Medical Report Card

When you move to a new city, there’s all this annoying stuff you have to take care of:  get a driver’s license, register your car, find a new hair stylist, and (dread) find a new doctor.

Here’s the thing:  I LOVED my doctor in Virginia. It took me nearly five years to do the adult thing and find a primary care physician, but once I did, I loved her. She was perfectly suited to me, an older woman with gentle manners and a keen perception of people. She quickly sized me up as the type who likes to know why my body operates the way it does (bingo) and who likes to be a control freak proactive about my health care. We talked about long-term care, preventive care, my diet, my sleeping habits, changes in my life, how I was handling them. She was everything – primary care meant that she was ingrained in all aspects of my care, from flu shots to mental health.

Oh, Dr. Hall. Couldn’t you have come with me to California?

Today, I’m heading to my new doctor to establish care. And as with all new doctor-patient relationships, I had to fill out twenty-five pages (okay, thirteen) of questions about my medical history and current state of health.

I’m a freak, so I can’t help but think of these as tests rather than mere questionnaires.

Overall, I feel I’m pretty healthy. I exercise semi-regularly, I eat right, I drink lots of water, I sleep pretty well, and slowly but surely I’m learning to cope with stress rather than letting it fight its way out of my body by burning a hole in my stomach.

But it never fails:  when I fill out these surveys, I feel like I come up short. Yes, I eat right, and yes, I sleep well, but I also drink between 0-1 alcoholic beverages per night. Additionally, I drink 1-2 cups of coffee, with sugar, and with cream, each day.

I always want to write a paragraph explaining myself in the margins. “Yes, I drink two cups of coffee (sometimes three, if I’m at a coffee shop), but I’m a writer, and we really love coffee, and tea is fine, but I really prefer coffee.”

“Yes, I consume between 0-1 glasses of wine, but I cook each night, and a glass of wine tastes so delicious with dinner.”

And then I start getting mad at the questions they don’t ask – how much water do you drink per day? How much do you cook? How many servings of fruit/vegetables do you consume daily?

At the end of the thirteen pages, my handwriting had gone from being neat and clearly legible to being swoopy, messy, a clear sign that I knew I was failing the test and I no longer cared.

When you write about food, health necessarily always factors in. Food is the way I communicate with the world around me. When something doesn’t feel right in my life, I usually believe that changing my diet in some way will fix it. I believe that a way to stay healthy is to prepare your own food, to exercise control over what enters your body. I derive power and confidence from cooking.

But there is an ever-present fear:  is my work with food harmful to me? Am I being balanced enough? Do my jeans feel tight? Am I being good to my heart? Is there enough diversity in my diet? Am I caring for my wife and meeting her needs as well as my own?

And as I thought about the amount of fiber I get from my homemade granola, and my weekly trips to the farmer’s market for fresh local produce, and the water I sip on throughout the day, and the ways I try to avoid overly-processed, chemically-saturated, nutritionally-compromised foods, I realized that I wasn’t mad at the doctor’s survey:  I was mad at the system.

I was mad at the pressure to make food that is both healthy and delicious. I was mad that, in the world of food writing, food must not only be successful, but also must photograph well. I was mad that I don’t possess the time, equipment, or savvy to photograph food well.

I was mad that my recipes are never my own. I was mad that I can’t fake enthusiasm and affection for things like buckwheat, bran, and sprouts.

When you work with food – cooking it, eating it, writing about it – your life revolves around it. And that’s okay. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the pressure to create food and food writing that is new and healthy and gorgeous and adorable and unique can become too much. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it meets a doctor’s standards, or if it earns you more followers on Twitter. It matters if you like it. It matters if it feeds your soul and your stomach, and the souls and stomachs of the ones you love.

So I’ll take that survey to the doctor, and I’ll look him in the eye without flinching and claim my 0-1 alcoholic drinks per day, my 1-2 coffees with cream AND sugar. Because those things feed my soul too. And because I’m not perfect. And I don’t actually have to be.

11 thoughts on “Medical Report Card

  1. And when it comes down to it, you’re far more healthy than those stupid forms (from stupid doctors…sorry, has to be said) will ever reveal. Do you drink 3 2-litre bottles of pop (yes, I said pop) a day? No? Are you aware of how many people do? More than we all care to imagine. And I’ve been freakishly healthy in my diet for years, but that hasn’t stopped me from suffering digestive issues for the last 10 months. Moderation, my dear, is the gold standard, I think, and I’d give you a star for your moderation.

  2. I totally understand feeling the pressure to care for yourself and your spouse through the food you make. Dinner every night is generally my area, and ever since I got married, I have felt a huge responsibility to make sure those meals are healthy and also taste good. I have felt like it is my responsibility to set the standard for good health for myself, my husband and our future children, and that sometimes feels like a pretty big load to carry.

    1. It is – and if you’re like me, we take it on willingly out of love (for our family and for cooking). But it can start to feel like a lot of pressure when we worry that we’ll never be quite good enough. (I can anticipate Amanda’s reaction when she reads this, though: that it’s always good enough.)

  3. preach, sister. i get SO defensive when i need to fill out new medical info. i’m all “hey, toots: none of your business!” about it. 🙂 i struggle with the same feelings over food because i work with/immerse myself in it on a near-constant basis. It’s hard to find your own balance with it, but that’s really what it has to be: your own balance. many a time i’ve stepped on the scale (which i am proud to say still places me in the “normal” and not “overweight” category) and thought “man: why can’t i run a vegan blog or something? maybe i should switch to salad posts…” and then i realize; that’s not me. or it’s not me all the time. no one can fake excitement well; it shows. do what you love, and find your own little way to do it that makes you happy.

    1. Thanks, Shannon! I’m always so glad that I’m not alone in this, and I feel like other food writers can relate so well to the pressure that can sometimes mount up when it comes to food. I was telling Amanda last night that food is ingrained in almost everything I do – so something I truly love has extra pressure attached to it. I always find it especially freeing when I cook a beautiful dinner and don’t photograph it. Sometimes, I just need to enjoy it instead of working it.

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