February 19, 2011


For the past few weeks, a small group of students from one of my classes has been asking if I would go with them to go see a French movie that would be playing at the art cinema downtown. These are some of my best students to begin with, and add in the fact that they're seeking out culture outside of my requirements? This is a dream! I told them no, then maybe, then no, then we'll see. Back and forth for weeks. Finally, the movie showed last night. As they were leaving class in the morning, several kids said "Bon week-end! See you at 6, Mademoiselle!" - to which I just smiled and waved. Because even yesterday morning, I wasn't sure what I would do. an old classroom of mine - the one now has no windows. i like it better without windows!The thought of going to the movies with some of my students wasn't what bothered me - it was the thought of going out at all.

After hours of intense worry and nervous nail biting, I made a decision. I did not accompany my students to the film center, but rather, I spent the evening doing dishes and playing online Scrabble - some of the same solitary activities that completely made up my life a few months ago. I'm ashamed, and I'm already dreading their reactions on Tuesday. It's not that I didn't want to go, but that I felt physically unable to. Something was holding me back. The thought of going made my stomach turn and filled me with anxiety.

I'm in a really bad funk right now. It's strange because I'm still eating well and exercising, but it feels like my emotional progress is relapsing. My social anxieties are creeping back - I was honestly shaking on the bus yesterday afternoon while thinking about going downtown for the movie, and I've already tried talking myself out of going to the zoo today. It's a free zoo, in a great city, on what looks like it will be a lovely day. So why am I stalling?

This past week was extra tough for a couple of reasons. First, because of my father's health situation and how closely related my body and self-image issues are to my relationship with my family. lighting candles at notre dame de paris, around 320 poundsIf I go home now to see my dad, I'm already almost 25 pounds lighter than I was the last time he saw me, and since it was him trying to emulate my "plan" that may have contributed to his current state, I know I would feel extra guilty.

And second, because over the past week or so, my best friend Jill and I have spent an awful lot of time reminiscing over old photos of our trip to Paris in March 2008, and I can't help but get very sad when looking at those pictures. Or any pictures of myself, my friends, and my family, to be honest. The last time I got in a funk like this was right before my birthday in November (remember when I broke down crying in the middle of an Apple store?), so I think it may again have something to do with physical body transitioning. My figure is constantly changing but I don't usually notice, so every now and then it catches up to me and I have a hard time recognizing myself. I only feel like the same person when I close my eyes and relax my limbs so that I cannot connect my emotional feelings to my physical ones. I look at these old pictures, and I don't recognize that girl anymore - yet I am not quite sure who the girl in the mirror is, either. I'm not with my friends, I'm not with my family, and I'm somehow not even with myself. i absolutely love this shirtThis is a really scary kind of loneliness, and I'm not quite sure what it will take to get me out of it.

I'm sure the feelings brought on by the latter reason are a little exaggerated because of those related to the former one, but still, these are concerns of mine in the back of my head right now. In the front of my mind, though, I know what I need to do. I cannot stop. I cannot backpedal. I can't let situational depression win. I can't revert to what used to be familiar just because I'm horribly lonely right now and aching to feel connected to my family and friends.

Even though braving the zoo feels incredibly difficult right now, I know it's exactly what I need. I think need to treat this little trip like a long run: yes, it's going to be tough. Yes, I'm going to want to dig in my heels and mentally resist a little. But I need to understand that it will be satisfying - crank up the tunes and just power through it if I must. I need to trust that afterwards I will feel refreshed and glad that I did it.

Accountability check: tomorrow, with my weekly recipe, there *will* be zoo pictures on this blog. That is a promise!

February 18, 2011

Roses and thorns

I give every day the very best that I can. Most days, that means all that I have in me - and even then, I try to push myself a little more. But every now and then, "all that I can give" doesn't equal out to very much at all, at least not comparatively. This was one of those weeks - it started rough but ended relatively well. Some days I couldn't give everything I have, but I gave all I could, and that is what matters.

This morning, the scale has me at 236, another three pound loss. I'm feeling neutral, but not about the numbers. My workouts were good but not great (skipped my long 3.75mi run, messed up my medium 2.5mi run, but nailed my short 2mi run), and my eating was fine (with the exception of Monday). My biggest personal concern at the moment is that emotionally, I've had some setbacks. My goal for this weekend is to decompress a little and do some serious soul-searching. Between anxiety about my father's situation, grief about my binge, and guilt about both, I need to step back a little and make a plan for how to deal with these situations without turning to food. i am so ready for fresh berriesI feel like Monday was just an exceptional low, because most days, a binge doesn't appeal to me. But in case things get really bad again, I need to be prepared.

I'm thinking a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo might be in order for this weekend. Walk around, take it all in, and maybe bring my notebook and do some actual writing. The weather's supposed to be lovely today and tomorrow - 48ºF might not sound like much, but after the very low negatives of last week, this is a much-deserved heat wave! (Aside: we also got a fourth sprout in our office strawberry plant!) There are almost no more visual reminders of the blizzard, and even though the grass is soggy no matter where you go, at least it's a little green and not entirely white and shades of dirty grey. The winter weather has never really affected me before, but it's hitting me pretty hard this year - I think the difference is because this year I actually go out and live a little. It's easy to not be affected one way or another by the weather when you never leave your couch and your view never changes.

February 17, 2011

Three seedlings

Last night I had a great conversation with a young man I know, someone I hope to write about in more detail when the time is appropriate, and it really cheered me up a lot. I haven't really told any of my friends about what's been going on with my father, and keeping it all inside was a major contributor to Monday's binge. So it felt really good to talk to someone, to feel a little unburdened and a little less alone. I love writing blog posts, but sometimes the immediate feedback of real conversation is precisely what you need.

My father's condition is stable enough that he's received travel clearance, so tonight my parents are flying from West Palm Beach back to Connecticut. From there they'll head directly to the hospital, and then we'll see what happens. More waiting, and we need to be okay with that for now.

My mom called me last night to update me on the situation and more than anything, one of her biggest concerns is my father's attitude. He was told by his doctors after his first heart attack (in 2006) that he needed to eat better and be as active as he could. He chose not to listen. bonfire, summer 2008. considerably better then.And now, after having another heart attack, he's getting the same advice, and because of his kidney concerns, now the dietary plan is even stricter. He was given a list of preferable foods, as well as descriptions of what appropriate portion sizes are. And my mom said he got very short with her, saying he was going to follow his own plan, to heck with what the doctors say because what do they know.

Again, I feel guilty - this time, because my mom told me that my dad said "Mary lost over a hundred pounds, I'm going to do it, too." I absolutely should not feel guilty - he is following what he assumes to be "my plan," when in fact, he's never actually asked me what I've been doing - he's always only wanted to know the numbers on the scale. I have hoped that my family would be inspired by my progress, but this isn't what I meant - I want them to eat healthy and be active, but in a way that is appropriate and sustainable for them. So much of my success is based on knowing what my limits are and maintaining a balance with all of it - I don't cut out any food groups entirely, I exercise like a fiend, I drink tons of water, and I take a multivitamin. Also in my favor: I'm not diabetic, I can feel my hands and legs, and I haven't had a single heart attack, let alone two. My plan works for me, but my father's plan will need to be adapted to his specific circumstances - and while it is okay to feel sad or upset, I cannot feel guilty for his decisions.

In semi-related news, I bought a small strawberry seed plant kit last week. You add water to the soil pellet to rehydrate it, then add the seeds and let nature do what it does best. Yesterday morning, I noticed the first three little seedlings popping out from the soil. It's not much, but it feels like a good sign from the universe. Spring, fresh life, new beginnings ... it's right around the corner.

February 16, 2011

The waiting game

I sat at my desk for nearly an hour and could not bring myself to type a single word. I have so many things to say, but for some reason, the act of writing them out was making me anxious. pre-bawlingTo be honest, I think I didn't want to write them, because that would make them true. (A recurring theme, I guess, if you'll stick with me for a moment.)

So, I recorded a video blog. And I rambled. And cried a little, then a lot. And talked about my thumbs and how I get rough cuticles when I'm stressed. And wore dizzying horizontal stripes. Nearly eleven minutes later, I finally stopped recording. I'll spare you the video (you're welcome), but I'm keeping it for myself. I'll want to look back on this someday, maybe.

My mom called me last night and updated me on my dad's condition. He had another mild heart attack, brought on by his recent stress. His legs have an infection and while amputation is definitely the last resort, the word has been tossed around and is not completely off the table. The worst thing right now, though, is that his kidneys seem to be failing, and at this point, moving him would put him into shock and his body would shut down.

Right now, this is all a waiting game. We're still waiting for details about my dad's condition - specifically, waiting to see if it gets stable enough that he can be brought back home. My mom needs to work in order to pay her bills - she's totally broke, I gave her all of my tax return money so she could fly down and get around down there - so she can't stay in Florida for too long, she needs to get back to work. But if my dad might not be able to be moved, what happens next? He's already depressed, but now, being down there alone, and with failing health? hammo beach, 2008 maybe?This cannot be good. My mom and his doctors are urging him to write things down - his list of medications, the locations of his important documents, and a will. My father flat-out refused, saying that having a will means that he's going to die. It makes it real.

I'm really overwhelmed with guilt right now, and have been since Sunday afternoon when I first found out my dad was sick. Every time something happens and he ends up in the hospital, I feel guilty. Guilty for taking so many moments for granted. Guilty for moving halfway across the country and pursuing my education and career instead of staying home and taking care of everyone. And guilty for getting to be 345 pounds and not sticking with any of my weight loss plans, because now it might be too late. My first thought is always: I screwed up. I waited too long, and I couldn't get to where I needed to be in time, and now my dad won't be at my wedding. He won't ever meet my husband. He won't ever meet his grandkids.

I blame myself, even though I know that isn't right. My dad has been burning the other end of the candle too - he's the one who had a heart attack and still continued to eat like garbage and not follow the doctor's exercise orders. But the thing is, when he's gone, I'll still be here, and I'll be left with my feelings of guilt and devastation.

I am fighting every self-harming instinct with everything I have. I ate well yesterday - very well, in fact - and I went to the gym for a run and a bike ride. But the memory of how it feels to get high from binge eating keeps creeping to the front of my mind. Especially after Monday's slip, I'm very aware of the fact that it's not a desire that I want to act on ... but it's still there, taunting me. I want to feel safe. I want to forget all about what's going on. I want the comfortable familiarity that comes with being home - and for me, that's almost entirely a food-related feeling.

February 15, 2011


Sunday afternoon, I was on the bus headed to the gym to go for my long run when I felt my phone vibrating. It was my cousin Sarah.
"Hey, Mary ... my dad's trying to get a hold of you ... your dad is in the hospital...
Sitting all the way in the back of the bus, I called my uncle and tried to stay as calm as possible, hoping no one would see the tears welling up in my eyes.
"... in the hospital ... serious leg infections ... amputation ... maybe had another heart attack ... in his blood ... not sure if it was self-inflicted ... he's been having a hard time lately, with losing Nana and Edy and Papa, and fighting with your mom ... talked to the nurses ... he was saying, you know, my kids, my kids..."
The bus is nearly empty, and I'm the only one in the way back. And I'm absolutely bawling at this point. I thank my uncle for the information, get off the bus as soon as possible, and cross the street to catch the bus heading back home. I called Sarah back and asked if I could come over to her place while I made phone calls and got everything figured out.

The story continues, but at this point, I'm going to let you know that my father did not attempt suicide. He did not have another heart attack, and his legs are not being amputated. You should also know that the uncle I spoke to is a total jerk and we're not sure why he would have suggested that as a possibility if he wasn't one hundred percent sure that was what had happened. We're also not one hundred percent sure why my father would have the nurses call one of his brothers and not his immediate family - he is the kind of guy who does not want to cause worry or be a burden to anyone, but still, this is the kind of situation where you need to put all that aside and let your family worry a little bit.

My mom flew down there yesterday and is taking care of the situation now - when she called to check in, she said my dad was glad to see her and that he seemed fine, that his sugar levels and heart rate were under control and his legs are no worse than we knew they were when he left Connecticut. not going to say it, just going to think it.While in Florida taking care of closing down and selling my grandfather's winter home, my father has been trying to be active and eat better. In doing so, however, he has overexerted and undernourished himself - which I had warned him about repeatedly, both before leaving and during every single phone call I've made to check in with him (of which there have been dozens). An imbalance with his blood sugar that he could not seem to regulate was what lead him to call 911, and their reaction to his leg wounds was one of surprise only because they are not his regular doctors and did not yet know his medical history.

I'm glad I am writing about this now and not Sunday night as it all unfolded, because I'm a bit calmer and more level-headed now. Sunday and Monday, I was overwhelmed - the frustration of dealing with my uncle misinforming us mixed with my usual feeling of helplessness from being hundreds of miles away while everyone else gets to be together and take care of one another. I needed to feel control, I needed to feel comfortable ... and so, on Monday, for the first time in over six months ... I binged. And I feel really terrible about it.

I have been so strong, I've found other ways to deal with my anxieties, and I really thought I was over the worst of this. And in a way, I suppose, I am. It was familiar, but somehow not like the binges of my past - I didn't order takeout or make a special trip to the grocery store to get whatever I wanted. I just couldn't stop snacking on things I had in the house - it started with strawberries, a mango, and half a cucumber, then my lunchbox snacks: mini Luna bars, a snack pack of Teddy Grahams, a single-serve container of peanut butter. believe itI skipped the gym and ate about 1000 calories more than I planned to for the day.

There are days when I eat more than others, but those I would not consider binges - that's "just" overeating. For me, the difference between overeating and a binge is my intention. When I eat more than I plan to, I'm usually just a little hungrier that day, and it's not a big deal. With a binge, I'm not eating out of hunger - it's boredom, or stress, or frustration. I'm looking to feel something that isn't my emotional pain, and so I seek the physical feeling of fullness or sores in my mouth. I want the calories to make me sleepy so I can pass out and forget about what's happening. I wanted it, but it didn't happen this time - I stopped myself before it got to that point. 1000 extra calories is just barely over my TDEE for the day - but still, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd wake up weighing 345 pounds, that I'd have to wear my size 28 work pants, that this has all been a dream and I'm just as bad off as I was in August. That I really can't do this.

Today is a new day for all of us. My mom and dad are together in Florida, awaiting news from the doctors in the ICU about what he can do next, and planning what happens now - in terms of his health, and their relationship. I'm resetting my binge-free count at zero, having my yogurt for breakfast, and thinking about how to move forward from here. I have my gym bag ready to go run after work today. I woke up and could still feel my collarbones and put on my size 16 jeans. I have not failed. I can do this. I am doing it.

February 14, 2011

WWW: Week Seven

My picture for the week:

to mary - thank you
I just found this in a drawer in my desk: a drawing my brother made me of the two of us. His artwork always makes me smile.

What have you done this past week to help you achieve your goals?
(2) I did not do my long run (3.75 miles) yesterday because I had a big family issue come up - I'll talk about it tomorrow, and I'll run today. Problem solved.
(3) Symposium proposal submitted! Even if we don't get accepted to present, I'll likely still attend for my own knowledge ... and networking.
(4) My students took an exam on Friday; I've only finished grading half, but I'm amazed at how many A's there are! Well, not amazed, per se - they did a great job with the material, especially considering we lost a day of class to the blizzard. But I'm very, very pleased!
(5) I tried oysters, which I will count for #75 (Try 2 new fish).
(7) I bought three new shirts and a new pair of jeans - size 16! I cried a little, to be honest - they looked so small, but then I put them on, buttoned, and just stood there crying. Me! A girl in size 16 jeans! Totally exciting.
(9) I wore makeup to work this week - nothing too fancy or excessive, just a little eyeliner. But I liked it and it made me feel very pretty.

What goal are you doing best on? Try to talk about the goals you still have left, address whether you've completed some, but focus on ones you still have to complete.
I try to work a little on each goal every week, but some things I tend to do more than others. I haven't visited any museums on their free days and I have not yet been to the opera - so I've got to get on that! Maybe I'll head to the Field Museum today - they're free the second Monday of every month.

What goal do you have to push yourself a little more to complete? What is your plan to do so?
Though it may seem a bit backwards, I think the hardest goals for me to complete are making art and doing something to feel gorgeous. It's easy for me to choose to go for a run these days, or to try something new to eat, or to be the best teacher I can be. But to put aside a little time and focus on me and my creative output? It can be tough!

We've talked about who pushes us to do better with our goals – is there anyone/thing that hinders you?
I'm the one who pushes me to do better, but I'm also the one who gets in my way sometimes. When others are introduced into my routines, I struggle a bit, but it's almost always a temporary state - being around family at the holidays was tough, but I survived and got right back into my habits and patterns. But I'm a responsible adult who lives alone, so every decision is my own - from what I buy at the grocery store, to if/when/how long I go to the gym. Whether you've lost one pound or one hundred, sometimes doing the right thing is still tough.

Happy Valentine's Day! Do you have any special plans for the day? It's okay if you think it's a Hallmark holiday that you wish to boycott!
Relaxing, and possibly going to the Field Museum if I can motivate myself!

February 13, 2011

Consider the oyster

I love cooking, and one of my non-numeric long-term goals is to find a way to incorporate cooking and eating well with weight maintenance - specifically, I want to get away from my binge eating past where eating something I liked meant eating a ton of it very quickly. the art of eatingI have been learning about portions and focusing on textures and flavors over quantities, and so far I have done well. I have really wanted seafood lately, so for this week's recipe, I turned to the giant tome next to my bed: an anthology of M. F. K. Fisher's works, including a book called "Consider the Oyster." M. F. K. Fisher was a food writer and all-around brilliant lady whose passion for food and love for life inspire me.
"When I write of hunger, I am really writing abut love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it, and it is all one."
I grew up on the Connecticut shoreline, so something I have had a hard time adjusting to in Chicago is the lack of fresh seafood. I'd never even heard of tilapia before coming here, and it's essentially all you can get (besides shrimp) without going to a specialty store. There's a market that I pass when I take the El downtown that has a large banner out front advertising lobster tails for nearly $30 a pound, and that amazes me. Back home, lobsters were $3 a pound all summer long - and they weren't just tails, they were whole and at least five pounds each.

Growing up, I'm not sure we ever even bought fish. My dad would spend a day every summer with a few friends on a chartered boat catching striped bass, and the captain would clean and filet the fish right on the boat. We'd have enough fish to last through the winter, and it was unbelievably delicious. Tilapia, on the other hand, is bland. It looks like fish, but it sure doesn't taste like it - maybe it's because I've been so spoiled, but I think I might be able to taste all the traveling it had to do to wind up in these grocery cases.

Yesterday, in search of some higher quality fish, I went to Whole Foods, and left with five shrimp, five scallops, and four oysters. The fate of the shrimp and scallops has yet to be decided, but the oysters I prepared à la M. F. K. Fisher, a recipe simply but aptly titled "Oysters and Onions." Oysters are supposedly a romantic Valentine's Day food, but since I'm unattached, I got to enjoy mine with onions and no fear of offending anyone with my breath.
Slice enough small white onions to cover half an inch in depth the bottom of a skillet; pour half a pint of oyster juice over all and let simmer until onions become transparent. Add pepper and salt and a tablespoonful of butter; cook until butter melts. Spread over onion base a solid blanket of blue point oysters ... about forty ... and cook with lid off for five minutes. Place lid on and cook until oysters begin to scallop. Serve on toast with pancake turner, so as not to disarrange the layer ... No duck hunter who pretends to be half a man can face the crack of gray dawn better equipped.
The ellipses are her own, and I love them - she often inserts anecdotes and asides in her stories. Her book "How to Cook a Wolf" was written during World War I but revised and republished during World War II, and the new edition is absolutely full of notes, to the point where the text is double it's original length. Her personality is so wonderful, though, so I don't mind the updates and changes in the least.

Since I had four oysters and not forty, I used a small pan with fewer onions and less butter. But it was just as delicious. I also bought one French roll and broiled it to stand in for the toast. It was the first time I'd had oysters, and I liked them - I still prefer mussels, I think, but this was fun to try! I forgot to take a picture, but I don't think that's too bad today - both the recipe and the presentation were so simple, I'm sure you could picture it yourself if you wanted to.

What about you? Are you cooking up anything special for Valentine's Day?