How I finally learned to feed myself, part two

Mädchen mit Teller by Carl von Bergen

Mädchen mit Teller by Carl von Bergen

There are many different ways of wanting food, and many reasons for eating; there are many reasons for not eating, too. Last winter I gained seven or eight pounds because I couldn’t stop eating chocolate croissants — my daily rounds with the little girl I was nannying took us into cafes for bathroom breaks and for coffee, and there were the pastries, loaded with carbs and sugar, a perfect mid-morning treat, especially when paired with a second cup of coffee. Hunger for those croissants was primal, passed down from generation to generation over millions of years when not eating the food in front of you would have been madness, would have meant death. If any of those ancient people chose not to eat, they died, and their DNA was not passed down to me. Those who ate, survived. Our bodies developed complex, irresistible mechanisms to ensure that we ate — the hunger in our bellies is nothing compared to the synapses firing between our ears, the chemicals that light up our brain’s pleasure centers like a Christmas tree when salt or sugar hits our tongues. The frigid temperatures of last January and February, and the pounding of foot after foot of snow triggered every millennia-honed instinct to eat as much as possible, to put on extra fat to survive the winter. My genes didn’t care that I was wearing long underwear and sweaters, or that inside it was a cozy sixty-eight degrees. They had no concept that my body was already sufficiently padded with extra fat, that in fact losing rather than gaining seven pounds would have been healthier all around. They had been given one task, their prime directive: Make sure Jessica eats. And they did their job splendidly.

That summer, when I slowed down after a busy spring, I finally had time to look down at the scale (and to look at the pictures of myself at the Momastery event in June) and to realize that a little focus was needed to get back on track. I put myself back on probiotics which, beside their multiple heath benefits also had the helpful instruction, “Take three times daily on an empty stomach.” (The probiotics need to get to the intestines to do their work, which means they need to make it through the stomach without being digested. They basically sneak through while the stomach isn’t looking, i.e. while it’s not digesting any food.) This meant that I had to pay attention to what and when I was eating enough that my stomach was actually empty three times per day. I poked around online and made the guess that three hours would empty my stomach, plus another hour after I took the pill to let it pass through. Basically I stopped eating between meals, and in doing so, rediscovered the joy of eating when you’re really, truly hungry. I had big salads loaded with lentils and vegetables, an apple or two every day, toast and peanut butter in the morning, yogurt for a late night snack. Everything tasted so GOOD when I was well and truly hungry. I didn’t mess around with low-fat anything, I put olive oil and vinegar on my salads and ate cream-on-top yogurts, and I ate till I was full at meals. I began to feel at peace with the periods of not eating, enjoying the comfort of not having to think about food during that time. It just wasn’t time to eat yet, but it would be soon. No big deal. I could wait another hour.

I wasn’t starving myself, like I had in the past. The point of feeling hunger was so that I could eat well later. When I was starving myself, back in college, the point of hunger had been power, pure power over myself, my body, and my life. Nothing else mattered, and nothing felt as good. Then the pounds had melted off at 10lbs a month as I tried to eat around 500-1000 calories a day. Now, if I found myself at the end of the day having only eaten 1500 calories I’d have another apple, or a yogurt, or both. The goal wasn’t to starve myself. The goal was to feed myself. And I lost weight, but slowly, two or three pounds a month till I lost the seven I had gained and another seven after that. I wondered how I ever could have been so careless as to eat all those extra pastries. I laughed at last-winter Jessica. Then this winter came.

At first I didn’t notice much of a change. I breezed through December, eating a Christmas cookie or two here or there then calmly closing the box and putting it away. I stopped losing weight, but I didn’t gain any. Well, maybe I gained a pound. It was an exceptionally warm December, so that may have been part of it. Christmas Eve was 70 degrees. I made blithe plans to allow myself one chocolate croissant each winter month, since I liked them so much, patting myself gently on the head. Then January came and it got cold, and something switched in my brain again. I started eating two or three cookies at a time, instead of one or two, then following them up with chips. Instead of no snacks between meals I was having trouble eating only one or two snacks between meals. I tried getting back on schedule with the probiotics and letting my stomach empty before I took them, but a force greater than my will power had taken over. I laughed at last-summer Jessica. She obviously hadn’t remembered what it was like.

So here we are, one week away from February, and I have gained another pound, maybe two. My goal has changed from not gaining weight again over the winter to minimizing my weight gain. And, honestly, it’s not so much a goal as a hope. But I have come to accept this as natural. It’s okay. The winter will end eventually, and this year I will try to refocus earlier than June and get back to healthier eating. In the meantime, I’m not doing so bad. I make myself hearty soups with lots of beans and veggies, and some animal protein here and there. This afternoon I’m going to whip up some sausage, bean, and kale soup. And I allow myself a piece of sourdough bread with sweet butter on the side. Maybe in March I will give up the side of bread. But for now, I’d rather be at peace with my body than fighting against it. I’ve seen what happens when you pull the rubber band too taut: It snaps back with a vengeance. In college, after I lost sixty pounds in six months by starving myself, I gained all that back, plus forty five more. After months of not eating, the rubber band snapped and I couldn’t stop eating. Long after I was full, I’d keep putting food into my mouth: salty, sweet, savory, bland — anything to convince my body it wasn’t starving. Better to gain five pounds gently over the winter than to trigger my body into panic mode, into starvation mode.

Friends, be gentle with yourselves. Eat when you’re hungry. Do your best to stop eating when you’re full. When you don’t, forgive yourself. Nothing keeps the cycle of overeating going like shame. It’s okay. You’ll be all right. Brush and floss and go to bed. Wake up the next day, forgiven, and feed yourself again.


How I finally learned to feed myself, part one

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Wrapping up 2015 and setting intentions for 2016

Setting her Intention by Jessica Kantrowitz

My attempt to draw the Anjali Mudra. She is naked for aesthetic and symbolic reasons, and not at all because I don’t know how to draw clothes.

I’ve written about how Savasana, the meditation at the end of a class is one of my favorite things about yoga. Another of my favorite things is setting an intention. At the beginning of the class you place your hands, palms together, in front of your heart and decide what your intention is going to be for the class. You decide it yourself — the instructor never tells you what it should be. It can be anything you want: to be present, to strengthen your body, to connect with God, to let go of anxiety, or anything else you feel you need.

Your hands in front of your heart — Anjali Mudra — seal your intention. I’ve been doing it in other areas of my life, too, like before bed, sealing my intention to rest and not worry about the next day. Or on the way to work, sealing my intention to be focused and engaged. I’ve been doing it on a broader basis, as well, for years and even decades. It’s different from a to-do list or a list of New Year’s resolutions because it holds itself: You don’t have to do anything more once your intention is sealed in your heart. It’s not something you strive to accomplish. It’s more like turning in a particular direction so that your natural movement takes you where you’ve decided to go.

For me, for the last two years, this has had a lot to do with writing. The rest of this post is a summary of the last two years, my intentions and what has come of them. If you only have a few minutes, though, and want to skip to the action point of this post, here it is: What is your intention for the coming year? Is it different from last year? Take a few moments to sit with your eyes closed, hands together in front of your heart, to breathe deeply, and to consider what direction you want to turn for 2016. Set your intention, and then let go, trusting that you have placed it in your heart.

In May of 2014 I turned 40 and I set my intention to write. In a post entitled Forty: A preface I wrote:

I have some ideas, some thoughts I’d like to share, some stories I’d like to tell. I have some inklings and some convictions, some anecdotes and some parables, some bluntly factual reports and some metaphorical fictions.

They’re in me. I feel them brewing.

Ever since I was five or six I’ve wanted to be a writer. I still have stories from those days, mostly about cats and unicorns, with an overabundance of commas and adverbs. I’ve kept up my writing in various ways over the last thirty five years, through journaling, writing poems and short stories, several brief attempts to formulate novels and, most recently, blogging. I sent stories to literary journals in my late twenties, had a writing partner for a while in my early thirties. Yet I remember thinking, as early as college, that as much as I wanted to write, I didn’t have my stories yet — my life experience to draw on. I kept writing anyway. But I had this strong feeling that it wasn’t until I was forty that I was going to be able to write anything real. That feeling has stayed with me.

Three weeks ago I turned forty. And I feel it. It’s time.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

There are other people in my stories. Some haven’t behaved that well, and their bad behavior is part of my story. But, still, this doesn’t feel quite right to me. *I* haven’t behaved well in other people’s stories. And other people have blogs (and theoretical book deals) too. So I’ve been worried, not wanting to be unjust or to write to validate myself at another’s expense.

But then Glennon Melton posted this the other day:

When internet writers ask me for advice- one of the first things I tell them is: ”If you can avoid defending yourself for being human, you might have enough energy to keep writing. Don’t defend yourself, and don’t get your needs confused. You don’t need to be right- you just need to write.

So, I am going to write, knowing that I may not be right about everything, but knowing, too, that I have to write. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,” said Maya Angelou. “It sings because it has a song.”

I have a chronicle, a myth, a fable; I have a memoir and an apologue. I have a saga, a romance, a spiel; I have a scoop and a cliffhanger. I have a song.

After that post I started blogging more frequently and writing longer posts, more like essays than the brief observations I’d been posting before. And that year I wrote, among other things, a post entitled Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one. It was the processing of a difficult time in my life, and of a difficult relationship, and I needed Anne, Glennon, and Maya to help me know how to write it. To tell my stories. Not to be right, but to write. Not because I had an answer, but because I had a song.

On New Year’s Eve of 2014, I set my intentions for 2015:

My new year’s resolution this year is to mostly keep doing what I’ve been doing, because I think I’m on the right track. I will not be dieting because diets make you fatter, and I will not be hitting the gym — though I would love to, actually — because I have a bunch of little chronic injuries at the moment. The one big thing I want to do next I’ve already signed up for: A writer’s workshop through The Frederick Buechner Center at Princeton Seminary. I am really excited about it. It’s the first time I’ve spent money on my writing, the first time I’ve been to a conference in seven years, and the first time I’ve been to a seminary in nine years. Don’t tell Gordon-Conwell that I’m cheating on them with Princeton.

But the things that I want to focus on next year are the same things that I’ve been focusing on this year. Nothing new or particularly ambitious. But they work for me.

1) Be the best nanny and editor I can — focus on being present and paying attention.
2) Write weekly (I can’t swing daily right now, but I’m getting good at weekly).
3) Do yoga and bike when I can.
4) Keep seeing friends and family in person as well as connecting online.
5) Eat mostly healthy food and resist equally the temptations to eat too much and too little.
6) Look for ways to connect with God, and don’t be discouraged when I can’t find Him in the same places I used to.

To briefly touch on nos 1 and 3-6, I did those things mostly well, but not always. Being a good nanny got harder when I moved from a family with one little girl to one with three children under five. I felt like a good nanny a lot less. But I think I still mostly did my best, so that counts. I did yoga and biked when I could, but a knee injury slowed me down, and when my wheel broke at the end of the summer I made the difficult decision to pay down my debt and wait till the spring to get my bike fixed. I saw lots of friends in person, and stayed connected with many others online. I ate too many pastries when the winter got tough in February and March, but I started eating mostly healthy again in the spring. And I did keep turning my focus toward God, setting God as my intention and focus again and again throughout the year, even though that looked different in 2015 than it did in, say, 2006 when I was doing daily Bible readings and intercession-style praying. Prayer in 2015 looked more like a deep breath and lifting up a person, a thought, a worry, a hope, a fear, a praise, or simply gratitude to God.

Back to writing. Thirteen days after I’d set my New Year’s intentions, my friend Glennon shared Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one on her Momastery Facebook page, and 30,000 people read it. Thirty thousand people read about a time in my life when I’d felt isolated and alone in my confusion and struggle, and hundreds of them said, “Me, too.” Thirty thousand people read something I’d written, which is kind of more than I’d ever dreamed, except that in my dreams they were holding my book in their hands. My 12 year old self was impressed but confused when I told her about it. We hadn’t published a book, so were we a writer or not? The internet is a weird and wonderful place, I told her. You’ll get used to it; but not really.

For three weeks in a row there were blizzards Sunday into Monday.

For three weeks in a row there were blizzards Sunday into Monday.

At the end of January, 2015, it started snowing, and pretty much kept snowing all the way through February. For a couple of months most of my blog posts were about the weather and living through it in Boston:

The darkest night of the year

Florida: A true story

Boston in January


Of monster and men

Consider the birds of the air

Dear February

Before we move on from that topic, I would just like to add that there was so much snow in Boston last winter that it didn’t completely melt until July 14th. Here is the NPR article for proof.

On April 1st I moved on from the weather to write about something that had been weighing on my heart for a long time. Someone who disagreed with my essay asked me why I felt I had to write it, and I said: It wanted to be written, and I couldn’t write anything else until I did. Bake for them two went viral on a scale I never expected, and I have spent a lot of the rest of the year trying to figure out what that means for my writing career. Was this my big break or just a freak vicissitude of the internet? Where did I go from there? Was this a subject about which I had more to say? I processed with my writer friends, two of whom rolled up their sleeves and helped me wade through the 1500+ comments (thank you, Judi and Heather!!). I went to the writer’s workshop and was able to pose some of my questions to Rachel Held Evans, as well as other wonderful writers and editors.

by Denna Jones

by Denna Jones

Some of my questions had answers, and some of them still don’t. But one thing going viral taught me is that I don’t have much control over what happens next. All I can do is to keep writing whatever is on my heart. I’ve had posts I’m proud of only reach 100 people, and others gain traction and reach 500, 1000, or 15,000 (the latter was my June post about Sam and Anne Lamott). But I don’t get to decide which ones catch on. All I can do is keep writing what is in me, and keep being curious about where and for whom my writing might be relevant. Going viral didn’t lead to a book deal, but it did help to get noticed by editors at Think Christian and The Good Men Project, who published my Bake for them two piece and my Sam and Anne Lamott piece, respectively. (The Good Men Project also gave my piece the gorgeous artwork above.) And that, in turn, helped me to write a respectable author’s bio.

The answer to, “Do I have anything more to say on this subject?” turned out to be, yes, but really only three things. In my follow-up posts to Bake for them two I wrote about why we need to stop saying “love the sinner, hate the sin, about how my dad’s choice influenced my own, and, in answer to those who asked me why I as a Christian supported gay marriage and full inclusion of LGBT people into the body of Christ, my testimony.

In September and October, continuing to follow my intention, I took part in a six week writing contest for Mythgard Institute. This was pure fun — I got to write micro-fiction and even a poem, inspired by Tolkien-related prompts and specific word limits and guidelines. They are going to do it again next year if anyone would like to take part. I was completely surprised and honored to win the literary prize (judges’ choice) for my “minute mystery” and the popular prize (readers’ choice) for my poem. They will be a part of an ebook, available soon from Oloris Publishing. (My twelve year old self was much more impressed that we won an award for writing a story than she was by going viral for an essay. She still doesn’t get what an ebook is, but, honestly, I don’t either. A book with no pages? Maybe in another 29 years we will start to get the hang of things.)

I swung and missed a few times, too: I entered a poetry contest and another micro-fiction contest that I lost, and sent three or four article proposals to magazines that were turned down. But rejection letters are badges of honor, and proof that you are writing and moving forward. I also received the discouraging news that it was next to impossible to get a book of essays published unless you already had a successful book, or, “Unless you are Anne Lamott” as one editor told me. But that is good information, as well.

I have some ideas for where I’d like to go in 2016. But, since the best laid plans of mice and men “gang aft agley” and since “We live the given life, and not the planned” I am not focusing so much on specific goals or resolutions. Instead, I am setting the same intention I did back in May of 2014: To write. My friends Heather and Glennon shared with me this great TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she wrestles with similar struggles, and comes to the same conclusion: Write. I probably won’t go viral again in 2016. I may not get a book deal, or publish another article, or win another contest. But I know what I will be doing, week after week: Paying attention to the world around me and then sitting in front of my computer trying to organize my thoughts and write them down.

Other intentions for 2016:

1) Be the best nanny and editor I can — focus on being present and paying attention.
2) Look for ways to actively work for racial justice.
3) Do yoga, bike and walk when I can.
4) Keep seeing friends and family in person as well as connecting online.
5) Eat mostly healthy food and resist equally the temptations to eat too much and too little.
6) Look for ways to connect with God, and don’t be discouraged when I can’t find Him in the same places I used to.
7) Keep breathing deeply, forgiving myself and others, and letting go of pain from the past.
8) Read books!
9) Go outside!
10) Take care of myself, even if that means saying no to things I really want to do, or that others really want me to do.

What about you? What are your intentions for 2016? Let me know in the comments. And thank you so much to all of you who have visited Ten Thousand Places this year, who have shared my posts, and especially to those who have left such thoughtful comments, even those that disagreed with me. Will, Brian, Meredith, Hope, Suzy, Juanita, Rachel, Soundtek, Somewhat Anonymous, Judith, David, Dawn, Mary, Linda, Elaine, SueAnn, Cindy, Liza, Michelle, Frodo, Beth, Debbie, Steve, Scarlett, Alethea, Julianne, Donna, Mike, Rachael, Monique, Olivia, amgregory, patiencewithquestions, joyfulmelody, Robyn, taracope, and everyone else who took the time to share, your words meant so much to me. I hope to see you back here next year.




My body is not a message to men

bodymessageEliel Cruz, an amazing writer that I follow on Twitter, tweeted from church this morning:

“As soon as he said, ‘Ladies, we have to be careful what messages we send to men with our bodies…'”

Eliel, thank you for calling this out.

Male pastor, and men everywhere, listen, because this is important:

My body is not a message to men. It is not a message any more than your body is a message to women. Our bodies are what we use to move about in the world, to walk and run, to lift and carry, to feed ourselves and others.

Our *words* are what we use to communicate. If you want to communicate with me, use your words, and I will use mine.

When you tell women that they are responsible for the message their bodies are sending to men, you are also telling men that they are not responsible for talking to women, for listening to their words and respecting them. You are placing the responsibility on women to protect themselves from abuse and rape, and letting men off the hook for abusing and raping women, so long as the men perceive that the woman’s body is giving them the message that rape is okay.

And you are perpetuating the message that we women receive from the world that our bodies and our sexuality are the most significant thing about us, that we have to be pretty but not too pretty, sexy but not too sexy, that our hips and breasts and legs are offensive and we should hide them or lose weight to make ourselves smaller and less sexual, less seductive. You are perpetuating the message that, above all, it doesn’t matter how smart or loving or funny or spiritual or creative we are, all that matters is men’s opinion of our appearance.

This is the message that we are already receiving from the world; it should not be the message we hear in church.

Pastor, I am so much more than that, my body is so much more than that, and my sisters’ bodies are so much more than that.

Please consider this post the message I am sending to men, regardless of what they think my body might be saying.


Jessica Kantrowitz, writer and proponent of using her words

On strength and beauty

Great blue heron

Discovering the Water’s Edge by Mark Slawson

I went kayaking today on the Charles river out in Newton. I love kayaking on a river — it’s different than sea kayaking. With no waves it’s more peaceful, and you feel more in control. The kayak becomes an extension of your torso; the paddle an extension of your arms. You just sit on top of the water and your arms move you in whatever direction you want to go. It’s so easy and seamless, as if you finally have all of your limbs and are remembering what to do with them. Your arms pump in a figure eight, dipping one end of the paddle down through the water while the other arcs up and forward, then bends to dip again.

I slid out of the dock and quickly passed the hapless summer campers in their canoes. A canoe full of girls headed towards me and their eyes widened in panic: “Sorry!” they shouted, “Sorry, we don’t know how to turn!” “You’re okay, don’t worry,” I smiled and moved effortlessly aside, wise, gentle, and accomplished in a way that I rarely am on land. Then I left the groups behind, headed up the river past the fields of lily pads which were possessed by one great blue heron each. Swallows zipped back and forth, close to the water, catching the little water bugs. A hawk soared overhead in a circle, and I wondered if he was looking for fish.

My shoulders had stiffened after a few minutes, but they actually loosened as I paddled on. I peered over the blue puff of my life jacket at my bare arms, and watched the muscles move in them as they turned the paddle, the skin beginning to freckle from the sun. They looked so strong and purposeful, and felt so natural, taking a rare turn at all the action while my legs rested, crossed, in the kayak. This! I thought: This is what arms are for! To be strong, to carry you across the water, to pull and push, hold and carry, reach and touch. How often have I judged my poor arms for being too fat, having loose skin and stretch marks, thought them inadequate and imperfect. But look what they can do! Look how confident and beautiful they are, moving over the green-grey water.

Later in the day I babysat for a two year old girl, fed her dinner, bathed her, and read her stories before laying her down in her bed for sleep. In the bath I marveled at her dark skin and hair, her lean arms and legs and round belly. As we toweled her off she rubbed her belly and cried joyfully, “Belly! Belly!” “Yes!” I said, “I love your belly! It takes in your food and makes you strong and healthy. And it gives you big belly laughs!” We brushed her hair and she said, “Hair!” “Yes!” I said, “I love your hair! It keeps your head warm in the winter, and protects you from the sun and from bugs.” She is truly one of the loveliest creatures I have ever known, and I want her to know that she’s beautiful. But I also want her to know that her body is strong and capable and there for a purpose. Her body was not given to her to be cute, to keep slim and perfect so it will attract admiration. It was given to her to use, to run and jump, to laugh and touch and hold and carry. And, some day soon, to sit cross-legged in a kayak and slip smoothly through a river filled with flowering lily pads.

*This was originally posted last summer as Kayaking.