The right to privacy

Tonight my husband asked me if I had told anyone in my graduate cohort about having had an eating disorder, and how that experience brought me into clinical psychology. I have not told anyone yet, and may not do so for a very long time, if ever. Even within the field of mental health, there is still some stigma surrounding the admission of mental illness by its practitioners. When I was applying for Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology, for example, I studiously avoided any mention of eating disorders or my own experiences in therapy. It wasn't hard to do -- I had a story ready for anyone who asked me how I became interested in psychology, and though it is only part of the truth, it was enough to keep me feeling authentic.

The other night, however, I heard what was perhaps the best explanation yet for why psychologists and psychologists-in-training might want to think twice about letting other people in their profession know about their own histories with mental illness. I was at a meeting about externships in neuropsychology, and a member of a panel discussion strongly advised the students in the audience to avoid putting too much personal information in their application essays. "In this profession [clinical psychology], it is necessary for us to know how to maintain personal boundaries, and part of what you show us in writing an application essay is how well you will be able to maintain those boundaries in your practice."

Hearing her words, I felt a sense of relief. So I wasn't the only one hiding my past! And nor was there anything to be ashamed of in doing so -- in fact, it is de rigeur in the profession! In a sense, this speaker gave me the permission to do what I have instinctively done: protect my most fragile self, maintaining my own space in the midst of so much talk, and study, of mental illness. This is my experience, one that I am willing to write about here, but one that will remain unknown to my professional colleagues, at least until I know better.

For the meanwhile, I am grateful to have this space to write about eating disorders, food, and my own experiences. In this way, I have an outlet for all of the opinions that I am forming about eating disorders and a way to work out the experiences that still trouble and inspire me. I have a community here of fellow travelers, people who speak with the raw honesty of having lived through an eating disorder: they know, as I do, distress from the inside.

I am committed, for the next five years, to understanding distress from the outside, from the scientific, clinical viewpoint. But I am also committed to you, my reader, and to this, this process of writing out and writing through my past pain, in order to come to grips with all that I bring to my profession and to my present.


Part 2: Why I no longer restrict my diet

Written on October 26, 2008
What does restricting food mean to you?

Does it mean eating less of something you really like?

Avoiding it altogether?

Or does "restriction" mean eliminating whole categories of food from your diet (e.g. dairy products, meat, white flour, sugar, caffeine) without ever hoping to eat them again, whether for health or other reasons?

As I think about this, I am amazed by the sheer number of ways that we have to restrict what we put in our mouths. Indeed, the more choice exists out there, the more choices we have about what to eat and, consequently, about what not to eat.

Try it: instead of saying what you will eat today, say what you won't.

For example: Today I won't eat Twizzlers. Today I won't eat beef Wellington, or strawberry ice cream, or pork potstickers. Today I won't drink orange juice or champagne, I won't nibble on plantain chips or peanuts, and I certainly won't consume baked Alaska.

The list could go on and on because, to tell the truth, on any given day I eat far fewer foods than those which are actually available to me; every meal is a lesson in choosing what and how to eat; every meal an opportunity to say "no" more than "yes".

So what am I saying "yes" to today, and what does this have to do with restriction?
  • Breakfast this morning was a couple of sweet potatoes, baked yesterday afternoon and let to mellow, with a slice of Cowgirl Creamery cheese and a mug of milky coffee.
  • Lunch will probably be a bean sprout salad with dried figs and pumpkin seeds, followed by a bowl of yellow split pea soup, if I can manage to pull this all together by noon.
  • I am meeting a friend at the Hungarian Pastry Shop to study this afternoon, and I'm planning to eat a piece of their apple cake, and try to figure out what it consists of so that I can make it myself with all of the fresh apples that abound in the farmer's markets these days.
  • Dinner? A bowl of fresh cheese ravioli that I brought home from the Bronx's own Little Italy, Arther Avenue, accompanied by sauteed kale.
Of course, any and all of this may change. I am planning to go to the farmers' market later this morning, and depending on what treats they can offer me, I'll change any and all of this menu.
But my point is this: I can only eat so much in a single day, so there is necessarily some limitation to what I am eating today. The variety comes in the breadth of what I eat: my day's menu includes milk, red meat, cheese, white flour, and dessert -- as well as plenty of vegetables, fruit, and nuts. Over time, too, there will be variety, as tomorrow's menu will surely be different from today's. Breakfast will be yogurt, not sweet potatoes; lunch may be rice and beans, not soup; and so on and so forth. Every day I restrict in some ways, because I cannot eat everything that I would like at once (bye-bye, bulimia!), but every day is somewhat different from the day before, and I feel that it all rounds out in the end. Some days may have more desserts than others, some more vegetables, others more milk and popcorn.

To not restrict my diet is to also not beat up on myself when I eat more of a certain food on any day than I normally would like to. Not restricting means acknowledging that there will be those days when I eat more, and others when I will eat less. I have learned to trust that the "more" days will be balanced out by the "less" days, but of their own accord, without my having to do much to push them in one way or another. And though this sounds complicated and calculating, it works for me!

Have you experienced anything similar recently? How do you feel about the restrictions that you may have put in place for yourself? How do you respond to other people's restrictions (a topic for a future post)?

With love,
Ai Lu


Why I can't resist another cauliflower

Can you?
(You can look more closely at this picture by clicking on the image.)

This one was a romanesco variety that I picked up at the farmers' market on Sunday, a beautiful specimen right for the following recipe:

Cauliflower Fantasia, after the The Silver Spoon's "Broccoli Fantasia"

Wash one head cauliflower, discarding the hard steam and cutting the head into individual florets. Boil (or steam) until soft and tender. Butter a soufflé dish or other ceramic baking dish, and line the bottom with 2 tablespoons hard, flavorful cheese (Piave, Idiatzabal, Gruyère, Parmeggiano Romano, etc.). Place the cauliflower in the dish, add salt and pepper to taste. Pour 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half over the mix, then follow with 1/2 c. grated sharp cheese (feel free to mix cheeses or use anything that is left over in the door of your refrigerator). Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the cream has been absorbed by the cauliflower.

Romanesco cauliflower turned out to be an especially creamy, delicate vegetable all on its lonesone, but the addition of cream and cheese made this into a miracle of side dishes.

And you still need an excuse to eat your vegetables?


Part 1: Why I no longer restrict my diet

A series of comments back and forth with Emily Jolie have had me thinking about restriction, structure, and boundaries in our diets. I think most people who have struggled with an eating disorder can agree that food restriction plays an important, if not central, role in maintaining disordered eating patterns. These problems can be compounded if, like Emily and me, you have developed certain food sensitivities, or allergies, in the course of your travels.

Soon after I stopped binging and purging in 2004, I came down with a severe case of mononucleosis, and at the same time my digestive system went haywire. Apart from my daily exhaustion, I was also bloated, gassy, and miserable, and I spent my evenings doubled up with intestinal cramps, wondering what had gone wrong (and suspecting that I was somehow to blame). In consultation with doctors, acupuncturists, and chiropractors, I identified certain foods as being related to these symptoms -- primarily wheat and other gluten-containing foods -- and so I stopped eating them.

This restriction, at any other point in my eating disorder, might have acted as a trigger, but I had several things working in my favor. First, I was working with an amazing team of therapists, both official and unofficial (i.e. guardian angels). Second, I really, really wanted to get well; coming down with mono in the midst of training for a marathon was a true wake-up call for me to start treating my body right. That autumn, I replaced long-distance running with yoga; I gave myself permission to take naps in all matter of places on campus; and I re-evaluated my eating patterns. Honestly, I don't know if I could have pulled myself out of bulimia without having had mono first: being so sick as to almost be dysfunctional left me no time for my eating disorder. Instead, I had to concentrate on the things that were truly important to me, like graduating from college, spending time with my boyfriend (now my husband) and planning for life after school.

Instead of seeing my digestive problems as reason to stop eating altogether, I took them as a sign that I needed to re-evaluate my diet, among other things. During my active eating disorder, I rarely ate carbohydrates apart from binges -- I reasoned that I was getting enough of them anyway in my binges, so why add fuel to the fire? When I stopped eating wheat, not only did I rule out many of my former "binge" foods -- a fortunate side-effect -- but I began to notice, over time, that I felt better if I had some kind of whole grain every day. Living in China and Brazil after graduating from college, I started to perform nutritional experiments on my own body, packing my purse with soy milk and sweet potatoes, then apples and fresh cheese, as I explored these new countries and settled back into the rhythms of my own body.

Like Emily Jolie, my body has, at times, reacted strongly to certain foods, in a way that seems outside of my control. Living within the bounds of these restrictions was liberating in the sense that I had to be creative with my diet, looking beyond the obvious food choices. In China, I discovered fresh soybeans (mao dou), mutton skewers, egg pancakes, and any number of strange and marvelous vegetables. In Brazil, I ate cheesy bread, mangos aplenty, dried bananas, fresh fruit juices -- and I learned to make beans, oh delightful beans! The year after college, I took full responsibility for my diet, and began to cook for myself. I consider my eating disorder to have ended at this point, a year after I stopped binging and purging, because it took that long to learn how to eat again.

Now I will eat nearly everything. My digestive problems cleared up considerably under a no-gluten diet, but even so, this summer I decided to embark upon another experiment: eating wheat again. It has gone swimmingly, so much so that I can now say that I no longer restrict any part of my diet. Was this a goal of mine? No, not specifically: my goal was to find a way of eating that sustained my health, with or without gluten. It is a happy circumstance that now I can eat gluten, but I hope that I would feel just as free and just as flexible towards food if some of those restrictions were still in place, as they are for many people with food sensitivities and allergies. As Emily Jolie says, there can be freedom within boundaries. In my case, my old boundaries prepared me for the freedom I currently face, a freedom that would have been overwhelming if I had not taken the time to sound out the limits of what my body could take.

May all of you find some joy in food today, and some freedom within whatever limits you find yourself facing.

~Ai Lu


Cauliflower dreams

When I see a vegetable like this, a flamboyant cauliflower, I am reminded that there is so much that I do not know about food.

For example: where do these colors come from? Why do some vegetables do double-duty in the design department, appearing now green, now orange, now purple? It is humbling to know so little about a vegetable, and yet to like it so much.

Of course, it's an antioxidant, anthocyanin, which is responsible. If there weren't already so much talk about antioxidants in the nutritional news, I might be excited by the prospect of eating a colored vegetable with health benefits. But I don't need to know that this vegetable is good for me to know that it tastes delicious and is nourishing in other ways.

This is what I do with cauliflower when I can get my hands on the freshest sort:

Fragrant Purple Cauliflower -- Ai Lu's recipe

Take one head of purple cauliflower, or yellow or white cauliflower, or broccoli even (they're almost the same -- did you know?). Wash, trim, and discard most of the thick stalk. Cut the florets into managable, Chinese-stirfry-sized pieces. Blanche in salted, boiling water for about 5-8 minutes, until soft but not mushy. Drain in a colander. In the same pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 teaspoon spicy paprika, then add 1 tablespoon pinenuts or other fragrant nut, and stir for another minute. Add the drained cauliflower, and stir to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a side to hearty stews, medium-rare beef, and fettuccine alfredo.

This was the cauliflower that we couldn't stop eating in the last few days, the one that has me happy about the arrival of cold weather in New York, and the harvest that I'll see at the Morningside Heights farmers' market tomorrow morning, granted I get there in time.

What else are you looking forward to this fall, as the nights get longer and the days get colder? What dreams of cauliflowers and kings do you harbor?


Pasta, a second time

Start with a tupperware full of day-old (spinach) pasta, stuck together in an impossible maze.

In a separate bowl, mix four eggs, 3/4 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup grated sharp cheese, 1 teaspoon spicy paprika, and salt and pepper to taste.

Break off chunks of the pasta with a knife, and scatter over the bottom of a buttered soufflé dish. Pour the egg mixture on top, and continue to alternate pasta with egg until both are used up. Sprinkle the top with an additional half cup of grated cheese.

In an oven set to 350 degrees, place the soufflé dish and cook until the top is puffed and slightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Serve in wedges, accompanied by a salad or seasonal vegetables.

Could there be an easier lunch, or a better way to use up the old, raggedy pasta that you can't stand to throw away?

Waste not, want not.


Cooking to support health

At a party the other night, I met a woman who is attending a school in New York called the Natural Gourmet Institute, whose mission is to train chefs in "health-supportive culinary arts." The idea, she told me, was to learn to cook whole foods for individuals who may need to make dietary changes because of illness, such as beginning a low-salt, low-meat, or high-fiber diet.

This is an intriguing premise, but I had to ask her: "How would you cook for individuals who have had eating disorders, and may have problems with restrictive eating to begin with?" She didn't have an answer right away -- she had only just begun the program this fall -- but she promised to get back to me about it.

Our exchange got me thinking again about food trends like the raw foods diet, the whole foods diet, vegan diets, and others that promote some form of restrictive eating in the name of health. I am usually uncomfortable around true adherents of these diets, or at least around those who are in a proselytizing mood, because I generally believe in the equation restriction --> binge. In certain yoga studios and other New Age gathering spots these kinds of diets are quite common, especially in combination with other self-purifying practices, and my tolerance for such drivel is really quite low these days. (Self-disclaimer: I practice yoga, too.)

That's not to say that I don't think that whole foods are important. But what does "whole foods" really mean? I am reminded of that classic anthropological text, The Raw and the Cooked -- haven't we humans been modifying our food for quite a long time? How whole is whole enough? Which food arts are too artificial? How can we support our health with whole foods without going crazy about the meaning of "whole"?

In my personal experience, bringing back whole foods into my diet was an important part of recovery, as the more whole grains, legumes, and leafy greens I consumed, the fewer cravings I had for sweet, high-fat foods. These foods, besides being filling and delicious, are also quite easy to prepare, and these days they fill the bulk of my diet. But I also enjoy things like white bread and cookies from time to time, and I've learned to believe that how you act towards food is more important than what you put in your mouth. That is, rather than worry so much about what I am eating, I would prefer to direct my energy towards how I eat.

For example: instead of chastising myself for eating white pasta (oh, horror!) for lunch yesterday, I find it more useful to celebrate the fact that my husband and I enjoyed the one free weekday we both share, and took off an hour in the middle of the day to make lunch together. He prepared the zucchini and cream sauce for the pasta, while I made a red lentil curry so spicy that it cleared out our sinuses completely.

This was not a "perfect meal" in the whole foods sense, but it was such a happy meal, such a complete dedication to each other and to the communion of good food, that I cannot consider it bad. And that, fundamentally, is the issue that I take with certain health-promoting diets that seem not to consider the meaning of our food, above and beyond its health benefits. This meal brought back our summer in Italy, with its zucchini and pasta, and ushered in fall with a hearty stew, all in one fell swoop. It joined my husband and me together in the bright hours of midday, and reminded us of the importance of doing things for ourselves, with our own hands, at a time when there are so many demands on our brains from all sides. This meal, if any, supported our health -- and I am glad to eat this way.


Baking, bounty, and other blessings

Last night I made muffins. Pear and ginger muffins -- oh glee!

I adapted a pear gingerbread cake recipe to muffin form, which is not at all hard to do because a recipe for a soda bread or loaf cake is often the equivalent, in batter volume, to a dozen muffins. In this instance, the recipe called for large pear slices to line the bottom of the cake pan, which just wouldn't do in the small muffin molds, so I threw in a pear and a half, finely chopped. The muffins that resulted were moist and fragrant, smelling of molasses and ginger and sweet pear. They were last night's dessert and doubled, this morning, as breakfast.

Sometimes I like the heft of sweet nutty breads, but other times their proportions are overwhelming, and I find that I often prefer such concoctions in miniature, in muffin form. For what are muffins but little cakes? -- And yet they twice as nice, with all of the fruit and spice and nuts that you can think to throw in. I even add a little freshly ground black pepper, for that extra picante note.

I only recently purchased my first muffin tin -- I previously led a gluten-free life, but now that those sensitivities seem to have cleared up somewhat, I am free to try all of the baking recipes that I please. Although I am mostly just baking for my husband and for myself, it is interesting to see how baking for him differs from baking for me or baking for us.

First, I love baking for myself, mainly because I haven't been able to eat wheat for these last few years, but also because, even before then, I was so afraid of baked goods in general, and my cravings for them, that I gave them as wide a berth as possible. Not so now -- and how I am enjoying this liberty to eat wheat and bring baked goods to parties. Last week, we invited a group of friends over to watch the second of the presidential debates, and I made an amazing pumpkin loaf from October's Gourmet (strangely absent from epicurious or Gourmet online) that was promptly gobbled up by nine willing accomplices. It is satisfying to cook for myself, and know that other people will also delight in my bounty.

The principal other in my life is my husband, who shares a similar fascination, if not familiarity, with baked goods. My husband comes from a Chinese family where almost nothing was ever baked, and the idea of us actually being able to produce a cake or muffins in our own oven is very novel to him. Ingredients that have never before been seen in our pantry, like yeast and vanilla extract, baking powder and molasses, have made their appearance in recent weeks, surprising my husband, who has never had need of such things before. To really astound him, I love saying "Let's make bread," or "Let's make oatmeal cookies." He'll reply, "Can we really do that?" Of course we can! We can make anything at all we want, as long as the two of us are hungry for it.

That's where baking for us comes in. He is my mate, this man, and together we form a small household. Baking for us reminds me that we are in this together, this business of life and love and sorrow and redemption. We are here for each other, to make bread and break bread together, to tell each other of our cares, and to count our many blessings. A warm oven and the smell of bread consecrate our lives together, within these narrow walls, in borrowed space, in the heart of the city that never sleeps.


Am I promoting food porn? Please weigh in.

I am giving you the most luscious images that I can pull out of my camera today, because I want to ask you a question: am I promoting food porn on my small corner of the interweb?

What is food porn? you may well ask. Please see the following wikipedia article on the topic for more detail: food porn 101. In brief: food porn is the use or distribution of salacious images of food, often used in advertisements, that suggest the consumption of food as a substitute for sex, or the consumption of food porn as a substitute for food.

To quote wiki: "In much the same way that pornography can be a vicarious substitute for actual sexual relations, 'food porn' is seen as a substitute for actually cooking and eating the food in question."

Hence the problem. Am I unwittingly encouraging you to substitute food photos for actual food?

I post nice images of the food that I make here on my site about food and eating disorders, and some of you may be wondering: what is she doing? Is this a kind of "have your cake and eat it too" endeavor? Am I trying to tempt myself or tempt others? What is going on?

If you haven't been here from the beginning, let me reassure you that my intention is not to enable food restriction among my readers. Quite the contrary. I make good food because I eat it; I share it with you not to sell a product or allow you to vicariously experience my dinner, but because I want to share my love of food with the kinds of people who may need that love the most: people who suffer from disordered eating, in one form or another.

I made this food by hand, laboriously and carefully, for myself and for the people I love. I share it with you, my readers, because I want to encourage you to do the same. I hope that, if you are afraid of some aspect of food, you can feel emboldened by my images and my stories, and begin to cook again for yourself. I want to help you to expand your notion of what food is, because I believe that restricted notions of what food is may also contribute to eating disorders. This is why I post these photos, and why I take such care in documenting the food that I eat -- because it is really quite ordinary, and yet marvelous, to be able to care about food in this fashion.

What do you think of "food porn"? Have you come across this term before? Are you a "consumer"? Where does the line get drawn between food images that help you in maintaining a healthy attitude towards food, and those that don't?

~Ai Lu



What drives our food cravings?

I am not talking about hunger, but rather a craving, a deep desire, for a particular kind of food, the kind of cravings that pregnant women get. What makes us yearn for tangerines or beet soup or raisins?

There is a delightfully descriptive word for these kinds of cravings in Spanish: antojo. An antojo, according to the Real Academia Española, is a “sudden and passing desire for something,” usually food. However, I rarely experience such fleeting passions: mine tend to stick around for a while, like the yen for authentic Asian food that has driven my cooking as of late. I think that it is important to listen to such cravings, because they often point to a deeper yearning.

For example, when I was just coming out of my eating disorder, I craved dark, leafy greens – not salads, per se, but chard and kale and collards and beet greens. I couldn’t seem to eat enough of them, and the health benefits were the last thing on my mind. I wanted green. In Beijing, it was practically a standing order for me at the restaurant: at every meal, I would ask my husband to get liu cai (green vegetables), and I would content myself with whatever else he ordered as a main. I ate copious amounts of bok choy that way, as well as spinach, watercress, Chinese broccoli, mustard greens, and other rare species.

Lately I have felt a similar antojo, towards vegetables and whole grains. I want to discover vegetarian mains again, and renew my love of beans as the weather get colder and the nights longer. There is nothing heartier or more heart-warming than a bowl of piping hot beans after a long day running up and down the island of Manhattan. A few nights ago I made my first authentic-tasting Indian dal, according to Chuan, and we have been eating the spicy leftovers ever since.

For me, vegetarian food is grounding, especially beans and whole grains and root vegetables -- exactly the kinds of the things that are right for this season. So tonight, when I go out to dinner with friends, I'll be looking for eggplant pasta and broccoli au gratin, borlotti purée and turnip cakes. I am not sure what this means: am I trying to share in the bounty of the fall harvest? Am I looking to set down roots even as my life is changing in drastic and surprising ways? Am I reminding myself of my agrarian heritage, even as I become more and and more of an urbanite? Or is this antojo biological, running through my blood and coursing out in my hormones?

So much for long-term passions: this one is brief -- I am hungry, and my husband is almost out the door!


Four witches

This is one of my favorite engravings by Dürer, Four Witches, or Judgment of Paris. It was created in 1497, just five years after Columbus reached the New World.

I have a copy of this image hanging in our bathroom, to remind me as I come out of the shower that a rounder female form was once admired, in Renaissance Europe. These women, whether witches or goddesses, are powerful. They form a closed group, a harmonious circle, talking over man's fate amongst themselves. They are grown, mature, and fertile, and I wonder if they don't represent the kind of full female power that has been shoved aside so violently in our current 21st-century adulation of slenderness.

Imagine! These are women who menstruate, women who give birth, women who bathe in moonlight and practice divination. These are the kinds of women who frighten the powers-that-be, wonderful witchy wives.

Tonight, I wish I could be like them, reveling in the feel of air on flesh, unafraid of my own nakedness, joined in sisterhood with other women. Tonight, I invoke them in my efforts to find my way back to my own round body and its needs.



My body is changing.

I know, I know -- it is always changing, mostly in mundane ways: hair falls off; skin follicles shed; my hands gain calluses and my legs, bruises; wrinkles form in unusual places; I age. I know this. I know that these changes are part of the human contract: we agree to them in living these fallible lives. We cannot be perfect.

But, I want to say in response to my wiser self, My body is different. See? It hasn't changed a wink in over two years, and now this! These new pounds, right there! What is going on? It feels disorienting to face a new body in the morning, even if there's nothing objectively to dislike about that body. There was comfort in having things stay the same these last few years, especially as my eating learned to take care of itself; the last thing I needed was a body that went willy-nilly. For a while, I had even learned to trust my body, and to trust that it would tell me what it needed. This recent spurt of weight gain has called into question some of my trust.

Nevertheless, although I am uncomfortable with some of the changes that I feel in my body, there is nothing that I want to do to change them (unlike in the past). I don't want to eat less -- I know where that road leads down, and I don't like it one bit -- and I don't have the energy or the inclination to exercise myself into oblivion.

In fact, I am quite resigned to not doing anything, in particular, to fight or mold my body. These attempts are mostly futile, anyway. Both scientific research and my own experience shows that restriction sets one up for binges, or worse, and that most weight lost on diets is quickly gained back. So there goes one more myth, one more attempt to be someone or some body I am not. It is sad, in a way, to see that myth go: to recognize that I can't touch it again, or it might kill me.

And yet -- with what can that myth be replaced? For it needs a replacement, or it won't die easily.

Where do I learn to be a woman who loves her body no matter its shape? Where do I learn to surrender to the changes that occur, those monthly and yearly fluctuations that may or may not mean anything larger?

Right now, I am trying to look for meaning in the rest of my life, to reassure myself that there are better things worth worrying about than whether or not my pants are tight. It is interesting how life, right now, has presented me with so many more worthwhile endeavors than body sculpting. I hardly have time to be fretting about my waistline, and so it has turned into a series of conscious choices:
  • I can envy that other woman on the train for her pencil-thin legs, or I can dedicate myself to memorizing neuroanatomy while traveling uptown.
  • I can question my lunchtime decisions, or I can pay attention to my professor's lecture in my afternoon class.
  • I can worry about whether I am dressed attractively, or I can listen to a patient's concerns.
  • I can spend my evenings exercising, or I can eat dinner with my husband.
  • I can hate my body, or I can love and appreciate it.
Bit by bit, these are the things that are replacing the myth of the perfect body. It doesn't take an idiot to see that they are far more worthwhile endeavors than resurrecting an eating disorder. But that is not to say that it isn't difficult, now, to trust that this is what I need to do, and to surrender myself to larger cycles and larger concerns.

I would love to know: what is your replacement for the myth of the perfect body?

How do you stay sane in the midst of constant change?


Gray matter, no matter

These hours between school or work and bedtime are the most precious to me. They are when I see my husband; when we prepare and eat dinner together; and when I get a few scant hours of course reading in before I have to head off to bed. So I'll be brief here.

I have spent more hours than not lately studying my neuroscience textbook and pushing all other responsibilities out of the way. I have memorized the parts of the brain, figured out action potentials and neurotransmitters, and charted the effects of drugs on the body. The last two Saturdays I have spent cooped up in our apartment, a mug of tea in hand and Bach on the stereo, examining neuroanatomy slides and repeating, to myself, the names of ventricles and nuclei and tracts over and over again. Even though I feel tied to my chair, forced unnaturally to be studying on a weekend, I love the material. I love the sense of awe that I feel at understanding the origin of our thoughts and feelings, and the amazement at thinking that, some day, I could understand this field as well as I understand Spanish literature or cooking.

Behind my appreciation for neuroscience, I feel a sense of spiritual mooring. The body is our home, after all, and studying the brain makes me feel very close to my origins. I trace its contours and think this is me. Yes, this mass of spongy matter, this curving and branching and spliced, turned, fluid thing. This map to our center, this gray labyrinth of desire, this one mortal coil: you, and I, and all the rest.

How deep our science goes!