m being forced to recognize that my passion is also affecting the size of my bank account. This is a harsh reality I’ve refused to fully own up to until these last few weeks. These weeks where I realized I can no longer ignore my tightening jeans. I can’t keep lying to myself that a workout will make up for a weekend of restaurants and booze.
Sometimes the best part of a relationship is when it begins to shift from a passionate, blind, unyielding feeling to something that is healthy and makes you a better person. The healthy aspects of love and marriage don’t ALWAYS have to be devoid of that passion but it definitely can’t be passion and romance all the time especially not if you want it to be healthy. I hope to better approach my marriage with this thought but also my relationship with food. Food isn’t and cannot always be about the way it makes you feel in the moment but also the way it makes your body feel in the long run. I will never give up going out. I will never stop associating food with love and community and connection. I will strive to apply balance to my relationship with food and to respect my body. To reflect on the aftermath.
Tonight’s food reflection: I have my green smoothie to thank for banging this entry out.
(Green) smoothie recipes are dumb because everyone likes to experiment with a smoothie so I will leave you with my newfound strategy to getting the most out of my green smoothie.
1 cup of liquids – try to avoid anything with more than three ingredients and any added sugars. Juice is the enemy. Probiotics are your friend but only in their purest form. Think plain keifer
1 or 2 tablespoons of seeds – think chia, hemp, flaxseed, etc.
1 or 2 teaspoons of a good gut spice – grated ginger, cinnamon, other anti inflammatory spices
1.5 to 2 cups of greens – be sure to pack the greens in when measuring them. Too much green isn’t really possible. A great alternative to using curly kale, which can be very bitter and difficult to disguise, is baby kale.
Fresh or frozen fruits to help BALANCE out the flavor – you don’t want to go overboard with the fruits, they have a lot of good stuff but they also have a lot of sugar. Berries and citrus fruits tend to be lower in sugar and higher in nutrient benefits.
Try to stay away from bananas (it’s hard because everyone includes them in their recipes).
If you’re okay with a smoothie tasting a little more green than fruity, try using green apples and lemon or lime juice to cut the green flavor without sweetening too much.
Don’t obsess about how much protein is in your smoothie, believe it or not, your almond milk and keifer and seeds are all packed with great protein but if you feel the need to add more, try a non-peanut nut butter (one ingredient or two if you MUST have salt).
I’m looking forward to experimenting with cacao powder and matcha powder in the future.
What are you favorite smoothie recipes? What’s your best booster ingredient?