Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My 3 food epiphanies

I'm a medium-sized person (thin enough to be an aerialist but not a model), and a moderately good eater (a vegetarian who loves cheesecake). As you'll surmise, my diet is "pretty good." I know how to lose weight when I need to, but most of the time I work a couple good sins into my daily food intake.

It's easy for me to complain that people think I don't have to work hard to be thin(ish) and in shape. But I think I'm guilty of the same thinking for other people. Sometimes you catch yourself unconsciously assuming that some people are just petite and some are just big boned, and for the most part we just adjust slightly upwards or downwards in our weight bracket.

Fortunately, I've had a few lightning-strike moments in my life where I realized things weren't always what that prescribed. I'd like to share my top three with you.

The first "food epiphany" I remember was just out of college. I was being really dedicated about taking jazz and ballet classes weekly, even though I didn't have a talent for them. Just for my music/theater career I had going on.

I was so disciplined that I even went to class on Valentine's Day that year. I was taking classes at a dance studio with my college ballet teacher. As you can imagine, she was gorgeous. Tall, thin, long legs, blonde hair, blue eyes, and of course, impeccably graceful.

Of course she should be thin. She's a dancer! She exercises hours and hours a day! She no doubt watches what she eats.

My revelation came as we were waiting for the class before ours to finish, standing around in the hallway. "Happy Valentine's Day, ladies!" the teacher smiled. "Are we all gonna go eat some chocolate after this?"

Long pause.

Then she burst out laughing. "HAHAHAHA!! YEAH, RIGHT! Maybe a chocolate Balance Bar!"

I was a bit taken aback, because I'd totally thought getting chocolate after class was a great idea when she'd said it. And that was the difference between size 6 me and size 0 her. I didn't think much of grabbing a sugary treat. She thought the idea of eating one piece of chocolate on Valentine's Day after a workout was preposterous, and assumed the rest of us agreed.

My second food epiphany happened in an airport. I forget exactly where it was-- Newark, maybe-- but the food court options were slim pickings. I fronced my forehead and reluctantly got in line at Subway as my best option.

Eating fast food when I'm not in the mood makes me feel fat. (When I am in the mood, it just makes me feel happy!!) It makes me feel unhealthy and icky. Looking around at the line I was standing in just confirmed that feeling. Everyone in front of and behind me was overweight. They all looked unhealthy. They didn't look like the kind of people you meet in New York (who are also usually the kind of people who think fast food makes them feel fat). They looked like tourists from states where everyone is just big. Probably some of them were, and probably some of them worked in the airport, and this was their best food option, too.

But slowly, as I waited my turn, I noticed something else, too. Every single every person around me, EVERY one, ordered a footlong (large) sub with both meat and cheese, a large soda, and chips or dessert. I ordered a six-inch (small) veggie sub. I don't think I even had cheese on it. I had a bottle of tap water with me, and did not feel I needed a snack on the side.

This was particularly telling, because we all had the same food options available to us. It's not like I could afford better food because I had more money. It's not a matter of who had time to cook. We were all a captive audience in this airport food court, and all in line at the same food stand.

My third epiphany came after a music performance I was in. We all went out for drinks (and eats) afterwards. A good friend of mine from circus class had come to see my performance, and we sat across from each other.

Most of the women (it was an all-female cast) around me were heavy-set. After we had all placed our orders, one of them piped up. "Can I ask, what did you two order?" she asked mischievously, pointing to my aerial friend and I.

"Huh?" I didn't know what she was getting at.

She explained, "They say if you want to lose weight, observe what the skinniest person at the table orders."

"Oh!" I laughed. "Rachel and I aren't skinny because of how we eat. We're athletes. We do aerial silks twice a week, we just burn a lot of calories doing that."

"Uh-huh," the woman said skeptically. "So what did you order?"

And then it hit me. "We're sharing one appetizer." She was right. Everyone else had ordered a full meal.

These three epiphanies are notable because they all involved unconscious, habitual choices. My ballet teacher didn't reject chocolate because she was on a diet, or because she was fighting a craving for it. In her mind, it wasn't even an option. I didn't order a small veggie sub with no extras at Subway because I was being health-conscious; it was my default. My friend and I didn't order less food than our tablemates because we were watching what we ate. Actually, we were probably just being cheap.

The choices made weren't choices. They were defaults. They happened, for better or for worse, without consideration.

I wish there was a button I could push when I ate a kale salad that said "set as default." Alas, it takes a little more effort than that. But less effort than fighting cravings every day for the rest of your life.

Image from Gracefully Saving.

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