Lessons from coworker Lisa

Their eyes might have been watching god, according to Zora Neale Hurston, but my eyes were watching Lisa.* Lisa is one of my co-workers. I work in a moderately large office, although I don't always interact with other people on staff a whole lot. The times when I do tend to be, alas, in the kitchenette.

Some of my co-workers have a dysfunctional relationship with food. It's obvious--to me, anyway. Some appear more outwardly normal. And then there's Lisa.

She's almost like a breath of fresh air. It sounds cheesy, and maybe it is, but that's really how I feel when I'm in the kitchen with her. The most revolutionary thing about her? She never apologizes for eating. Or makes any excuses. None of this "I shouldn't but I'm gonna," or laments of how much she'll pay for this at the gym, or saying she was "good" yesterday so why not?

She'll just look at the tray of whatever someone brought in, say something like "That looks good," take it, and leave. Or just look, think for a second, and leave. No drama. No Second Book of Lamentations. No calorie counting abacus going clickety-clack in her brain.

Mostly what astonishes me about Lisa is her coffee. She goes to Starbucks pretty much everyday, and she gets a latte, extra hot. After she finishes her latte, she makes a mocha using supplies in the kitchenette, namely hot cocoa mix, a packet of Splenda, two coffee pouches,** and two little tubs of flavored coffee creamer. Not the plain Mini Moos, but the actual flavored kind.

This boggles my mind. Absolutely boggles my mind. The hot cocoa mix has calories, and ditto for the coffee creamer. And yet there she is, drinking them nearly every day. Drinking them and enjoying them, as they were meant to be enjoyed.

When I make my coffee, I use the actual coffee pouch, some sweetener, and I hesitate at the box of Mini Moos. I know each little tub has 10 calories (it's printed on the box they come in), and I sit there and think through everything I have eaten or have planned to eat and try and determine if those 10 calories will make a difference. I do the mental gymnastics of calorie counting: will this little tub of creamer push me over the line into "too much"? Will it make my totals come out to a "not nice" number? Am I being greedy? Gluttonous? Is this stupid little tub of creamer just simply too much?

Yes, sez my brain. Yes it is. So I go without.

Rationally, this makes no sense and I think I even understand on some level that this makes no sense. That when you're moderately hypermetabolic, 10 calories is like pissing on a forest fire. It's nothing. And that my body doesn't "count" calories in the way that my brain does, that my ATP synthase enzymes don't really give a crap about the OCD hocus pocus that makes my anxiety just a teensy bit better.

Except eating disorders aren't rational. And I fear saying yes far more than I fear saying no. I fear the process of deciding and having to live with my decision even more. I'd rather deny myself than deal with the invariable guilt that comes from opening the creamer and putting it in my coffee. I'd rather deal with regret than live with guilt.

Why guilt over coffee creamer? Maybe the answer is as simple as I have an eating disorder and it's part of the territory. Maybe it's as complicated as wanting in a culture that systematically denies your appetites, or finding it easier to say no than yes.

To Lisa, it's just coffee creamer. And that's why I stand back and just drink it in, hoping that her spirit will rub off on me, just a little bit.

*Not her real name. And not any of my other co-workers' names, either. I just felt weird using her first initial throughout the entire post, so I made up a name.

**We have a Flavia machine that brews individual cups. It's a bit of an environmental disaster, but seeing as no one can remember to refill the water cooler, I'm not thinking a communal coffee pot would be successful.

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Lisa said...

My name is Lisa, and I think I should aspire to the eating habits of your office "Lisa." It's good to hear that at least one of your co-workers has such a positive attitude, given the insane amount of "diet talk" reported by many female office workers.

Also, "pissing on a forest fire" made me giggle, out loud, in front of my roommates.

When I worked at Sears over the break, a woman came in on Saturdays to demo this really expensive single-cup coffee/tea/espresso maker. She, and her chai lattes, were the highlight of my job. I agonized, but I rationalized by reminding myself I was on my feet all day anyway.

Tiptoe said...

I have a good friend who is like that. In fact, she was anorexic in her teens and has no issues now with food whatsoever. Whenever I'm around her, she makes me feel more comfortable and at ease, and I like to think that perhaps some of her behaviors rub off on me as well.

The other interesting thing which I know you posted about recently, is that she also has similar thoughts on money. It's just money as she always tells me.

Kristina said...

Damn, I must be uber-healthy!
Okay, not really, but I put a TON of half-and-half in my coffee, which I make for myself, everyday. It's always super strong (the coffee), and I heat up a little bit of 2% milk and a lot of half-and-half.
And as for work... I've become quite fascinated by people and their eating habits. Fortunately, I have two VERY good friends/colleagues who are super healthy, and it does make me feel better, on the whole, to be with them.
Finally... wow, that sense that regret vs. guilt. It just made me sad to read that. In part because I've definitely been there (sometimes still AM there). But why live with EITHER?

Sally Comes Unraveled said...

I know someone like that. I remember very vividly when I was dieting, I asked for no guacamole on my dish, and she interrupted and asked for it on the side. I was trying to compromise by allowing myself the fat in cheese, but not the guacamole. She has always been "unusually normal" in my eyes. Now I wouldn't blink at the guac, but everyone else is giving me dire warnings about my weight. She is still a healthy weight. *sigh*

So I have to ask the million dollar question. How big is "Lisa." If she was huge, I have a feeling your blog post would be very different.

Kim said...

Oh, yes, the Flavia coffee machine. I have done so much people-watching around that thing. People ARE weird with their food and, like you, I am so happy to find those few who seem to have no moral judgment attached to eating. This part of your post was really wonderful:
"And I fear saying yes far more than I fear saying no. I fear the process of deciding and having to live with my decision even more. I'd rather deny myself than deal with the invariable guilt that comes from opening the creamer and putting it in my coffee. I'd rather deal with regret than live with guilt."
You just spelled out my greatest struggles, in one paragraph. I feel no need to blog, ever again! You are so right that eds are not about rationality or logic. They just aren't. On good days, rationality and logic are good weapons to enlist in the fight, but there are some days when I stress over 10 calories too (like in a stick of gum).
Thanks for the insightful post :)

Carrie Arnold said...

I'm not going to respond to the question about "Lisa's" weight because it's irrelevant. You can have a healthy relationship with food at any size (and conversely, a really effed up relationship with food at any size).

It really shouldn't matter what her size is. That's not the point.

You're right in that her size would matter to some people, because thin people are automatically assumed to have healthy eating habits. And it would be easy to look at someone who is fat and using coffee creamer and shill "That's it! That's why you're fat!" when many thin people use coffee creamer. It's not that simple.

I would just love to be that relaxed and joyous around food.

Sarah said...

ohhh what a great post, Carrie. I would love to be relaxed and joyous around food, too.

I'm happy for Lisa. Maybe someday we will get there, too.

I was at a weekend conference where there was free ice cream all the time and at one point, a friend and I were having ice cream sandwiches. Another friend said, "y'all are making me want ice cream." and I said, a bit snappishly, I guess, "no one can make you want anything." I'm just so tired of the food/guilt/apology drama you described so well in your post. I'm working so hard to challenge it in my head, I guess I just snapped a little when I heard it out loud.

A:) said...

This is a problem for me too. . .

What I have tried to do is make small goals with my dietican -- like this week I will put milk in coffee 2x and try to do that. I still drink most of my coffees/teas black because I am desperately afraid of the milk calories, but I am working toward being normal.

I also envy these people and I guess our fears really are illogical. The idea that a metabolism is so sensative that 10 calories would make a difference is ridiculous. . .

Maybe you should try a coffee creamer once next week?

Anonymous said...

Funny, but what leapt out at me ws that she was using Splenda. So she's not totally out of the dysfunctional woods. I mean, if she's using flavored creamer (I'd use cream, becase to me they taste nasgy), why the Spenda? Save 16 calories/

Jen said...

Kind of unrelated, but kind of related: do you know how long hypermetabolism lasts? I read a previous post you wrote on it, but I was curious about when the effects dissipated? Also, do you know if exercise exacerbates its effects? Thanks for any knowledge you may have :)

Carrie Arnold said...


You're right- "Lisa" isn't perfect. Didn't say she was.


Exercise would exacerbate hypermetabolism in that it increases the total number of calories you need to consume to maintain your weight. As for how long it lasts? It's probably pretty individual, nor do I think anyone has studied it in EDs.

Lissy said...

i had a similiar reaction to Sally Comes Unraveled.

as i was reading, i was thinking that it's great to see that people can eat copiously and be in a solid, healthy body.

i guess i'm hypo-metabolic (is that the right word?) after fluctuating 100 pounds for so many years. it's hard to watch people eat generous portions and not gain weight. i wish they could eat as they please AND I COULD too.

i understand that all bodies SHOULD be considerated beautiful and joyful to behold. but i'm not there yet for myself. i can see beauty in other bodies of all sizes, but not my own.

Crimson Wife said...

OOH, there are folks like me who have been in recovery for years and are making a conscious effort to NOT obsess over food, even if mentally part of us still struggles with it. Especially now that I've got a 6 yr old daughter I'm trying to be a good role model and follow the "everything is okay in moderation" rule. But on the inside it's a challenge.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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