by Paige O’Mahoney, MD
At my most comfortable, natural weight, I knew what I was having for lunch every day.
It was my third year in medical school, commonly believed to be the most stressful, but I tend to gain weight when I am stressed, so that was not the reason. And it was also not what I was eating that brought me to this comfortable, sane place with food and my body. It was how.
You see, I had just started my clinical rotations. My husband and I got married over the 4th of July long weekend, he went back to school 90 minutes away, and I started my third-year clinical rotations the following Tuesday. I packed my lunch nearly every day for the next two years. During my pediatrics rotation, lunch was a turkey, lettuce and cucumber or red bell pepper roll-up on a wheat wrap with Boursin cheese, mustard and a pickle. I ate this so often that one of the residents in the conference room took notice and asked me, “Are you as tired of eating that as I am of watching you eat that?”
The truth was that I was not remotely tired of eating my turkey roll-up. It was easy, predictable, and it fueled my afternoons, allowing me to focus on taking care of my patients and their families while enjoying working as part of a team of students, teachers, and other professionals who were similarly jazzed to be doing the same. The food was fuel for my life and I derived pleasure and satisfaction from learning, service and relationships, rather from food alone. The food was not “diet food.” It was not gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, totally unprocessed, or otherwise “virtuous.” It was simple, delicious (even the 35th time), nutritious and satisfying. Period.
It was the why and the how, not the what, of eating, that allowed me to reach a comfortable, sustainable weight, even during one of the busiest times in my life. I had love, work, purpose, passion, and a plan for lunch. I did not have perfection or total control of my circumstances. I was growing intellectually, I was connected with other people around a common goal, and I was engaged in consistent self-care behaviors, including planning ahead for regular refueling. What I ate was not fancy or complicated. It was just food that fit into an engaging, imperfectly balanced, but wildly satisfying life.
How could planning ahead for meals and seeking satisfaction outside the kitchen make your life more enjoyable? What is your turkey sandwich equivalent – that is, food that fuels your life, rather than life that fuels your food problem? If you struggle with the food satisfaction/life satisfaction balance, be compassionate with yourself about it! Far from being an indicator of failure, it is actually an indication that you are becoming more aware, which is the first step toward growth. Self-kindness, by the way, is the second step… and the third.
Read more blogs by Paige O’Mahoney, MD, CHWC, co-author with Karen R. Koenig of "Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating," at www.deliberatelifewellness.com.