The title is a message to myself. I have decided that half of my issues are over-thinking food. Panicking about whether I am eating right is tying my stomach up in knots, making it impossible to digest. Could I eat more fermented foods? Sure. Could I cut out alcohol completely, instead of the 3-5 glasses a month I consume? Sure. Or could I maybe, just maybe, do it all in moderation and breathe easier? Hells yeah.
When we were in a Cuban resort for a week (I know, I know, shut up about it already! Well, I can’t. It was that good.) I had to avoid any food that may contain gluten. Since gluten is sneaky, and can hide in anything from sauces, malt vinegar or creams (including cream liqueurs), I stuck to the made to order stations and the plain vegetables. Occasionally there would be fresh plain rice that wasn’t cross-contaminated yet which made me very happy or hard cheeses that I enjoy (since dairy bothers me too). This made eating in Cuba very routine for me. It sounds boring, but it was actually a relief. At home I was doing so much researching or over-thinking every meal and snack, I was exhausted. Now I was off the hook, eating only what I could and not having to do any of the cooking or meal prep or dishes. Every day was more or less the same.
We would get up and make our way from the room to the buffet station. I would basically roll out of bed and wet down my hair so birds didn’t try to nest in it while I ate, my bedhead was that bad, and throw on some underwear and a sundress. I let my kids decide if they wanted to get dressed or wear pajamas, and they often chose their pajamas….living the dream. I was continually shocked to stroll in to the dining room every morning and see some women dressed to the nines. Fancy sundress with a nice scarf, hair blow dried and full makeup on. (I was rather in awe of the dedication of these women!) Since my plans for the day were to stroll on a beach where very few people knew me before jumping in the ocean or letting my kids get me all sandy, I didn’t think makeup was necessary. Even when the salt water, sea air and mosquitoes made my skin very very very bad and covered with zits and bug bites…. anyway, to each their own…and I digress.
So I would roll in to the buffet, barely presentable and order a black coffee (which they would always set in front of Josh and his milk and coffee in front of me…I guess black coffee is a manly drink, haha). I would then get in line at the omelette bar station. The lady who made the omelettes all week was my favourite. She didn’t speak much English but between my few words of Spanish and her few words of English, we understood each other a little. I would order a vegetarian omelette most days. Two eggs, fresh tomatoes and onions with a little bit of salt was my favourite combination. Clean, simple food. I would eat the omelette and drink about 4 glasses of water along with my black coffee and get on with my day.
Lunch varied, slightly. There weren’t a lot of options so it was more habit than choices. Some kind of protein (fish or a kebab) with a teensy bit of hard cheese and figs and a bunch of fresh veggies from the salad bar. Sometimes a bit of rice if it was available.
At dinner time I often hit the made to order fish station. Surprisingly, most of their fish is flown in from Spain or Mexico, and isn’t local. The two local fish he had were “Tambien” according to the cook. I chose what I thought looked the best and most fresh, and I heard him saying to the man behind me that I picked the two best fish. Score. I am still not sure what the one fish was…. but it was yummy. They would grab them from a big fridge in the back and throw them right on the grill. A little bit of salt was all I asked for. After my two giant pieces of fish were on my plate, I would head over to the other station and grab some diced tomatoes in oil and vinegar and pile those on top of the fish. Then, over to the buffet pans for some peas as a side, and the rice if if was fresh. If there wasn’t any rice, I would choose another vegetable like mashed squash or a pile of fresh tomatoes and go back to the table.
I thought eating protein and vegetables for dinner would leave me feeling unsatisfied and grumpy, but I was pleasantly surprised. At home, if there is no carb on my plate I consider it a snack-not a meal! I am limited in what starches and carbs I can have, being gluten-intolerant, but I always make sure I eat a ton of what my gut will allow. In Cuba, there was none of that. There are no gluten-free pasta or bread options, no gluten-free crackers or snacks really. For the first time, my kids didn’t have a snack between meals. I thought they would be insufferable so we brought snacks from home….and barely needed them. (But when we needed them, hangry took on a whole new meaning). It really made me open up about my rigid thoughts of my family’s diets. Partially we were okay there because of the heat, and because of the distractions of friends and beach and sand. Partially, I think we just mentally adapted to it. But I think we all adapted more than well.
I felt that I thrived living on seafood and greens. The lighter meals made me feel bouncy and my gut was really, really happy with me. I had more energy and I slept better when I went to bed a teensy hungry rather than feeling sluggish and full. Of course, now that we are back, I have fallen in to old habits- hard. I eat too many carbs at meals and I even made gluten-free spaghetti twice in a row which I ate for snacks as well as for meals. I have been stuffing my face with gluten-free crackers every evening and going to bed full. And guess what?? Predictably, I feel awful. My gut is a mess and I feel heavy and have no energy. I honestly feel that there is a “sweet spot” of eating for everyone. Some need sodium high foods, some need more fruit, or more protein. That’s why blanket meal plans and things like the Atkins diet that are one size fits all (basically) don’t work. I think we have lost touch with how we FEEL when we eat something. We just stuff our face or blindly follow some diet rules and call it a day. We have lost our communion with food, our need for it to sustain our spirit and life force. In Cuba, I felt like I was finally eating for ME. I didn’t obsess over food there or portions. I ate when the buffet opened once I got hungry, stopped when I was full, and didn’t feel the desire for snacks in the meantime. I didn’t THINK about food the whole time I was there. There was food when I was hungry and, by luck, it was the right kind for my body type and I felt in harmony with it. IN HARMONY WITH FOOD. I can’t think of anything more satisfying. And I am shocked that I felt like that. It is the first time ever that it has happened for me. (Tune in next week when I go over my history with food and the sizes I’ve been over my lifetime. It ain’t pretty). The only thing that wasn’t healthy was the Mojitos I drank, but I drank wayyyyy less than I thought I would; since they SEEMED thirst-quenching, it was hot, and drinks were free. I think most days I drank around 3-4 and that was tons. I drank just as much water and coffee. More often than not, I was too busy with the kids to think about a free drink and they would just sit there and melt. 🙂 Plus, Josh and I are practically 90-year-old teetotalers with our coffee in the morning, crosswords, tea at night, and early bedtime. We love it that way.
When I was still in Cuba, on one of our last nights there, I had a dream that was not a dream. It was a memory. In 2001, I was in Japan teaching English. One of my favourite private students took me to a fortune teller as her present to me before I left. She thought it would be a fun little thing we could do together. He took some of my info- birthdate, birth time, birth city…and then rolled some dice with little hieroglyphic type characters on the sides. There is a name for what he does exactly, but it eludes me, and that’s okay. So he does his thing and then tells me an overview of my life. My student translated it for me and he wrote it out in Japanese on a piece of paper for me. It was scarily accurate. It said I would meet my love in 2007/8 (check), have a baby girl in 2008 (check) and a baby boy 2-3 years later (check). I would be married when I was around 30(check). Then he told me I was eating wrong for my body type and that my body would not have perfect balance until I ate mostly fish, white meat (sparingly) and vegetables. My body, he said, is not great with carbs. I, of course, ignored him. I had this dream while I was in Cuba, this perfect remembering of the facts. Coming home, I pulled out the sheet and there it was in Japanese with some translated text on it. So, do I believe in fortune telling- rarely to never- but there is no denying it that he was right and my body thanked me when I ate like that in Cuba.
It made me realize that it is necessary to shut out all the articles online, or the Instagram photos of how that stranger eats, or high profile diets or trends and LISTEN to your own body. Listen intensely, meditate if you have to….but get back to basics and do what is right for you- however crazy it may seem.