Skinny Daily Post


I’ve spent the past couple of weeks wringing my hands and hovering as my mom works hard to recover from a big surgery. Now with that experience a safe distance behind me, I’m coming up for air, cleaning the empty coffee cups from my car, and reordering my fridge, which is now full of small containers of foods I have used to try to spark my mom’s appetite while she was in the hospital.

Most of my life I’ve been able to ignore the essential nature of food and focus on its narcotic benefits. But during these past two weeks I learned to appreciate how basic to survival our fuel is, how visceral our reactions can be, how hard our bodies and minds work to keep us well, whether we’re aware of it or not.

My mom had a hard time working up any interest in food after the surgery. The morphine and antibiotics and nausea drugs, the pain and heat and lack of sleep all worked against her stomach. She just couldn’t eat, and the food they brought her didn’t look like food to her at all.

At her healthiest, my mom is not a fussy eater, just particular. That is, she’s experimental and open in her eating, but won’t bother eating anything that isn’t prepared well. She likes real ingredients, meats prepared without preservatives and weird salts, vegetables served al dente, fresh fruit. Whole food. She has learned the cuisines of many countries, visited most of them, lived in many, and all that she knows about cooking from these cultures informs her eating.

So the hospital’s rolled turkey and boxed mashed potatoes would never tempt her. Not one bit. She worried the dietitians, worried the nurses, worried everybody by not eating, never eating, day after day. She just couldn’t face the food. But she didn’t want a well-prepared curry or Duck Al’Orange, either. She wanted sourdough bread with olive oil. Apples. Bananas. Plain rice. Tea. Oatmeal. The fewer ingredients the better. One food at a time. We brought her anything she wanted. She tried each thing tentatively, nibbling slowly, falling asleep over each bite. Finally my buddy’s homemade chicken soup made it past her lips. A whey protein and banana smoothie. A few bites, a few sips. She started to pick her head up. She started to sound like Mom again.

All that time she chose a diet that looks very similar to the diet I try hard to follow every day. Whole, fresh food, a little at a time.

Last week, I picked up a stomach flu virus. Just a one-day flu, but the sort that left me tentative around food for several days. And of course I could see how easy it is to make food decisions when I don’t feel well. When I didn’t feel I could digest everything, I didn’t try. “How will that feel?” my mind automatically asked. Every offer of candy bowl or cheese plate came with an automatic internal gut-check. My mind told me, “That won’t sit well.” “Maybe not today.” “Oooph, no, not that. Not right now.”

So, if I have this self-preserving voice during the worst of times, where is it today? When I’m healthy and happy, where does the food-watching instinct go? How can I encourage that voice to speak up more often, let itself be heard, help me manage overeating and unhealthy eating a little better each day? That’s my focus for the week, finding my voice. Encouraging the little voice inside me that wants me to be healthy and well. Join me?

7 thoughts on “That Little Voice

  1. Jane says:

    That was interesting juju. I’ve been trying to recover from the flu this week and am losing weight because I’m not able to eat. We do need to listen to our bodies. They want the natural healthy foods. I couldn’t look at OJ this morning, but I cut up a fresh orange and ate a few pieces. I’m drinking lots of hot tea and fat free saltines. Diet gingerale is by my side during the day. How easy to stick with the program when we are feeling sick!

  2. JuJu says:

    Yeah, I suspect there is interesting hormonal play at the root of it. Something our bodies do to supress appetite when we’re under the influence of a virus. It’s not exactly a great way to drop weight, though, is it? Sheesh.


  3. Felicity says:

    This is a great essay & coincides with my experiment for 2005. After all the up & down dieting, therapy, etc, etc, I decided to create what is becoming an illuminated journal. I’m recording how I feel when I eat certain foods but also finally giving voice to the reasons BEHIND the binges…anyhow, what is really interesting to me is that now that I have demonstrated to my body that I am willing to hear it (via the journal) & take it seriously, it’s speaking up loudly, clearly, and frequently. So maybe there’s a key someone else can use, too.
    I find my reliance on coffee and my affinity for cookies & sweets has dropped significantly in the past month–somehow salad, which I have always liked, has become my top favorite & well-tolerated food.

  4. Annabelle says:

    Juju, it’s so good to hear/read you again, even if these are tough times for you. You’re an inspiration to me and, no doubt, to countless others.

    Juju, much as we love your co-authors, we miss you. Post again when you can!

  5. Mona says:

    Isn’t it funny how our bodies just seem to know instinctively what we want? We really should listen to that little voice more often!

  6. jonquil says:

    It’s true. I just lost 5 pounds due to a bad flu. But I don’t think it was hormonal, it’s just a matter of “energy cost.” My body could not fight off a 102 degree fever and spend the energy to digest heavy food, too. (And digestion adds its own heat.) So I had no appetite at all. Unfortunately I’ve taken my measurements and I believe most of that 5 pounds was muscle– you don’t need much muscle to lie in bed burning up, but you might need that fat if the illness turns out to be long term. Such is the logic of the body. Oh well. Next time I’ll try to override my gut and eat more when I’m sick. Beats working even harder afterwards to build the muscle back up!

  7. Quinn says:

    Kinda sad isn’t it? That we need a major intervention, like surgery or bad flu, to force us to listen to our bodies?

    Many years ago, I had an experience similar to your mother’s. Boy did my body tell me in very specific ways what EXACTLY it wanted and how often. Over the years that voice has receded to the back ground, unfortunately. But every once in a while, usually after something bad happens, it speaks up again. And I listen.

    Lately I’ve found myself trying to remember how I ate and moved during those periods. I find myself craving the same foods, the same care-taking actions. And I give in to those cravings. Well, really, why fight a craving for tomato soup with a bit of roasted garlic added? Or homemade chicken soup. Or hot tea with lemon and just a half teaspoon of wildflower honey? Or broccoli and yellow squash lightly steamed together? And a long soak in the tub with lavender and chamomile salts added?

    Yes, my body feels better these days, thank you. 🙂

    Juju? Sure hope your mom recovers okay. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

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