The One About Cookie Dough, Sleep Deprivation and Wretched Worms

Ever since puberty I’ve struggled with my weight. Looking back now I wish I could be as “fat” as I thought I was at 16. At 5’3” and 125lbs I should have been more grateful for the shape that came naturally, but I compared myself to others and always thought I could stand to lose a few pounds. It never turned into an eating disorder, but the struggle to be satisfied with a healthy body image never went away.

During my last year of seminary I joined some of my classmates, professors and staff for an on-campus Weight Watchers group. By the time graduation came I had lost 40 pounds. I had finally found a reasonable, structured, but flexible way to make good choices about food. Except for having kids and losing that baby weight while being tired, nursing, and hungry, I have maintained my weight goal for over 11 years.

I did figure out, as I got older (apparently 37 is middle age?), that what it takes to maintain has changed. If I want to continue to be able to eat chips and queso, as well as dessert most days, I need to do something other than just watch my portions and make sure I get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables in.

In January 2012, at the encouragement of a few friends, I bought 5 weeks of fitness boot camp on Groupon. I figured 5 weeks of working out at 6am with a former Division 1 football player would get me in gear and back on track after the birth of my 2nd child. Having never been what you would call an “athlete” I worked harder than I ever had before. I hear some people do that kind of stuff all the time for fun. Between running (very slowly), burpees, old-school push-ups, and all sorts of brutal drills on the steps of Robinson Auditorium, I didn’t lose much weight, but I did begin to feel (pardon my French) bada$$. I was strong and I was proud. The 5 weeks ended and our class celebrated with chips and queso and a little salsa dancing.

Working out at 6am four days a week for 5 weeks was a nice, clearly defined project. But the thought of working out at 6am four days a week indefinitely… was daunting. Eventually I joined a gym and found my groove in Zumba. I tried weights and other cardio, but Zumba is the only thing that gets me out bed at that time consistently.

I have almost always been one of those people who gets 8 hours of sleep a night. I have always had trouble falling asleep, but I made time for it. With a full time job and 2 little kids I have a lot less control of my time and I have a harder time getting 8 hours. I read those articles and studies that come out from time to time about which is more valuable to you: getting enough sleep or exercise? Most seem to conclude that the answer is “yes.” Getting enough sleep and exercise are important. Duh. But daily I have to make the choice: if I can’t get to sleep early enough, is it better to get my sleep in the morning or get my exercise?

Since the night before Easter (March 30th, not that anyone is counting), when my 2 1/2 year old climbed out of his crib, bedtime and sleeping through the night have been a challenge (at times a nightmare). I really don’t care for any advice about this right now.  It’s improved some. But last night, after his daddy and I were exhausted and he was still fired up, we gave in. He sat in our bed watching TV and finally crashed at 10:30. By this point I was so mad I was almost in tears. He’s cute and sweet, but I had plans for the time after he went to sleep. I was disappointed to miss that “me” time.

I had planned to have a sensible serving of vanilla frozen Greek yogurt with some chocolate chips on top as a dessert. But when I snuck away all I wanted to do was grab the bag of chocolate chip cookie dough balls in the freezer and indulge. I thought “after all J is putting me through tonight I deserve the cookie dough.” [I did eat one ball of dough… and the yogurt with chocolate chips].

That’s when I caught myself. I deserve cookie dough because it was a hard night? I felt the same way over the weekend. My husband was out of town and I was particularly proud of all I had done alone with the kids, all while keeping my cool. So I felt like I deserved some sort of reward- like a milkshake. I deserved a milkshake because I didn’t lose it with my kids? Sweets are my reward. I eat them in moderation daily. But when I want to feel like I’ve earned something or want to celebrate or commiserate or show hospitality or pamper myself… it always revolves around food, usually the chocolate or frozen kind. My first thought isn’t that I should reward myself with a new book, a pedicure, or a nap. My first thought is dessert- you know, because I deserve it.

I’m a good child of the Reformed tradition, so this is when I hear the voice of my friend and former colleague saying (with a twinkle in his eye and smile on his face) “You don’t deserve anything. You’re not good. You’re a wretched worm. A redeemed wretched worm, but still a worm.” He’s right. I don’t deserve dessert. I don’t deserve anything good. But even though I don’t deserve it I am the recipient of grace. And whether or not I deserve it, sometimes mint chocolate chip ice cream is just the thing I need. My friend knows that. Always the disciplined eater and exerciser, he can be found on occasion at Arkansas Burger Company enjoying a chili dog, not because he deserves it, but because he is a redeemed wretched worm.

So yesterday, around 2 am, our little man crawled into bed with us. I didn’t insist he return to his room (which would have kept us both up for some time). I simply made a little space on my pillow, turned off my alarm clock, cuddled up close with his crazy red curls in my face, and slept till 7:15.

And last night the little stinker didn’t fall asleep until 10:30 pm. I know that’s not really late, but I felt cheated out of my time. After transferring him to his own bed it took me a while to settle back down myself. When my alarm went off at 5:33 I turned it off and got out of bed.  (I have carefully calculated exactly how much time I need to get ready, tip-toe through the dark house in sock feet, shoes in hand so as not to wake the children, and drive to the gym in time for 6 am Zumba).

Yesterday I chose sleep. Last night I chose 1 ball of cookie dough. This morning I chose exercise. And all of that is just fine. Image