What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Like a lot of ladies, I have tons of food issues. Double or triple that around the holidays -– well-meaning relatives grip my shoulders, stand back, furrow a brow, and remark on how thin I look; not-so-well-meaning relatives watch my portions like so many concern-trolls, and ask if I really want that second piece of pie.
A lot of time and effort is spent trying to walk a tight rope that doesn’t exist -– eating exactly enough of exactly the right kind of food and expressing exactly the right amount of gratitude to appease everyone around me –- everyone but myself and my body. But this year, something is different. This year, I broke my foot.
It happened on Halloween in a fit of exuberant dancing. Maybe I had had a martini. Maybe I had had two. Regardless, after much confusion and limping, it was discovered that no, I was not just a drunken klutz, I was a drunken klutz with a broken foot.
After I got over how incredibly ridiculous it was that I had sustained my first broken bone mere weeks after my 30th birthday, I started to settle in to the limping life. Thanksgiving was a breeze. I had surgery just before the big event, so when plates loaded with what people thought I should be eating were passed my way, I waved them off with nary a thought toward anyone’s feelings but my own. I was still half-full of anesthesia and hopped up on painkillers. They were lucky I managed to remain upright.
The plates kept coming. But being nauseated trumps all social obligations, familial or otherwise. And in the weeks that followed, I learned to carry my fuck-you-I-do-what-I-want attitude through to my daily life. While some of my friends breathlessly asked, “Have you been losing TONS of weight?!” (apparently bone growth really torches the calories), I quietly upped my caloric intake and, for what may have been the first time in my life, stopped giving a shit if I gained weight. Which I have.
Turns out, bones healing really do torch the calories. According to my doctor, a person with a broken bone needs as many calories as a “very active” person during the healing process -– and, at least in my case, my body has responded with a deep and abiding hunger. Smart move, body: It turns out one of the best things you can do to make sure your bones grow together properly (besides quit smoking, if that’s something you do) is to make sure you eat well, and enough. Knowing that if I don't get enough healthy food, my bones won’t heal and I could be permanently injured sent me into nutrition overdrive. The desire to be able to walk again, it turns out, trumps the desire to be skinny. Not only that, it overrides my innate people-pleasing gene that says if I don’t have a second piece of pie, Aunt Mona will be hurt. Whatever, screw Aunt Mona. My foot will be hurt. Neither excessive sugar nor excessive dieting is good for a broken bone.
As a former anorexic, all eyes are on me at holiday mealtime. Thankfully, gone are the days of avoiding my birthday party to get out of eating cake. But now, thanks to my complete klutziness, also gone are the days where I’ll eat three pieces just to prove to everyone how healthy I am.
During this long, boring healing process, I’ve discovered a natural rhythm to eating that heeds no master other than my appetite and my ability to fetch things from the kitchen. I eat about six times a day. I try to cram as many fruits and vegetables into my gaping maw as I can. I upped my protein intake a lot.
Whereas before, I’d ban entire food groups from my diet in the name of cutting calories, now I look for ways to add them. Have I forgotten to eat vegetables today? Down the hatch they go. I’ll drown ‘em in ranch dressing if I damn well please. Who’s counting? No fruit yet and it’s almost bedtime? Who’s going to argue with a girl with a broken foot scarfing a banana at midnight? NO ONE, that’s who. And no one better get in between me and my peanut butter.
Prior to my Act of Gracelessness, I adhered to a strict food schedule. Deviations were met with massive guilt. Unplanned mid-day burrito? Guilt. Co-worker shoves a brownie at me? Guilt. Overwhelming hunger makes me eat my lunch early? Guilt. Mom refuses to have dessert unless I also have a helping? Then gives me puppy dog eyes until I relent and consent to a second helping I don’t want? Guilt, guilt, guilt.
But caving to pressure about what I eat –- whether from friends, family, or societal expectations -– has been an avocation of mine for too long. It may have taken a broken bone to get me to see reason, but it’s finally time for me to turn off the chatter and listen to my body.