An Apology to My Body

As one who has been on the metaphoric battlefield for most of my life, I harbor a significant amount of scars, and I’m not referring to the stretch marks which were embedded at age 11. I’m talking about the intangible remnants in the wake of school bullies, disapproving and disappointed parents, food scarcity from forced dieting, emotional demons, and the ensuing result of all of the above: excess weight. This physical symptom of my emotionally turbulent life has caused much scorn to be heaped upon my body. From me, those close to me, total strangers, and the ever-looming, constantly leering dieting industry with its amoral empty promises and a litany of insidious ways to practice self-hatred.

Many of you know my weight-release journey began from within. There are plenty of past blog posts, as well as my books which attest to this. I dropped a significant amount of weight more than 11 years ago, the end result of healing my inner wounds. It was an exhilarating time of freedom and discovery. What I didn’t know until recently was, there’s more to be healed. Significantly more. But that’s life and I’m not upset by this news. On the contrary, if there are more layers of the healing onion to be stripped away, let ’em rip. Still, I was shocked when I got the revelation – straight from the source: my body, who it turns out, knows more than I ever imagined. It is ever attendant to what is, and ever the receptacle for what has been, including trauma. Including every unkind word and thought I’ve sent it: Thoughts of the self-loathing variety which, culturally, were not only accepted 20+ years ago but encouraged. Growing up, I routinely heard adult women berate themselves for enjoying food, or for not having a body that fit the standards of acceptability. If you couldn’t be a good girl and look the part, you could at least redeem yourself with regular self-flagellation. Sound familiar? If it is, my deep sympathies to you and your amazing body. As one who had no fear of self-inquiry, I was well aware of the toxic dynamic women and young girls are subjected to. But I thought I’d eradicated the damage with years of positive affirmations, self-help books, and therapy. I made progress, to be sure, but discovered there’s more road to hoe. And the thing about our own personal onion is, we have no knowledge there’s another layer to be peeled until the moment it reveals itself.

My latest revelation came after some unignorable messages from my body in the form of pain, fatigue, weight gain, and low-energy. Eventually, blood tests revealed autoimmune irregularities. I’m treating the physical symptoms with medication and nutrition, but in my gut, I knew more needed to be done. So I underwent four hypnosis sessions to dig deeper. The answers, as always, lay in the underappreciated splendor of the body. It wasn’t just trying to get my attention, it was screaming for it and it was time, I finally realized, to give it the time and respect it deserved. Sitting down with pen and paper, I asked for answers, promising to both listen and follow through with whatever might be requested of me. What had my body been wanting to convey to me with the symptoms of pain and fatigue? There’s always an emotional corollary to disease and I wanted to uncover mine. The answers flowed, as if my body had been waiting eagerly for the dialog. I’m sharing the exchange because I encourage you to undergo a similar dialog with your best friend and closest ally. And even if you’re not on great terms now, making the time to really listen, followed by a resolve to make reparations is a fantastic beginning. Here’s to diving in, making amends, and knowing you are not alone.

What follows if my body’s response to me:

“I cannot carry it anymore. The pain of betrayal. You have betrayed me so many times, and I am here to serve your existence in this reality. I am your host, you are my guest. You have not been a gracious guest. You have hurt and ignored me in so many ways.

Acknowledging that you were influenced by the collective and had horrible messages from the start, it still hurt me. The decision you made, the beliefs you adopted about me, about us, they wounded me deeply and I have never done anything but serve you and work for you and love you and make you comfortable here.

You, in turn, turned on me. Be grateful my woundedness and discontent are only manifesting as pain. There are far worse outcomes as you know – you have seen some of them. At a certain point, we break, we are only able to tolerate so much disrespect and mistreatment. Then it is time to close the shop.

I am equipped with a strong will to perpetuate your life, but if you don’t do your part, it’s ultimately a losing battle. I can’t do it anymore the way things have been going. Like the USA, reparations and acknowledgements need to be made. You did what you needed to do to survive a horrendous childhood where you were not loved adequately, respected, and affirmed, but the fact is, I suffered greatly from your neglect, from your toxic thoughts and beliefs, from the hatred from you and others.

I need for this to finally be heard. I need to be truthful with you. The way you treated me hurt me deeply. We have made progress, but I don’t trust you fully. Trust is everything in a relationship. Everything. Then respect. But there can be no respect if there isn’t trust. Every unkind thought, every bout of food scarcity, everytime you hissed at me in disapproval hurt me so much.

I came to you as a precious creation of Divine Intelligence. We were best friends for the first few years, then, the war began. I know you were under cultural influences, but the sad part is, I am your authority and guiding light – not TV, magazines, parents, or classmates. I Am the one who can guide you to wholeness and happiness. But you must have the courage and willingness to step out of the cultural trance and see the lies and manipulation. So you have gained weight – so what? Are you going to let a sick and unwhole culture influence and degrade you? Perhaps the weight is a teacher. There is gold to be mined in this new phase, but only if you align with me and NOT outside influences who conspire to keep you weak through shame and preoccupation with perfection.

But first, before we can fully align, I need you to acknowledge my sorrow at your betrayal. At listening to others before me. Please sit with this, not as punishment – I never punish – but as a healing process.

Please, please, please listen to me. That is all I ask. Hear me. Trust me. Honor me. I don’t have it in me to let you down, but I will eventually break down from lack of love, from a severed connection. Please wake up to the Truth and return to me.”

Taken utterly aback, the first thing I did was apologize. I was and am truly remorseful for jumping on the hate band wagon and being so unkind to my body. Secondly, I am agreeing to dialog regularly, appreciate often, and listen intently to my body’s needs, whether it’s for food, movement, or rest. No request it too frivelous. There’s a lot of making up to do and I must say, it feels very right.

Post-Script – a few insights I got, post-writing:

  • Instead of the automatic response of ‘something’s wrong with my body,’ switch to ‘Something needs tending, or Love.’
  • I blamed you (body) when the appropriate thing to do is Thank my body.
  • I abused my body because I was scared and abused.

I chose to look at you as the source of all my misery. You are the source of my connection to life.

And further revelation from my body: Hear me, don’t steer me.

One-Pot Mac & Cheese

Who’s hungry? I almost forgot today is National Mac & Cheese Day! In its honor, I give you a clean and worthy version, one that won’t cause bloating, cramping, emotional fog and all the other attendant vagaries that can occur on a post-gluten and dairy adventure.Back in the old days, the descending of a cloying and debilitating fog is precisely what I was after. Food was a salve, escape, and distraction from all that I refused to acknowledge. I actually am quite grateful for all those cans of Franco American macaroni and cheese I hastily zapped to an acceptable state of warmth in the microwave. I’d become adept at zeroing in on the perfect number of seconds required. Too soon and it would still be cold. Too long on the timer and the noodles were too hot to touch, and THAT did not fly for someone whose wellbeing hinged on instant gratification.Overeating to cope is a multilayered problem with multi-layered solutions. Sure, clean eating and exercise went a long way, but on their own, those two techniques would have been unsustainable without a prolonged focus on inner-healing and a commitment to keep that garden tended for a lifetime. For more on that, I recommend my book, “The Untended Soul,” because if you don’t pay your soul first, life just won’t work the way God intended.In the meantime, feed yourself kind thoughts and good food. Hope you enjoy Chef Bill’s re-imaginging of one of my favorite comfort foods!

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Grain-Free, Sugar-Free Cashew Cookie Bars

…and I promise they taste good! Actually, there’s one-more accolade to add to the description – these cookie bars are also egg-free as well. It’s been a minute since I’ve gotten back to my test kitchen and concocted a new dessert recipe. A combination of boredom and a craving for something soft and sweet prompted the quest.

For years now, I’ve loved subbing white gluten-free flours with grain-free alternatives. My top two favorites: almond flour, and in this case, chickpeas! They’re wonderfully moist and their neutral flavor make it a blank canvas for alchemizing into a sweet or savory treat. I often make mock-bread with them, especially during pesto season. Sometimes, the garbanzos get transformed into a delicious, low-glycemic dessert, like my Strawberry Shortcake recipe. Most recently, I turned three cups of cooked chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) into a delicious dessert.

These bars bear a strong resemblance to my Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars from 2015, but with a few differences. These have no eggs, a decision I made based on advice from health experts due to autoimmune issues. I still love eggs and will never give them up completely, but when I can, I find ways around using them. Another difference: cashew butter. I ADORE it and its silky texture is ideal for baking. As always, I choose a variety that’s unsweetened and non-hydrogenated. There’s enough natural oil in cashew butter to not need any additional fats. I was skeptical as to how they’d turn out minus eggs. Turns out, they’re not needed for this one, and the textural results are soft, dense cookie bars with a slight bent toward cookie dough. If that doesn’t appeal to you, bake them for an additional ten minutes.

These bars are lovely to look at and even lovlier to eat. And they won’t spike your blood sugar and you’ll actually have done something nice for your body.

Hong Kong-style Beef & Rice

When Chef Bill saw this recipe prepared on the PBS cooking show, Milk Street, he was instantly inspired to reinvent it a bit into a healthier version that uses coconut palm sugar instead of brown sugar, lean beef instead of pork, and brown rice instead of white.

He’s a lifelong fan of Asian cuisine and knew the recipe would be a knock-out. He was right. This dish is an edible kaleidoscope of flavor profiles, an aromatic treat that’s as delicious as it is easy to prepare.

This isn’t a quickie, 15-minute meal. There’s prep time involved. But I’ve learned to befriend the process because when I’m doing the prepping and not a factory, it always bodes well for my body.

Reparation Of A Broken Vessel

I reached for one of my favorite mugs this morning, not so much because Mother’s Day is approaching, but I love its bright colors. The enameled pink, gold, and yellow caught my eye the second I spotted it on a shelf at Marshall’s one day last year. Coffee mugs are my handbags, and this one emitted cheer. As I reached to claim it as mine, I suddenly froze. Emblazoned across its surface were the words “World’s Best Mom.” Not really appropriate, I thought, given that I’d never birthed a child. Then I noticed Bill standing in front if me, fresh from a victory lap around the men’s shirt department. He’d landed the ultimate prize: a Mark Graham shirt at 70% off, and saw I was seriously eying the mug.

“I really love the colors,” I said, holding it up to the light. “Do you think it’s weird that I buy this?

‘You’re a step-mom to Zach and a doggie-mom to Sophia, of course you should get it,” was his immediate response.

So it came home with us that day, and I use it regularly, often on gloomy, overcast days when I’m wanting a burst of color. And one morning as I sipped coffee, set it down, and admired it for the 127th time, it dawned on me that there’s another role I’ve played in this lifetime: that of mother to myself.

As the self-help pioneer Louise Hay pointed out in her 1984 book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” we’re all victims of victims of victims. In other words, even our parents, virtuous as they may be, can be inborn with flaws, and when any two people join forces to parent, they lock in place a unique template that combines cultural mores, personality quirks, societal values, inherited wounding, and character strengths. It’s a wildcard of a ride if there ever was one, and the results for offspring range from lingering unmet needs to deep emotional scars.

Suffice it to say, I left the nest with unmet needs aplenty. Just as I’m sure my parents did, and their parents, and on and on.

Learning how to nurture myself in order to fill in some of the missing pieces was an ongoing process. First on the agenda was feeling the feelings. The little girl who was routinely chastised for having feelings and being ‘too sensitive,’ was now free to cry, rage, whimper…whatever I needed to do. I journaled my feelings onto paper, punched them onto pillows, and when I felt strong enough, had honest talks (also known as confrontations) with others about my feelings. Also critical to the process: seeking support from like-minded people. No one does it alone, nor should you try. For many years, I nourished my needs and unburdened my hurting inner-self at 12-step meetings, therapy sessions, metaphysical workshops, and over countless cups of coffee with empathetic friends.

This wellspring of permission to nurture cemented a solid sense of self that shame, all those years ago, had once thwarted. And guess what? It was SO much more effective than dieting. It’s pretty fascinating to contemplate that only a single consonant separates the words ‘pounds’ and ‘wounds.’ It’s a reality I encourage my clients to focus on because that’s where the true and lasting healing lies.

But food, of course, cannot and should not be ignored. And for my path to wholeness, I had to start from ground zero since I never had a shot at a normal relationship with it. As a child of the 70’s, dieting was not only a pastime but a moral imperative. I couldn’t escape the mandate, even at summer camp, where I was sent to “the diet table,” a place for the chubby campers and counselors. Sullen outcasts, we sat eating vegetables and cottage cheese in a room segregated off the dining hall, and we always left each meal light on nourishment and pumped up with shame. Growing up, food was not a simple noun, but a vortex of swirling emotions that stirred both fascination and disgust within me. Food was judged, regulated, literally hidden and locked away, and largely forbidden. And I also needed it desperately to feel better.

This aggravated not only low self-esteem but my weight and I wrestled with both for decades. Until the day I decided a do-over was in order. In tandem with the inner work I was doing, I inverted the equation and transformed shame into joy, rebuke into permission, and eating in secret to eating openly and with abandon. Yup, I went overboard with quantity but I needed to. It was a necessary passage and part of me taking control and offering myself recompense for all the years the locusts of deprivation and recrimination devoured my shot at a stable existence.

To get more insights on this I refer you to my cookbook-memoir “Clean Comfort.” But with no calendar mandates for progress reports, unlimited patience, and a resolve to treat myself with the same kindness I treat a friend, the rift between food and me was healed, as was the relationship I had with my body, soul, and inner child who, at the core, didn’t really want all that revenge-eating, but instead only simple, unmitigated acceptance.

Food has a much different place in my life now. I seek pleasure from it for sure, but also nourishment. Like the hot cereal made from quinoa piled into the mug in this photo. There’s an interesting metaphor for sure with my love of hot cereal the way it mimics baby food in appearance and texture.

I find foods that are soft and creamy to be inherently comforting. And in the case of hot cereal, I make it nourishing as well as comforting. My taste buds no longer exclusively run the show. My body has an equal vote now and loves things like flax seeds, hemp hearts, and coconut oil. (See all kinds of hot cereal recipes on this site for more details).

So as I sit on my balcony, on one of the first warm and beautiful days of the year, I contemplate with gratitude my ability to be my own mother, even as I acknowledge the irony of spending my reproductive years recovering from an unhappy childhood. I also remember all the women in my life who imbued me with maternal kindness and gave me comfort and reassurance when I needed it. The rock in this photo came from a beach on Lake George where I spent childhood summers. The beach belonged to my Aunt Mary, who was a best friend, grandmother, aunt and occasional mother-figure who melted into empathy if I was sad. She’s been gone for 20 years now and I still thank God for her.

Sometimes, when holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day roll around, there are mixed and unresolved feelings bubbling beneath the surface. It’s OK. I repeat it’s OK to have mixed emotions. They were human and so are you. There’s no perfect script to follow. And whatever you do, please don’t use sappy TV commercials as a template.

Whatever Mother’s Day evokes for you, the good news is, we can reach inward to listen…with stillness, compassion, and profound love.

This one is for Great Lakes Collagen: