When Our “Normal” Is Way Too Much
I was very sick yesterday. So sick, in fact, that in dragging myself to a “last hurrah” breakfast and walking up four flights of stairs, I found myself in tears in the middle of a small living room, overwhelmed with vertigo and nausea and a fever that left me numb. I feel better today, after much sleep and broth-based food consumption, but those lingering aches at the corners of my body remind me that if I do not spend this week taking very good care of things, I could easily become sick again.
I know why I was sick. It was the end of a grand, gluttonous two-week period, where friends arrived from all over multiple continents to stay with us in New York and travel with us to Puerto Rico where Marc and I celebrated our engagement with them. By the time the last beloved visitor left last night, my whole body was spent, exhausted from a non-stop parade of good food and good wine and nights that didn’t end until the sun rose because who could bear to miss it when we barely ever see these people? Our lives have taken on that pattern, in a lot of ways. When you are from different places, when you live in various countries, the rest of your life is in some ways doomed (or lucky enough!) to be marked by these indulgent periods of catch-up. Everyone is so excited to see each other that another late night, another drink, another gossipy smoke outside the bar is always justified.
And so my body had had enough. With low blood sugar and a high temperature, and nothing in my stomach because nothing would stay, I realized just how easy it is to not take care of myself. Yes, this was a particularly hedonistic few weeks, but I would be lying if I said I had not been here before, to lesser degrees. Like everyone else, I have had periods of weight gain and weight loss, fatigue and high energy, grouchiness and pep. I know when I’ve not been treating myself well — too many pizzas with not enough of those cure-all “side salads,” too many glasses of red with only one or two waters between. We have all indulged, treated ourselves like Medieval kings at the feast of our own lives.
But what is shocking to me in all of it is how easy it is to consume this way. Like many millennials, and certainly millennials in cities like New York, the “food and drink” portion of my budget represents by far the biggest category of discretionary spending, the place into which all of those famed “experiential” purchases fall, the place where memories are created (and sometimes, let’s be honest, totally forgotten). The food and nightlife and bottle-based portions of my budget always seem to be expanding, justified by an “I-have-no-time” lunch Seamless order of sushi and Diet Coke, or a night out with friends who happen to be in town (and friends always happen to be in town). It is easy to stop by the store and stock up on all the things I need, and several blocks of fancy cheese that I definitely don’t.
Looking around me, though, you would think there is nothing particularly abnormal about eating and drinking and stay-out-late-ing yourself into real sickness. We are surrounded, bombarded, with constant encouragements to indulge ourselves and to reward ourselves for everything from a promotion, to an engagement, to the fact that it is Friday, to the fact that it is Wednesday which is pretty close to Friday, to Game of Thrones night, to making it through yet another day as a woman in our society. We are told to rosé all day, to to treat ourselves to an ever-expanding list of foods that do nothing for our insides and spell disaster for our skin. Netflixing with a lit candle and a bloated Thai order all to ourselves is celebrated, and somehow considered in an unplaceable way to be self-affirming. You don’t need a man to eat two times your daily recommended intake of calories and sodium in one meal, do you?
This drives me to spend. I know it does. I see how much in my everyday life I associate adulthood, femininity, success, and friendships all with some kind of indulgent, caloric, pricey “experience” to mark the occasion. And while, no, I would never suggest that all of these moments be removed from life — give me the occasional basket of fries and a glass of ice-cold white on a summer day, or give me death! — I wonder how we are ever supposed to properly ration ourselves when even the slightest bit of pulling back is considered deprivation? When even to write about our indulgences, to acknowledge them in stark terms for what they are, is considered taboo?
Because that’s the truth of it: It has become, in many ways, harder and more demanding of awareness to do what is right for our bodies (and wallets!) than to do what is wrong for them. It is difficult to find out what we actually need and eat within those needs, to make sure that our meals are balanced and nutritious, to socialize as a young adult without every other event involving some sort of alcoholic component. It is much harder to say that we are abstaining, that we are cutting back, that we are paying attention — it’s easier, and more socially-valorized, to affirm with vigor that we are indulging. The girl who knocks back four beers and 10 chicken wings is much, much cooler, after all, than the girl who drinks two nights a week and makes sure her plate is 2/3rds veggies.
I have planned out my meals for the next few days, making sure that I’m giving myself what I need and doing what I can to restore my immune system. That means early, long nights of sleep, plenty of soups and salads, and long walks with a podcast in my headphones that actually teaches me something new. I am trying to think of it not as an “undoing,” because that only reinforces this view of life as some kind of constant, violent pendulum swing between “too much” and “not enough.” The truth is, for many of us, our “normal” errs towards the “too much,” and the idea is to remind yourself that the days you are “taking care of yourself” are the resting state.
We cannot think of treating ourselves healthfully and attentively as some kind of deprivation, repenting for prior sins by robbing ourselves of enjoyment. The giant pan of broccoli I’m making has handfuls of rough-chopped garlic: it’s plenty enjoyable. The point is that this lean, inexpensive, restorative way of treating myself should be my baseline, with a few notable (and thoroughly-enjoyed) spikes throughout my week. Because it is so easy of us, for any of us, to slip into habits and routines that conflate satiating our pleasure centers with satiating our bodies, and which infuse gluttony with an oddly-moral sense of justification. We are not somehow triumphing by doing things that are simply delicious and satisfying.
A brownie is just a brownie. A glass of wine is just a glass of wine. And sometimes they are worth it, but just like anything else we do in life, they don’t come without a price.
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