I am loving my new school. Today was my first day with students. They are the most polite, respectful, promising group of young people I have had the pleasure to work with in years. It could be that, or it could be that I have on rose-colored glasses because this week is so much brighter in contrast to last week’s endless inservice workshops. Maybe it’s both.
I jest. A little. My students are seriously wonderful, and the professional development I’ve received in the past week has already contributed to my increased abilities as an educator.
Now. About these ladies who lunch. Between training sessions and meetings last week, my colleagues welcomed me to go with them to various restaurants and eateries in town. While I always have my “bucket of food” in tow, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to get to know my new coworkers better.
In a single week, I ate lunch at Zaxby’s, Paula Lynn’s Really Homemade Sandwich & Sweet Shop, and a local Mexican restaurant. Additionally, I ate a catered lunch of BBQ with all the trimmings. Have I lost my mind? Have I gone off my rocker? Should someone call the food police? Nah. I forgot to mention about going to the pizza buffet. Seriously. I even ate a piece of dessert pizza. Shouldn’t someone stop this guy?
Here’s the deal. Whereas my early days on “real food” were unsustainably rigid and portioned, that’s what it took for me to learn how to handle conventional food. I had to learn how much a portion of rice was on my plate. I had to get used to eating the right amount of chicken to meet my dietary needs. Planning, weighing, packaging, and strict adherence were what I needed then.
A few months ago, I started eating out very infrequently. I would go to places that made things that were just like things I would make for myself. Panera Bread’s turkey sandwich and salad were similar enough to my home-made sandwich and salad that I could easily account for them in the exchange system. Where I used to eat only lettuce and salsa at Mexican restaurants, I grew more comfortable eating grilled chicken salads, croutons and all.
Lately, I’ve been able to eat restaurant foods while still managing my weight. It’s all in making good choices and exercising portion control. When we went to the Mexican restaurant last week, I ordered fajitas. I ate the amount I knew was right for me, and I left the rest. I left the high-fat sour cream alone. I had chips and salsa, but only 3-4. The remainder of my carbohydrate allocation went as rice and beans (no, not the whole amount on the plate). It’s not about being in control of every aspect of food preparation as much it is about taking charge of what you decide to put in your mouth. Much of this ability came from my time this summer on the campus at UALR, where the catering staff and kitchen folks were so gracious to accommodate my dietary needs. I learned to let go of a bit of control while remaining in charge of my actions.
What did I have at the pizza buffet? A big salad, two slices of pizza, and a tiny wedge of dessert pizza. It’s not so much about what you eat, but how much of it. If you’re familiar with Larry’s Pizza (an Arkansas landmark), they want their customers to be fed. They have young people roaming with pizzas fresh from the oven calling out the various pizza names. You don’t even have to get out of your chair. If you hear, “Fat Larry’s? Fat Larry’s?” you just raise your hand (or your fork) and lean back. In my former life, I once tried to eat a 30″ pizza. Last week, I was surprisingly satiated by just two slices.
Zaxby’s was a bit of a challenge. Just about everything was deep fried. I was able to order a blackened chicken salad, although the portion of chicken provided was more than I needed. At the catered BBQ lunch, I chose beef rather than pork, used the sauce sparingly, avoided the cole slaw, had only a taste of the potato salad, skipped the potato chips, and only ate the bottom of my bun.
Two months ago, I would have curled up in the fetal position, clutching my food scale had I been put in these situations. Now, it’s no sweat to hop in the passenger seat of a coworker’s SUV and ride off to any restaurant they pick.
I’ve come so far. At each stage of the journey, I’ve had to constantly ask myself, “Can you live like this for the rest of your life? Is this sustainable?” I lived on meal replacements for over a year. It was an amazing tool for weight loss, but not the right tool for weight maintenance. I spent half a year obsessing over meal plans, calorie counts, and perfect portions. It was a lot of work, and it was something I needed to have done to get where I am today.
“Daniel is going to make it.” It’s a phrase I heard spoken at the weight loss clinic several months ago. Daniel is not only going to make it, he is making it. He has made it. He will continue making it.