Friday, March 22, 2013

Please Pass the Carrot Sticks

After Katy's fabulous post about wonder, I'm moving from the sublime to the ridiculous. It's Friday and it just seemed like the time to let loose. My topic today has been on my mind for awhile and I bet I'm not the only one who wrestles with it.  I've never heard it mentioned in a writer's conference or addressed in a book on technique or about the writer's life.  But it can become a health issue for some.

I'll put it out there - the writing life can make you fat.  There, I've said it.  We even have an acronym: BIC.  Butt (or bottom) In Chair.  You're supposed to put it there and keep it there until you've reached your word count for the day or you've finished the chapter or you've exhausted your scene ideas.  Granted, it doesn't mean that a writer should sit for eight hours straight.  But I've already spent eight hours in an office chair at my job by the time I sit down to write at night.  If I take time to make dinner for my family and go for a jog or stop by the (imaginary) gym for exercise, it's nine o'clock before I even get to my manuscript. 

Seriously, I love writing.  I'm willing to forgo the jog or the (imaginary) gym to either write until midnight or go to bed early to write at the crack of dawn.  True confession here, from that kind of writing over the last few years I've added two-count 'em-two dress sizes.  But I've discovered that it's not just about BIC and ignoring my need for exercise that packs on the pounds.  I'm also a stress-eater, the stress of working under a deadline, the stress of juggling job/writing/family, and most importantly, the stress of story. 

American screenwriter Syd Field says to get our protagonist up a tree and throw rocks at her.  Raising the stakes just makes a better story.  But when the story's really coming together or I'm in the throes of an intense scene, I feel the palpable stress of the heroine or the raised stakes she's not yet aware of and I want chocolate. Oreos with milk. Something with sugar. I want to pat the seat beside me and say to her, "Sit here, honey, I've got something for that."  She might even thank me - until I tell her to get back up the tree.

I've always wondered about heroines who, when confronted with a major crisis, 'simply couldn't eat.'  It just doesn't ring true to experience, but I suppose the alternative isn't very ladylike.  No one wants to imagine the protagonist settling in with a gallon of rocky road and a serving spoon.  I understand being so engrossed that you look up and wonder where the time went, that yummy feeling of accomplishment and flush of satisfaction. I've enjoyed that on occasion. But stress only makes me seek the respite of comfort food, not turn away demurely.  I should be so demure.

So, I hear ya. Stop whining and figure it out. Planning ahead helps, and I have made progress. Not purchasing Oreos (grumble) or chocolate is a good idea. Keeping low fat, low carb snacks on hand is also a step in the right direction, as is the MyFit phone app which helps me keep track of everything I eat.  Walking on my lunch hour would be a great habit to make. Lowering my protagonist's stress level so I'm not tempted to cheat would not be good planning, I'm very sorry to tell her.

Maybe I'm way off base with this and I'm the only one who wrestles with writerly stress-eating.  Perhaps it's the bane of the writer who still has wee ones underfoot or must punch a timeclock to pay the bills. But if I'm not the only one, and you find it challenging, too, please share your wisdom with us. We'd love to hear!




20 comments:

Susie Finkbeiner said...

You most certainly are not alone, Debbie! I'm right there with you.

The past few weeks, I've added 30 minutes of exercise 3-4 times a week. I just realized that I don't have to unbutton my jeans to get them off! I don't weigh myself (it's too defeating), so the jeans thing is a HUGE indication that something's working!

Thank you for this honesty. It's nice to hear that I'm not alone in this!

Karen Schravemade said...

Great topic, and I'm glad you brought it up. Writing is such a sedentary lifestyle. And I crave wicked food when I'm trying to concentrate. It's either nibble on the nails or nibble on something more tasty. Having three babies close together has not done me any favours, and I've been wondering the same thing lately - how do other writers stay fit when we're always supposed to have our BIC?

Treadmill desk? Gosh. Can't even imagine, but I'm sure it'd make me seasick.

And Debbie, I honestly think you're amazing. Your daily schedule makes you wonder-woman in my books, with or without the jog thrown in.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Susie - Awesome about the jeans! I bet you feel great, too.
Karen - you're right, it's such a sedentary lifestyle. My daughter requested a standing desk at work because it's supposed to help with metabolism, but I would have a different problem altogether if I stood on my feet all day. And thanks for the kind words. :-)

Marian said...

I'm convinced eating helps me refocus when my character is stuck, when I can't find just the right word or when the storyline stops making sense. That's a lot of eating. So when I buy snacks for the family I pick ones I don't like.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Smart thinking, Marian. Unsalted almonds work for me, and iced tea keeps my wheels turning, just that little kick of caffeine and crunching ice. But too much keeps me awake long into the night. I hate that!

Patti Hill said...

I'm surprised I haven't turned orange! I'm trying to be the first 300# woman by eating baby carrots. They are the snack (along with unsalted almonds) that I depend on for the need to crunch my stress. Sweet, crunchy, and bite-sized. Perfect! No, not chocolate, but I do take a bite of chocolate every day like it's vitamin. As for exercise, I have to do it for lower back pain or else! I don't like "or else" very much. Also, my dog insists on daily walks. I mean, she INSISTS on daily walks. It helps to have a sergeant around barking orders. Would you like to borrow her, Debbie. She sheds a bit and, well, she passes gas that makes the eyes water, but she will help you out on that lunchtime walk.

To be serious for a moment. Weight gain has not been what make writing a health challenge for me. But I've had both carpal tunnels released and sitting is tough on my back. I know of writers who stand up to do their writing, using adjustable desks. And I have tried some mighty strange keyboards. I like my laptop best.

Balance. Who can find it?

Lori Benton said...

I'm one of those stressers who can't eat when things are really bad, so weight gain hasn't been too much of an issue. Other things like chronic pain... I'm experiencing that now. Shoulder, legs. You should see the stack of foam pads I call a chair these days. The only remedy is to not be at the computer for a few days. That makes it better, but we know how often that can be allowed to happen, with all that needs to be done.

Sharon K Souza said...

Oh, Debbie, I love this post! You made me laugh this morning, and oh how I need a good laugh. Sorry, but I'm not a stress eater so I can't help you. I'm a stress cleaner. Yep, when the pressure's on all I want to do is clean. Like the last two nights. Up at 2:00 cleaning -- around all the moving boxes. I'm sick, right? Any help for this?

Amelia Rhodes said...

Oh you are definitely not alone! I do a lot of my writing at a local coffee shop because I seem to keep my BIC for hours on end there when at home I get distracted. The only problem is their scones and baked goods are soo yummy. I just bought a 10 lb bag of carrots today though to combat the scones! I saw an author post a photo of a contraption her husband made for her treadmill so she could walk while she wrote her book. Thanks for sharing this, made me chuckle.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Haha. I was just thinking about this last week when I noticed my jeans fitting uncomfortably. Anyone who follows me knows I walk a lot. I also sit a good deal - at the piano, at the computer. Fact of the matter is, I don't walk for 8 hours a day. I do eat when under stress (and to stave off depression). To save time and try my hand at multitasking, I check email and appropriate blogs while eating breakfast. Unfortunately, my body has come to pair the two and I now find myself craving a midnight snack when checking the 'net at the end of the day. Also, Debbie; yes, I stress out and eat for my characters.

Cherry Odelberg said...

The standup desk is such a good idea, but you can't stand in place for eight hours. Have you seen that arrangement of Michael Hyatt's?

When I am ferreting out scenes by engaging in daily household duties, it helps to rig up my laptop at standing height and come and go between chores and inspiration (somebody please invent a keyboard I can turn to in wet rubber gloves).

Megan Sayer said...

I stress-eat. But I eat vegemite toast, or all-bran, which is just...well...
And I stress-jog, which is a good thing, except when I'm looking after the kids on my own and I can't get out of the house. That's hard. This is one of the reasons I prefer to write early in the mornings, or when nobody else is around.
And Patti, when I was in the US I ate baby carrots too. Baby carrots are weird :)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Patti, no thanks on the dog - got one. (I don't get why dogs have such bad...well, nevermind) I admire the way you work through your pain, and quite cheerfully, I might add.
Lori, I have neck pain sometimes, usually because I'm writing on the couch looking down at my laptop instead of sitting up eye level with the screen ergonomically correct. But I like to be out in the living area with my family instead of tucked away in a back bedroom. Sigh...
Sharon, glad I could tickle your funnybone today. And my key is under the mat for the next time you can't sleep : )

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Amelia, seriously, who could write while smelling scones and not indulge? Writing in a coffeeshop is livin' the dream. :p
Cherry, very funny about the wet gloves. I'll check out Michael Hyatt's arrangement. Thanks
Megan, I don't think they're really baby carrots. They just cut them down to that size. Yes, weird. The real baby carrots have the green tops still on them. BTW we're trying the vegemite next week at day camp. Can't wait to see what the kids think of it. :_)

Grace Bridges said...

I walk at least a kilometer each day, on the treadmill if I don't go out. And lately I've gotten so desperate that I cut back to two meals a day - big protein brunch (meat, eggs, avos) and little raw-veg dinner as early in the evening as possible. It's working fairly well and I haven't felt hungry.

Megan Sayer said...

Ha! Debbie you'll have to let me know what they think :)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Grace, I'm glad it's working for you. I've found that eating lean protein and smaller meals more frequently is key for me to lose weight. But I really can't keep goodies in the house at all.

Grace Bridges said...

Oh, and I recently rigged up a keyboard and mousepad on top of my treadmill. While I haven't quite figured out how to write while walking, it's just fine for the daily catch-up on email, blogs, news and FB - which also keeps my mind off the groaning muscles! And if I need to type something I can always stop walking for a moment.

Susan Barclay said...

I have a sedentary day job in addition to my writing life, so I definitely hear ya! Last year I finally succeeded in losing my (14-year-old) post-baby fat by working The 17 Day Diet by Dr. Mike Moreno. You may be put off by the title, which makes it sound like a fad diet, but it's more about lifestyle change. It worked for me, and it's worked for people I know! A year later, I am still 17 pounds lighter and in my happy place :)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Susan, that's great to know. It definitely requires a lifestyle change to stay healthy. I'll check it out.