Family/inspiration/parenting/running: A Can of Peas

This story was last published in Radish Magazine in September 2008

A Can of Peas

One summer day a dozen years ago, I stood at my living room window and watched two women walk by on the sidewalk. They were both young mothers, and each pushed a stroller holding a toddler about the same size as Dana, my then two-year-old daughter. It struck me how alike the women looked – heavy and slow, with untucked, oversized T-shirts covering ample butts and bellies. Then my window became a mirror, and I saw myself. I looked just like them.

In that instant, as I stood there in my untucked, oversized T-shirt and elastic waist shorts, I knew I had to make some changes. God was hitting me over the head with a giant foam hammer: "This is an epiphany, Lori. Run with it." And that, more or less, is what I did.

I’d always been a tiny person, able to exercise never, eat whatever whenever, and remain trim and petite. I’d even come out the other end of my first pregnancy smaller than when I went into it. I’d had a hard time just holding onto my first child, a boy. After seven months of nausea, projectile rejection of almost all food save Cheerios and Dannon yogurt, and a stint in the hospital hooked to a nasogastric tube that delivered protein drink through my nostrils to my stomach, my Adam greeted the world two months early. Four pounds and able to fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. When we took our tiny fighter home after his stay in intensive care, I weighed five pounds less than I’d weighed in high school.

Dana stayed in the womb a week beyond the due date. While I carried Dana, she and I ate. About every 20 minutes. With Adam, I felt sick if I ate. With Dana, I felt sick if I didn’t. I embarked on a nine-month, nonstop eating orgy. Steak, peanut butter, baked potatoes with sour cream, hot fudge sundaes. Deli meat, frozen pizza, Cheez-Its by the boxful. Oreos, burritos, chocolate and butterscotch pudding smothered in Redi-Whip. I slept with a loaf of bread next to the bed.

When Dana was born, healthy and beautiful, I was big. And stayed big. And pretended I wasn’t. Had God sent the two strolling mothers any earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready to receive the message. Being in denial awhile had allowed me to keep eating donuts, corned beef hash and bacon while rationalizing the weight gain as a normal, perfectly acceptable stage of motherhood.

Upon my epiphany, I resolved to effect a wholesale, cold turkey conversion. I knew exactly what I had to do: eat less, eat well, move more. Forever. And it’s the forever part that made the whole thing easier to swallow.

Were I to put myself "on a diet," I knew I would fail, ultimately if not right away. I needed to replace "diet," a short term, emergency-infused concept, with "life," hopefully long and good. I would never be on a diet. I’d be on life.

A diet would address only what I took in. But life offered the chance to play with energy, experiment with taking it in and burning it off. A diet held no challenge: Here, eat this measured thing. Life said, "Have some fun. See what happens when you eat a little and burn a little. Or eat a lot and burn a little. Or eat a little and burn a lot. Or eat a lot and burn a lot." What fun! Like being a scientist.

So I banished "diet" from my mindset and lexicon and focused on life. I resolved to do three things: center my meals around plants; choose healthy calories over bad or empty ones; move for at least 20 minutes a day.When time came for my first post-conversion meal, I opened the fridge. I wanted to plant-center my plate, but there wasn’t a fresh fruit or vegetable in that whole Kenmore. I opened the cupboard and took down a can of peas. I found an onion, sautéed it in olive oil, threw in some chopped garlic and lemon juice, and folded the mix into the peas. I poured a tall glass of OJ, sat down on my deck, and tucked into this humble, healthy lunch that would change my life.

The next morning, I dug out an old pair of sneakers, pulled on my elastic waist shorts and oversized T-shirt, and went outside to move. I started out walking, but soon found myself lifting my feet high enough off the ground to approximate a rude form of entry level shuffle-jogging. That first day, I made it once around the block. I felt like I was going to die, but I knew I’d run the race of my life.

Now, after years of salads, fruit, fish, chicken, whole grains and the occasional Oreo or Dairy Queen cone, I wear high school-size jeans and have long since given away my elastic waist shorts.

And that energy experiment? My favorite take in-burn off combination is "eat a lot and burn a lot." That’s what I do when I train for a marathon. I’m preparing for my ninth.