One thing I can say with certainty in this topsy-turvy world of ours is that Americans are completely insane when it comes to food. This is not a new or radical realization, but it was driven home to me this week when at the end of our session, my trainer uncharacteristically gave me the following edict:
“Drink lots of water, eat lots of food, and get strong.”
I’m down with the water part (no more IV fluids in the ER for me!) and I’m at the gym specifically for the purpose of getting strong, but the ‘eat lots of food’ piece badly messed with me. Instantly upon hearing that, I was filled with a deep sense of primal sadness and mourning. I didn’t understand why at first. After the phrase rang in my head for a while, it finally occurred to me that the reason it saddened me so much is that literally no one has ever told me to “eat lots of food.” No one told me that when I got down to 110 pounds from a horrific bout of food poisoning, or when I was depressed and vaguely eating-disordered for a long time in my twenties, or when I was recovering from a severe ear infection that wiped me out for two weeks, or after I got the flu. Nourishing myself adequately has simply never been suggested, nor has such a thing ever occurred to me.
The trainer and I just work; we don’t talk much, and never about food. So eventually after I started with this thing, I looked up advice on what to eat before and after a workout, and other than a worshipful exhortation of “clean” protein, what I found was mostly a series of hysterical, red-light warnings not to eat: If you eat *before* a workout, your body will use the food for energy instead of burning your fat. If you eat *after* a workout, you risk wiping out of all of your progress. Working out is no excuse for eating! Ask yourself, are you really hungry, or just bored? Maybe you’re thirsty. Before stuffing your face, try drinking a big glass of water and staring at the wall for twenty minutes. If you’re still hungry, eat a few unsalted almonds. Carbs are the spawn of Satan. If you must eat, have a small bowl of arugula sprinkled with lemon juice. Don’t be tempted by that so-called skinny bagel; it's the Trojan horse of sugar; your body processes it exactly the way it would a fudge brownie dunked in pudding. You must be ever-vigilant. When it comes to calories, think deficit, deficit, deficit! And for the love of God, do not go anywhere *near* a potato.
But this isn’t just coming from bad internet advice. It’s baked, pardon the pun, into the culture. We are in this bizarre situation in which we are swimming around in a massive overabundance of food, while simultaneously struggling with a stubbornly lingering Calvinistic puritanism, and immersed in a lifestyle that engenders rampant stress and a complete lack of regard for the time needed for even basic self-care. It’s a badge of honor to be so busy we have to cram eating into ten minutes in the car during our commute, so terrified of being out of control around food we have lost all sense of what our basic nutritional needs are, and so adverse to any notion of weight gain, no matter how appropriate, that the phrase “eat lots of food” seems dangerously radical. Our full-blown moral panic about food has been officially normalized, and we all just walk around like this. And I’m no more immune to the insanity than anyone else, as evidenced by how badly four simple words have done my head in this week.
I understand completely that at the end of the day, all of this is a mute point. I am a full-grown autonomous woman and I am in no way compelled to follow the vague instructions of any so-called authority, including my own trainer. But I take small solace in the fact that the gym is noisy, and that it’s possible I misheard him and he actually said, “Eat lots less food.” That would have been a far less upsetting directive to me. I know how exactly how to do that.
Well, this has been heavy. Let’s have a little cheer-up, shall we? Here’s a blast from the past: The venerable Weird Al Yankovich with the all-time classic, “Eat It.” For some reason, the line "Get yourself an egg and beat it" never ceases to make me giggle.