11.04.2008

Why I no longer restrict my diet -- or do I? (Part 3)

I have been restricting my food intake ever since I was ten years old, when I became tired of teachers and uncles always harping on me to eat meat. As long as I could remember, the taste of meat and seafood was abhorrent to me, hot-dogs and chicken nuggets aside. I have horrible memories of my kindergarten teacher begging me -- nay, forcing me, almost -- to eat a fried fish stick for lunch one day. I gulped it down in two bites, hating her for making me eat something so repellent to my taste buds. (In retrospect, I think that the problem may have been a lack of exposure to good quality meats and fresh seafood, living in the Midwest, and less an inherent dislike of animal products.)

In order to gain control over what I put in my mouth, I decided to become vegetarian and persisted at it, despite my parents' consternation and the criticism of other adults, for nearly eight years. At seventeen, I became an exchange student to Chile and, along with a desire to embrace a new culture and all things that came with it, I decided to start eating meat again. My first meal was, ironically enough, fried fish -- but nothing could be less like the fish sticks of my childhood. Chile has been blessed with one of the world's longest and most fertile coastlines, and their seafood is extraordinary. The fish I ate was a white-fleshed merluza, battered in eggs and flour and parsley, fried on the grill (a la plancha), and served with a wedge of lemon.

Fresh fried fish can make a convert of any vegetarian, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Since then, I have often felt beguiled by the prospect of restriction. For a period, I avoided anything with sugar or processed sugar, spurred on by the book Sugar Blues. In college, as I stumbled into my eating disorder, the categories encompassing restricted foods became larger and larger: first no whole milk, then no dessert, then no caloric beverages, then only veggies and yogurt for dinner. At the height of my restriction I tipped into bulimia, and have spent the years since emerging from that particular compulsion. In the meanwhile, my digestive system tied itself in knots, and I emerged completely unable to digest wheat and other glutenous grains until this fall.

So now is the first time that I have not restricted my food for nearly 15 years. And I am facing the prospect of yet another restriction, one which I am ambivalent towards: taking caffeine out of my diet.

At the worst point of my restrictive eating, I used caffeine to give me the energy that I was not willing to get from calories. I frequently drank caffeinated beverages before meals in order to stave off my desire to eat and postpone the meal itself. In recovery, I relied on caffeine as a sugar substitute: that is, when my body wanted to binge on sweets, I drank coffee instead, or bottles and bottles full of diet soda, willing my body to stop wanting sugar. It may have worked at the time, but it left me with a potent caffeine addiction that I have had a difficult time weaning my way out of.

The reason that I am considering doing so now is that my breasts have felt tender and rather lumpy lately. I had everything checked out through the proper channels this week; my symptoms are benign so I'm not going to make a will any time soon. But the bad news, if it can called bad, is that this discomfort may be due to my high caffeine intake. And here we go again: to restrict or not to restrict. No coffee? No black tea? No chocolate? (I suspect that the last one is going a bit far -- how much caffeine can there possibly be in an ounce of chocolate?)

I have a few thoughts about this. The first is "Oh, yay, now I can finally have a good reason to end my energy dependence on foreign fuel." Caffeine makes me jumpy and irritable, interrupts my concentration, and turn me into an insomniac. I'm not sure what the upside is to it. But my second thought is "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiitttttt a second. W-w-w-what? No caffeine? Ever? Again? How am I going to get through graduate school?" That is my instinctive fear: that I will have to end something, to let something go that I am not ready to say good-bye to. Addictions are never easy to relinquish, but to make matters worse, I live in a city with a Starbucks on every other block.

And my third thought?: "My breasts are definitely worth it."

I'll take it slow, go cold turkey for now, and then see how a cup (no more) of joe affects me from time to time. But there will be no drastic end to the chocolate: the caffeine in chocolate is miniscule in comparison with coffee and tea, and I'm sure that a chocolate cookie from time to time would be just what the doctor ordered...



Note: None of my own images this time around. Click on them and you will be re-directed to their Flickr pages.

7 comments:

Cammy said...

I went off of caffeine a few years ago for health reasons, and it was hard as hell to start with. I had been drinking about two pots of coffee and a couple of diet cokes every day, and I went completely cold turkey. I felt like I was DYING. But I found that after I had "detoxed" I actually had MORE energy, since I wasn't constantly slipping into withdrawal from my last dose. I am still a dedicated coffee drinker, though, you don't have to give that up, decaf tastes just as good! Your bones are another good reason to kick the habit, caffeine leaches calcium from your skeleton and teeth.

Tiptoe said...

Breaking caffeine addiction can be tough. Throughout the last several years, I've significantly reduced my caffeine intake. I still drink decaf and an iced tea at night. Like Cammy, I found an increase of energy as well. A lot also had to due with drinking more water.

Find what works for you in terms of cold turkey or using more of a successive reductions approach. Your body will eventually get off the "high" feeling of caffeine and will no longer crave it.

Much luck. I know you can get there.

Emily Jolie said...

Hi Ai Lu,

I've drunk coffee on and off in my life (more off than on). It gives me really bad insomnia, even if I drink it early on in the day. For a while, though, I was totally hooked on Starbucks' moccha frappuccinos, and I can relate on how you used coffee for meal replacements! There was a time when I would have a moccha frap as a substitute for lunch. I thought it was brilliant, because it gave me energy, made me happy, and curbed my appetite! Although I knew, deep down, this was not the healthy choice, it felt like a good choice then.

Nowadays, I really enjoy my yerba mate in the mornings. Are you familiar with it? I find it's great to get me going and give me a mental and physical boost, while not giving me the jitters associated with coffee or upsetting my sleep patterns. It's supposed to be very high in anti-oxidants and have all sorts of other health benefits. Check it out here (http://www.guayaki.com/) if you're interested.

with care,

~ej

Lisa said...

Breasts are ALWAYS worth it. Good luck, I know you can make it.

Carrie Arnold said...

Depending on how much you drink, I'd start tapering off. I had to decaffeinate while in the hospital, and the disgusting amounts I was drinking left me with horrible migranes for a week.

But Cammy's idea of decaf is good- I love the taste of coffee, so I'm okay with it in the evenings. I'm also learning to love herbal teas. Could you find some other bevvies to explore to take the sting out of no coffee.

And yay for the tatas! ;)

Ai Lu said...

So I have found some useful coffee substitutes, like a ground barley drink that I can put in my espresso machine! It comes out dark and thick like coffee, which is great as far as I am concerned. And Cammy, you're right: after a week without coffee, I can't tell the difference between regular and decaf in terms of flavor.

Emily Jolie, it is quite the coincidence that you mention mate, because I learned to drink it while I was living in Argentina, and it is one of my favorite drinks, even though it's a bit messy. I'm going to try brewing it like tea instead of drinking it out of the traditional gourd.

Best,
Ai Lu

Emily Jolie said...

Dear Ai Lu,

The brand I linked to above has their Yerba Mate available both as loose 'tea' or in tea bags. The tea bags make it very easy and convenient. I buy mine at Trader Joe's (do you have one near you?), and Whole Foods carries it, as well... though, of course, TJ's is a little cheaper.

I am sipping on my cup of Yerba Mate as I am writing this. :)

I have tried something like the drink you describe, as well. There is one called Tecchino. There is a similar product that Europeans drink a lot called Caro (here, I have seen it as Pero). A few other companies have the same drink by a different name. This one comes in a powdered form that you simply pour hot water over, like instant coffee. My sister loves it! I like the taste, but it seems to make me bloated. It didn't occur to me until a couple of years ago that it might be the gluten in it.

Hope you keep enjoying your new beverages of choice!

with care,

~ej