In her mesmerizing book, Outline, Rachel Cusk writes, “What I knew personally to be true had come to seem unrelated to the process of persuading others. I did not, any longer, want to persuade anyone of anything.”
That line rings true for me more than any other line I have read in a book in many months. It seems that at 38, I am at the stage in my life where I am far more interested in persuading myself of things than I am anyone else.
I started with food.
After a violent attack brought on by food prepared for me and presented to me by others, I persuaded myself to stop the madness. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it in her essay, We Should All be Feminists: “I’ve never thought it made much sense to leave such a crucial thing—the ability to nourish oneself—in the hands of others.” So I decided not to.
Five months ago I made a decision: no more stuff in my belly that makes me feel like garbage. If it’s garbage, it will make me feel like garbage. Life is too short.
I went radical.
I stopped eating wheat and all processed sugar, I eliminated alcohol from my social and relaxation calendar, and I minimized my caffeine intake.
A part of my motivation was to lose the ‘baby weight,’ but truthfully, my two babies (now 13 months and 3 and ¾) did not change my body in ways that I lament or resent. Having children changed my head more than it did my body. I now realize—more than ever before—how very little control I have of my life. Full disclosure: I’m a control freak, A-type, organized, fastidious, however you want to label my deep desire to prepare for life and anticipate its outcomes. Once human lives were added to my daily planning and executing, however, I became alarmingly aware of what a farce control is. I can make lists and check them twice; I can get ahead of problems before they begin, and life will happen as it does: acrimoniously, unexpectedly, organically.
The only thing I can control [somewhat] is how and with what I nourish myself.
In the last five months, I have eaten “food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I have not read Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but I do know that he’s onto something with that frequently repeated and published mantra. Staples of my diet used to be home-baked muffins with a cup of coffee, toast with peanut butter and jam, pasta with a glass of red wine, and of course lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve always eaten ‘healthy,’ and yet I’ve frequently felt rotten. Now staples of my diet include oats, rice, almond butter, green and peppermint tea, ‘spicy water’ as my preschooler calls it, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. And cheese—mmm, lots of yogurt and cheese. Funny that, I used to think I was lactose intolerant, which turns out to be false. I was wheat, sugar, booze, and caffeine intolerant. My gut is so much happier without those.
My immune system is also much happier without those. When I’m not parenting small children or thinking about writing and reading, I work full-time as a high school teacher. Over a 12-year career I’ve come to accept frequent colds and twice-yearly wicked flus as part of the job. I have not been sick once since I eliminated wheat, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine from my diet. Not even a throat tickle or a runny nose. And I’ve made it past Parent/Teacher Interviews, which to me is a sign that this is not a coincidence. It’s the first time in 12 years that I feel healthy, energetic, and in control of my body and how it performs.
This lifestyle also allows me to cope with my children’s 5 AM wakeup call and my tremendous fatigue. My days are full, but they don’t destroy me, like they used to.
Next step: get back to that novel.