It finally happened, the inevitable food poisoning that comes along with being an expat in a foreign country. I’d never had food poisoning before this weekend, and I must say, it’s not a good time. My body rejecting every morsel and liquid that I try to nourish it with has got me thinking about the things I do put into my body on a daily basis. I’ve come to a very important conclusion.
I need to listen to my body more.
Here’s why it’s time for me to tune in and eat up, and how the world we live in is making it hard to do just that.
Hi. My name is Chloe, and I’m a recovering sugar addict.
When I was fat, sugar was my best friend. It was there for me when I couldn’t handle the 24 semester hours I was taking before graduation. It was there for me when I needed to drown my confused mind in a bottle, or six, of Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown, and it was there for me when I needed to hide from the bills begging to be paid with the diminishing $300 in my hungry Wells Fargo account.
Even though I’ve lost all the weight and gotten away from those frequent binges that left me with hangovers worse than those caused by alcohol, my body still reverts back to intense sugar cravings in times of high stress and little bouts of loneliness. As a young, naive gal who has just moved to China with basic at best Mandarin skills, these moments happen weekly.
So what do I do when I miss the comfort of those long nights, on the couch, with my Mom and three dogs, watching Gilmore Girls and stealing sips of her Cafe Zin?
Simple. I eat something small that satisfies my craving at that time. For me, it’s important that I don’t feel deprived or I’ll end up overeating later because those years of bad habits have trained my body to binge when I feel I’m missing out on what I really want. It’s probably going to take some time for my body to readjust to this new Chloe, but I find that if I do give in, and have just a little bit of that Dove chocolate when I’m craving it, I can stop after just one piece. If I wait until I’m in NEED OF SOME CHOCOLATE SO HARD-CORE THAT I COULD JUST BATHE IN IT’S MELTY GOODNESS AND THEN DIE HAPPILY!?! Well. Then I probably wouldn’t be able to stop after just one piece.
Eat a little now so I don’t feel the need to eat a lot later.
Everyone has an opinion on what I should be doing, but my body is unique and tailor-made for me. It knows what it needs, I just need to listen.
I was having a conversation with one of my fitness trainer friends this week who told me that he was annoyed with me for not eating enough protein, and he also told me I should be squatting more. Initially, I agreed with him because he’s smart, and also because protein is important as is working on my Spanish rear. Then, after pondering over his suggestion, I remembered that I squat, lunge, jump, do calf raises, and sprint everyday in this city. I’m no longer that girl he trained only a few months ago. That girl sat at a desk 90% of her day, and was only physically active for maybe an hour or two on most days. I’ve evolved into a someone who is active all day long, and because of that, my eating habits, and my training habits have changed. I used to stress about getting in a workout back in the states because my lifestyle was so hectic that I knew if I missed a workout, I’d probably have to wait until the next day or the day after to get another one in. Here, if I miss a workout, I don’t worry because I know I can do some extra squats in class with my 100 six year old students who have endless bouts of energy to burn off even in the awful humidity that is Wuhan. As for protein, I’ve never been good at getting in protein, but it’s easy to forget that there is protein in all of the leafy greens I’ve been eating, as well as the delicious bean curd I cook in my hotpot, and in the soy milk that I add to my coffee. Plus, I still have extra fat on my body that needs to be burned up anyway. My body knows what it needs. If I’m feigning for an ice cream or a latte, I’m usually running low on calcium. If I’m wanting a hot pot with lots of tofu and crab meat, I probably need some protein. It’s easy to listen to my body when I stop listening to what other people think my body is telling me.
3. Living in a world with excess
In the United States and in China, we are surrounded by too much of everything which makes it hard to want what we already have.
Just a few hours ago, I had the energy to leave the house and decided to find food that I might be able to stomach. Steamed milk was the only thing that sounded appetizing and the only places that sell lattes are, of course, bakeries. I walked into CompaLnion (That “L” is not a typo- just a beautiful representation of the great Chinglish translations that can be found in Wuhan), and after not having eaten in over a day and a half, everything looked good. I ended up buying two packages of some random muffin things, a chocolate bagel thing, and some sort of egg pastry.
Yep. Still human.
I walked back to my apartment like an excited and guilty child who had spent all her milk money on candy. I did get the steamed milk, but, most of the baked goods are sitting uneaten in my fridge because my stomach is still not a fan of digesting solid food.
I am lucky enough live in a world of excess, where food is readily available at all moments of the day. This makes it hard to say no when I’m starving for anything, and it also makes it hard to stick to eating exactly what I planned on. My body was probably craving a latte because fluids are easiest for me to digest right now, and I was probably in need of some calcium to calm my stomach as well as a little bit of protein. And you know what? The milk made me feel better. The two pastries I ate? I think they might’ve made me feel worse.
Sometimes it’s hard putting on blinders in order to listen.
4. The need to show love, fit in, and be loved
This desire is instinctual, as is the will to show love by feeding the people we care about.
But what does this mean in terms of nourishment and listening to my body? Here’s an example. My partner in crime Savan and I were out to dinner not long ago with our friend Ali. Savan is a carnivore from Turkey, Ali is a vegan from the States, and I am an average health foodie who eats and loves everything.
Naturally, an entertaining conversation started over nutrition. It went a little like this:
Ali: (to Savan) You’re going to die early from a heart attack if you keep eating all that bacon.
Savan: At least I’ll die happy. And you need this protein if you want some muscles.
Chloe: I just really like this eggplant thing. But he’s right. You don’t eat enough veggies.
Ali: Careful with vegetables here, they’re covered in chemicals.
Chloe: These mushrooms are good too.
Savan: Am I really going to have a heart attack?
At the end of the meal, there were still six dishes over half full left on the table, and this bothered Ali and I.
Chloe: (to Savan) Are you going to take some of that home?
Savan: No. Why would I do that?
Ali: You can’t just waste all this food!
Savan: That’s exactly why all you Americans are fat.
The smirk on Savan’s skinny face as he made a casual comment on American lifestyle stuck in my mind. I thought back to the Christmas, New Years,Thanksgiving, and Halloween parties I had gone to while on Weight Watchers. People were constantly offering their hearts in the form of a new recipe that I just had to try. When I refused, they’d tell me to eat one bite, or finish that last tiny piece because it wouldn’t ruin my whole progress. It’s the Tuesday before Memorial Day, after all! What I ate didn’t matter on a Tuesday.
Everyone knows that.
There were times when I ate food that I didn’t want simply because I liked the person who had made it, and I wanted to tell them how good I thought their food was. Food is a form of love, and it’s easy to forget that we have plenty of other ways to show how much we care about someone.
The habit of eating for reasons outside of being hungry followed me back to my everyday life where I finished those last two bites just because they were there, and I had formed the habit to mindlessly eat instead of listening to the feeling of fullness arising in my stomach.
This is one of the many reasons I was fat. I don’t have to eat everything all at once. I just have to eat until I’m not hungry any more, and then move on with my life because there will always be more food. Living in China reminds me that I can let go of that cultural expectation, because here, no one seems to be afraid of wasting food. Eat until I don’t need to eat anymore.