Ramalamamammogram

“So you just turned 40, I want you to go have a mammogram,” says my doctor at my annual physical just after my 40th birthday.

“That’s not necessary is it?” I scrunch up my face.

“What, it doesn’t hurt, don’t be a wimp,” she replies.

“Oh, you’ve had one?”

“Well, nooo…”

Fucking doctors. Who’s with me on the idea that every general practitioner should, during their medical training, have to experience every test they could potentially send a patient for? Not the actual mammogram with the scan, but everything up to that point, including the boob sandwich (male doctors too), as well as a colonoscopy, and a partial toenail removal.

“So how do you know it doesn’t hurt?”

She sighs. “I don’t, but you have a family history of breast cancer from your grandmother, so let’s be safe.”

I can’t honestly remember now if my grandmother had breast cancer or not. I think she did, but she had so many other cancers, along with pneumonia, diabetes, and tuberculosis at one point, that, sure, better to be safe than sorry. And it can’t be that bad, right?

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Accidentally Zen — How I Hopped Off the Treadmill of Life

So, you know all those self-help articles about how to slow down your life, to step off the overwhelming, too-much-information treadmill that is the basic existence of the modern world? Specifically, the ones that tell you to turn off your phone after a certain time each evening, or to drink a glass of water every morning as soon as you get up? Or to delete your Facebook account?

What do you think would happen if you actually did all of that stuff? Would you be relieved and relaxed? Or frantic that you’re too disconnected from everyone?

While I’ve always been an introvert, for years I was able to exist as one of those introverts who could actually go out and be sociable. I needed a lot of downtime to balance the energy expended running a concert production company, complete with musicians crashed on my floor; and during my time as a local food writer I had to impose a strict limit of no more than three food-related events per week, just so I could get some actual writing done. And I had no problem giving speeches, introducing bands, or barging into restaurant kitchens to interview chefs.

Then, a few years ago, that all changed. A series of injuries and illnesses — none deathly serious, but all debilitating enough that I had to slow down and rethink how and why I was doing a lot of things — meant that I no longer spent a lot of time with large groups of people. It also meant that I had much less patience with other human beings doing generally stupid stuff. And that I experienced no actual necessity to do the stuff (like check my phone constantly) that most people consider part of their daily lives.

I suddenly had the time (and need) to meditate. There was no reason to take my phone to the bedroom overnight so I started it leaving to charge on my desk. I no longer needed a huge wardrobe or to put on make-up more than once a week or so. This psychological paring down had a greater effect; where I once enjoyed window shopping, I suddenly felt it a waste of time, since I didn’t really need or want anything anyway.

I had, quite by accident, starting living a life that many people seeking spiritual enlightenment, or a sense of quiet, would be envious of. Call it pared down, zen, or just basic bitch, I was living a very quiet, and very inward existence.

The only problem was, that sense of spiritual fulfillment that is supposed to come with this much mindfulness wasn’t really there. The more I turned inward, the more inward I turned, if that makes sense.

Oh, there was a smugness. Definitely a sense of being ever so pleased with myself at the idea that I didn’t need all the trappings of a wild shopping trip or the ego-boost of social media likes. But in some ways I was kidding myself.

The more I turned away from the world, the more I felt disconnected from it. Should I write a blog post? Oh, nobody will care. Should I make plans with some friends for dinner? Oh, they’ll be too busy… This train of thought comes from a massive lack of self-esteem due to childhood trauma that I usually hide reasonably well. And of course, the disconnection was mostly on me — I was the one crawling into my shell and hiding away.

But have I truly found some sense of enlightenment (peace, calm, what ever you want to call it) in this withdrawal from society? I’m usually pretty happy as an introvert. I am more comfortable alone than with most other people (husband and dog excepted). I enjoy the more basic life that I now live. But if I’m doing all the things I’m supposed to do to be more at peace, why doesn’t it feel that way? Or am I actually deliriously happy and just don’t realize it? Is there more to this zen thing than meets the eye?

Book Review — The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating

The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating
Anthony Warner
Oneworld Publications, 2017

When I created this site, one of the first policies I decided upon was NO DIET BOOKS. Having started out my food writing career as the editor of a blog that debunked nutrition claims (only to have it become a pro-diet blog when I moved on), I can’t stand the constant parade of bloggers and nutrition experts offering unsubstantiated, and often dangerous, health advice to readers. In that respect, I feel as if Anthony Warner and I are kindred spirits.

Warner has spent a quarter century in the food industry. With a degree in biochemistry, he has worked with food manufacturers to create many foods that appear on UK grocery shelves. He has spent the last few years blogging and writing pieces for other publications as The Angry Chef, trying to set people straight about the false information they get from self-proclaimed health and lifestyle gurus.

The book is heavy on the science aspect of things, which might throw some people off. Don’t pick up The Angry Chef for the snarky skewering of Gwyneth Paltrow or that Food Babe chick. That’s there, but Warner spends more time explaining science things than dissing the pretty skinny girls who want to sell you a book about their detox plan.

Warner works his way through various diets and health plans (because health gurus never want to call their plan a diet, to promote wright loss, even though that’s what it actually is), torching Paleo, clean eating, GAPS, detox and more. He spends a lot of time looking at the psychology of the sell, essentially how we’re tricked into believing the claims based on the use of language and plays to human nature such as the desperation of cancer patients for whom traditional medical treatments have failed.

Overall, the writing style, which works so well for Warner’s blog, becomes a bit disjointed here in a full book format. The offhand discussion between the parts of his brain and “Science Colombo” sometimes feels like it’s meant to be a comedy routine and not a discussion of health and science, and Warner often spends a lot of time on tangents of psychology that an editor should have demanded be tightened up significantly.

My concern with this is that it may turn off the very people who need the information Warner has to offer. As a society, we’re quite brainwashed into aspiring to some image of ideal health, and will try all kinds of cockamamie plans and tricks to try to achieve that. The slim, photogenic lifestyle guru with the detox plan (and matching t-shirts and tote bags for sale in her online shop) has the message down to a “science”. Warner’s message often gets clouded by his meandering writing style, or over-explaining either science or psychology to the point where the reader becomes bored.

While he’s right, and righteous, there needs to be more here to engage the reader, especially the ones who desperately need to be converted away from Paltrow Science and towards reason and logic. He offers some lists and tips to help weed out the charlatans, but probably the best tip always is to not take health advice from an uncredited stranger on the internet. Especially one who became a health “expert” by curing their own health problems with smoothies.

Pat a Dog – Self Care Month Day 3

Selfie with Wiggly Corgi

Or a cat, or a bird. I advise against chasing down animals in the wild, but having animals in our lives has huge health benefits, from increasing our circle of friends and acquaintances to lowering stress.

Having a dog will get you up and moving, for both walks and play; will likely make you more organized (they’re sticklers for a schedule); will give you plenty of opportunities for a hearty belly laugh; and are always on hand to offer an ear or a snuggle when you’re feeling down.

If having a pet isn’t practical for you right now, you can visit friends with pets, volunteer at an animal shelter (bunny snugglers wanted!), look at pictures of animals online, or even get a stuffed animal to fill some of the gaps. (Seriously, before we got our current dog, I was going through a depressive period and bought a toy sloth named Cyril. Cyril lived on the back of the sofa, and sat on my lap while I watched TV. He was quite the critic, and would wave his long arms at my husband when he disliked a show and wanted it turned off. He was also an expert at the UK museum-themed quiz show, Quizeum. Claims he never got an answer wrong, beating some of the best historians in the world.)

Whatever way you choose to interact with animals, they can help you feel better in both the short and long term.

Book Review – Stir

stir

Stir – My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home
Jessica Fechtor

In February of this year, I got knocked down in the street. A complete accident, it occurred as a woman was stepping out of a shop door and wasn’t watching where she was going. She slammed into my back and sent me flying, face-first onto the sidewalk. I walked away from the fall but was left with severe muscle tears and sprains, including both shoulders. On top of an already herniated disc in my neck, the combo left me useless in terms of cooking or housework for months. Even now (mid-July) my shoulders are still very fragile, having been re-injured a number of times when I overdid something such as lifting a too-heavy item or exercising too much, too soon.

Through it all, as my husband and I ate take-out or prepared food night after night for dinner, I desperately wanted to get back into the kitchen. But I couldn’t bend my head forward to chop, lifting stockpots sent me back to recovery, and even the repetitive action of hulling a bag of peas caused a major set-back. Of all the different types of illness and injuries I’ve had over the years, I’ve never gone this long without being able to cook.

So Jessica Fechtor’s story in Stir, of how a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her, also took away the thing she loved doing most, was very relatable to me. Not the nearly dying part, but definitely the part about wanting to get back into the kitchen.

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The F-Word

I was at a media event a few weeks ago, talking with some folks about why I don’t do restaurant reviews for TasteTO myself. “I’m pretty unique looking, you know? If I’m out at something like this and meet a chef, they’re probably going to remember the fat girl with the red hair and sparkly glasses.”

Nervous laughter.

It’s either that or dead silence. Maybe someone will pipe up and say, “oh, you’re not fat” in a way that lets you know clearly that they think you are. But people seem to really not know how to deal with a fat girl referring to herself as fat.

But here’s the thing – I’m with myself every day – in the shower, in front of the mirror, getting dressed… buying new clothes. I know what the scale says, what the size tags say and what the measuring tape says. And they all say that I’m fat.

And I’m okay with that.

Really.

Personal history, genetics, and a job where I basically eat and then sit down and write about what I eat – all of that aside, I’m fat and I’m probably never going to be skinny. Technically I’ve been fat since I was 10. And I don’t really have an overwhelming desire to be thin, skinny or “average”.

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