In the South, whenever we get together you can bet food’s involved. Whether it’s meeting colleagues after work, social functions, or a night out on the town, any time a handful of friends meet, food is at the center of the affair.
For someone who swore off sugar and processed carbs three years ago, it can be daunting. Not because I’m tempted to go off plan, but because refusing food in Kentucky is a lot like your grandma going to church in nothing but a G-string and heels.
It just ain’t done.
Worse, when I stick with water or munch on a few veggies, people get paranoid around me, like I’m judging them for eating those seven layer bars. And it only gets worse when I try explaining that I’d never judge someone based on what they eat. I know how horrible that feels–for years it happened to me.
I used to worry about offending the host if I didn’t eat what they had prepared. Or I’d go out of my way to try and make people feel comfortable eating when I wasn’t. But this past year it finally hit home that I’m not responsible for the way other people feel. I’m only responsible for me.
Recently, I was at a gathering when a friend said I should “let go and treat myself.” The Scythian Trials had just been named a finalist in the International Book Awards, and we were celebrating. She said that life’s about balance, and just for this one day, I should cut loose, treat myself, and eat whatever I wanted. After all, “you only live once,” right?
I gritted my teeth as I smiled. She just didn’t get it. Three years and one-hundred pounds ago, my hips hurt so badly I often couldn’t sleep. And when I found myself in a group heading toward a flight of stairs, I’d make an excuse to stay behind, like I’d forgotten my purse/phone. “Go ahead,” I’d say, “I’ll be along in a minute.” I didn’t want them to see how I gripped onto the rail because my knees needed help hoisting my weight to the next step. Or how winded I was once I finally made it to the top. And social events? They were the worst. I’d grab a plate, fill it to the brim like everyone expected me to, and then I’d make some cutesy-but-self-deprecating remark that made those around me chuckle, although looking back on it I never understood why I said it or why they laughed.
And now, after three years and countless hours of finding new ways to cook, eat, and exercise, I’ve finally come out from under the weight of other people’s expectations–and I’m not going back. If that makes someone uncomfortable, so be it.
Even if I wanted to eat that cream-filled donut or that cheesy-potato whatever, sure, it might be satisfying at that moment, but then what? After all is said and done and I head home, stuffed full of crap my body doesn’t process well, what’s next? Sitting on the couch, no energy, sugar crash, body hurting, feeling horrible while I try to get my now raging emotions under control?
It’s just not worth it.
Some celebrate by going to an expensive restaurant and having a great meal, followed by a decadent dessert. And if that’s your thing, great! But sugary/processed foods affect me more than most, and so I’ve had to adjust accordingly. I’ve learned it isn’t the food that makes the occasion special–it’s the people. I can have a salad and not feel cheated. And while they have that creme brulee, I’ll have a cup of coffee and enjoy their company.
I now treat myself with pedicures, manicures, a long hot bath after a hard day. Taking the pups on a walk, going to new places, experiencing new things with friends and family–these are my favorite ways to celebrate a day.
This lifestyle change has taught me to look at food in a different light, but I still treat myself with food every day. By making healthier choices, I’m treating myself to not having diabetes, to getting to keep my sight, my kidneys, and my feet. I’m treating myself to no sugar highs and lows; to having a healthy liver, and to keeping my heart strong; to knees that don’t give out any more, or hips that no longer ache; to a stronger body that can run and jump and play; to emotional stability; to laughter; to friendship.
And that’s the best treat of all.