My name is Theresa Ruth Howard and I am a snacker. I have never really thought it was a problem; I have always been able to keep it under control. For as much as I love to snack I love to eat real food, meals as well. The only draw back to “Real” Meals is that they take time. Real meals involve a process, if you are cooking there is the preparation, if you are dining out there is the deciding what to eat, choosing a place, the Russian Roulette of your server, and then you have to wait for the dish to arrive. I like the mobility and immediacy of the Snack. You can do it anywhere, and because it is a smaller portion the commitment level is almost nil. If you make a poor choice there is always another opportunity in an hour. You can just to try again. With a full meal, you are kind of stuck with it, after all you can’t have two lunches but you can have some pretzels and realize what you really wanted was something sweet and then have a cookie, no harm no foul. That depends of course on what you are snacking on.
I am a junk food junkie, cakes, cookies, ice cream, chips, cheese twists, and what I call ghetto sweets like chicostix and individually wrapped peanut chews. I’m like the Charlie Sheen of snackers. Like a crack head I would make a late night deli run to score. If I said I was going out for milk be sure I was planning to cop. I cannot lie I have not reformed my snacking tendencies, however I have over the last 3 years managed to upgrade my snacking choices. I have replaced the salty fix of potato chips with sunflower seeds or nuts, and although I am still a sugar beast I have made better choices with dried fruit, Clementines or fruit smoothies. But make no mistake I will take a cookie or some chocolate down in a hot second with little guilt. My house is always fully stocked with snackables (and wine).
Two weeks ago I encountered a perfect storm of circumstances that made me take a look at my swinging snacker lifestyle. The results of which revealed something very enlightening and interesting. Let me set it up for you:
I have a lovely little pooch named Chou Chou who like her owner can be a hand full. Since I travel a bit I had cause to find a dog sitter for her when I go away. I found a perfect match in a young French girl who fell so in love with The Chouch that she likes to take her whether I am out of town or not. I have in sense entered in to a dog share of sorts. I call it foster care. Two weeks ago after coming home from Christmas break Diana missed her Petite Chien, so I packed the little bitch off and sent her to Williamsburg. With no dog to walk there is no real need for me to get up early in the morning.
The only other thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is yoga. For the past two years I take class 4-5 times a week. I am (for the most part) there in my front widow side corner with my barrage of balls in various sizes and consistencies to massage out my back and neck. At the start of the class I usually feel quite rickety but after I always feel better. Well of late that had changed. Directly after class I felt better, but when my body cooled I was worse for the wear. My body was killing me. I always have an issue with my hip, and that goes into my lower back, for the past two years Bikram yoga has helped. Since Bikram is a 26 posture series (the same postures) it hits the same parts of the body, the same way repeatedly, which can lead to over stretching certain areas while others, stay tight. Changing it up is a good thing for balance. Since my favorite teacher (and a Studio owner) Adam Roper decided to desert me to go frolic in Mexico, and I had no dog to walk I decided that this would be a perfect time for a much-needed break. One week I thought, when Adam came back so would I.
With Chou Chou and Adam away, I had little reason to be the early riser, and frankly I quite enjoyed waking at 7 by my internal clock and then luxuriating in bed until such time as the spirit or the need to urinate moved me. Those first few days I reveled in my new found freedom quite guilt free. I did notice that my body was feeling better, the tightness that I have been experiencing in my lower back and left hamstring was releasing. I felt confident in my decision. Since my days were no longer punctuated by dog walks, or yoga I could tackle tasks to completion before having to teach. I could devote my time to working on the blog, or getting writing done. That was when the snacking frenzy took hold.
Sitting in front of the computer writing for me breeds the urge to snack. When I pause to contemplate the next phrase, transition or paragraph, it helps if I stretch my legs, oddly I seem to always find myself either in front of the fridge or the snack shelf, yes I have a snack shelf that houses a cornucopia of options. It might start with some almonds, then some dried cherries, next crunchy might be in order so I pull out some chips with guacamole. A while later a taste for something sweet might arise so a sliver of Trader Joe’s raspberry tart is what the doctor ordered (oh it’s so delish- so good that I tried freezing it to avoid eating it all only to discover that it was even better cold!) When I didn’t have a taste for anything in particular I would go to the default, the CVS sunflower seeds in the shell. Let me tell you something I am a connoisseur of sunflower seeds, and these have the perfect balance of salt, roasting and crunch. I buy 5 and 6 bags at a time wanting never to run out, because they are not always in stock. By the end of the workweek I realized that I had not had one full meal, or anything green besides guacamole. I had snacked my way through 5 whole days! Olives (2 varieties peppered mixed and black), sun dried tomato hummus on baguette, a variety of cheeses on crackers, oriental rice mix, popcorn and pretzels, a friend had also donated a block of Swiss chocolate.
I was on a snack binge. It was snacking like I had smoked the world’s most powerful pot and had the munchies 24 hours a day. My sleep was fitful and erratic. Sometimes unable to sleep I would pad to the kitchen to get “water” and end up on the couch, snack in hand watching re-runs of any version of the Housewives franchise only to drift off. I’d awake hours later crumbs down my front and a paid advertisement for some exercise contraption mocking me on the television. My house had become not a crack house but a snack house. I was strung out. One evening too lazy to make a smoothie (mixed frozen fruit, Açai frozen smoothie mix, yogurt, 1/2 banana, maple syrup, soy milk and a dollop of peanut butter) I tried to eat the Açai smoothie pack like a Popsicle. I needed help.
I hadn’t had a full meal since my weekly Sunday brunch with my friend April. The closest I came to having a true meal was Potstickers. That Friday feeling like I had to reel myself in, I made quinoa and cabbage, with marinated Tofu. I thought it might break the spell. It only served to break up the monotony of the evening snacking shift. Saturday morning arrived and I was looking forward to my Saturday morning food ritual – an everything bagel toasted with fried egg, a slice of turkey, and Muenster cheese –salt pepper and ketchup. It was divine. I suppose that my body was craving some sort of balance or just cooked food period. Even this could not quell the beast, but like any addict I had to hit rock bottom, and I was far from it. What could have stopped me was if I had blown up like Eddie Murphy in the Nutty Professor, but a week of no exercise or real food had not wrought too much damage. I was pleased that my body didn’t hurt as much, but I could tell that I was a bit fluffy. I could feel my ass behind me. I attributed this to bloatation after all I had consumed a Dead Sea amount of salt, but I was ok with it because I was enjoying my life as a snacking sloth. What was* bothering me was that I was not sleeping well and emotionally I was not emotionally feeling great.
No matter how much I love to complain about my Chouch, and what a pain in the butt she is I have to admit her company helps my head. Our morning walks are a meditation for me, I dialogue with myself about whatever is of concern, and I clear the air in my head and spirit and ready myself for the day. In the evening it is my wind down. On my way home after work, tired and wanting only to collapse on the couch with a snack I begrudge having to go back out to walk her. Invariably half way through our promenade, I feel the stress of the day falling away, so that when we come in, and I can relax that first evenings snack can savored and fully appreciated.
I had every intention of returning to yoga the next week when Adam returned and Facebook him as much but somehow my body overruled me and when Tuesday rolled around I had no inclination of trading the stone wheat cracker with a schemer of goat cheese and a bit of smoked salmon for a yoga mat. Thus began week two of insatiable snacking. This time I went with it. I got into how often could I snack? I think I was eating 24 times a day, which would mean once on hour (if I didn’t sleep, so I was clearly doubling up). Week two was a frenzy of what my friend April calls “Mermaid Meals” after the movie starring Winona Ryder and Cher who as a mother only feeds her children hor dourves. Mid second week I started to not feel good. I was not sick, I was not unwell I just didn’t feel good. The puffiness that I had noticed in the first week hadn’t increased as much as it felt like it might be settling in. I was still not sleeping and my middle of the night snack fests were starting to wear on me. I needed a good nights sleep and maybe a salad. I needed some peace. It was time for rehab, I think I had hit rock bottom. I was ready to surrender. I was considering a self-imposed intervention.
This past Sunday I forced myself to go to my regular 10 o’clock yoga class. Frankly I thought I might be in denial about my “lack” of weight gain, so I was fearful of facing myself in the mirror. The truth is I had little to be to be concerned about, where I did not look the same given the fact that I had been inert with a treat in my hand the “gain” was acceptable. I didn’t look like I had snacked my way through half of a month. Instead of feeling bad about the fact that I had been delinquent and therefore was now plump I decided to embrace it. I had fun while I was eating and now could choose to enjoy getting back into myself. It most revelatory thing I discovered about my time in “the wild” was that I exercise to keep myself looking a certain way, seldom do I think of the health benefits of what I am doing. I fear missing too may classes because I think I’m going to plump up like a Ball Park Frank, not because I my heart won’t be healthy. It’s vanity plain and simple, and if I didn’t have to exercise to look a certain way I most certainly would not do it. What I discovered is that I where I took for granted that spiritually and emotionally I felt balanced when exercise daily I saw those things as the inconspicuous benefits- the obvious one was that I could look good in leggings. It sounds a bit twisted, and it is, but I am certain that I am not alone.
My mental health, and physical health were secondary to my appearance. Even though I am a former dancer I am in fact lazy and I hate exercising. As a child I never did, I danced, but this was not exercise for me. Now I do it because I am, and have always worried about, and trying to control the way that I look. I never thought about exercise actually improving the quality of my life beyond keeping me bikini ready. I have learned that if I do not exercise and feed my body well I will feel like crap, and emotionally I will probably be a mess. I had forgotten that before starting Bikram I suffered from insomnia (how short are our memories for certain things once they are gone) in the two years that I have been practicing sleeping is no longer effortful.
Likewise my dog has improved the quality of my life with her companionship, her devotion and her dependence on me. I have to show up for her and as much as it may irritate me at times deep down I am happy, even honored to do so. I miss her (not enough to take her back just yet but enough to admit that she is missed) Exercising – Bikram has made my life better, it clears my head, de-stresses me, empowers me, if I can knock a Bikram class out without blinking what can’t I do? I have gained a perspective and respect for the holistic benefits of exercise in a way I had never had before. I think now I can be less begrudging about having to do it, which for me says a lot. It’s better than taking medication – instead of a pill to make be feel better emotionally and physically I take yoga.
I was so moved by my discovery that I have decided to see what walking the straight and narrow might bring. I am back on the yoga track, I am thinking that I will try to eat 2 salads and 3 pieces of fruit a day- I am not saying that there will be no snacking but I can say that the fruit will count as 3 snack servings!! I’ll let you know what happens.