A little less cake, but a lot more cows (that are alive)!

Hello, hello, hello, my readers!

There has been a change in my life that has to do with this blog, well, at least the title of this blog. And since I hate living two lives, I feel I must update whomever is reading to quell my conscience.

While my love for cake I hope shall never die, I am putting… attempting to put the love of its consumption on a temporary halt. The truth is: I eat too much dessert (both in terms of size and frequency). It’s gone from being a thing that is done occasionally to being something I’m okay with potentially partaking in at least once or even twice a day (the twice a day is not everyday or even frequent, but it’s happened more than once in the past few years). I think its origins were partly a natural reaction to my one-time disordered eating… but then it became disordered in the opposite direction!

As many of you know, I’m not one of those lucky naturally skinny people. I never have been and I probably never will be. Why that probably? I never will be. I sadly am not Benjamin Button, and my issues with weight are not going to get easier as I get older.

The truth is I’m not happy with how much weight I’ve gained in the past two years. Yes, I got married two years ago and that could explain why. But I am not blaming Mr. Rafia for this (and he should not blame me either!). It was mutual. I am new to cooking (I’m still learning) and we’ve had our fair share of eating out. I’m not going to stop eating out completely, but I have resolved to order salad if it’s an option. Most of the time, it usually is.

I know, I know, I know. I’m a food heretic. For years, I proclaimed I am not going to waste my money on salad. And even though salads ordered from outside are never as “healthy” as we like to think, they are definitely better than the other options. Besides, I realized sometimes the company of friends is more important than food.

That’s not to say I am cutting out cake completely (I did that before, didn’t go down well), but I also don’t have to eat it every time it’s available. I have to learn to accept my body for how it metabolizes and think about the damage that is done when I indulge at every whim.

Since I started this new plan (it’s not a diet) just this past Tuesday (Monday was the (cow)tipping point for me), I need to re-train my brain to make it believe that green things are good and that I really don’t need all that sugar.

It hasn’t been a full week yet, but I’m pretty proud of myself.

I went to my favourite place in Indy yesterday with a friend. I told myself I was not going to get cake – another friend told me that was cruel – but I really needed to test myself. In the end, I think I made a compromise. I wasn’t old-new Rafia who refused to order anything from the dessert menu; I ordered the smallest chocolate thing they had there (eating less cake does not mean I am giving up on my principles! Raspberries do NOT belong in a dessert). And I only had two bites! I brought the rest home and it’s still in the refrigerator. I have not touched it in at least 18 hours.

I know this is kinda silly, but you know what? This is a blog titled Cake & Cows for a reason.

Thank you for reading, if you made it to the end, and please wish me success in this very difficult endeavour.

Oh hey, I took a “detour” to visit my friends at the dairy barn on Friday. Cows make me happy. So to make up for the deficit of cake in my life, I will overcompensate with more cows :)

Because you are all dying to read the backstory of my visit…. These two cows were hiding in the barn when I first arrived. Then I heard some “Mooos.” I turned around and walked toward the gate. I started waving at them and proclaimed, “Hi cows. I came here for you.” I think they may have recognized me and slowly starting walking out. They probably came out to get a bit to eat, but they walked in my direction. I was like, “Yes, they love me. They really love me!” As soon as I started talking again, the cow on the left immediately showed her butt to me. But I did not take offense. Cow #2 continued to look at me for a while. When #1 was done giving me the cold shoulder, she began to walk toward the barn. #2, being the clear follower of the duo, proceeded to follow #1’s lead. But I didn’t take it personally. I knew she liked me.

It was a glorious day.

I think I can do this eat-less-cake thing. I have my cows.

Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone!

It has begun… or will begin very soon! i.e. some pre-Ramadan thoughts.

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Ramadan Moo-barak from me, Mr. Rafia and our little baby, Mufia! :)

Ramadan will begin this evening and thus, tomorrow will be the first fast of this lunar year for many Muslims living in North America. I now live in the land of calculations (i.e. ISNA), so I know for a fact my first fast will be tomorrow. But whether one follows the moon- sighting or not, Ramadan begins this weekend for Muslims all over the world.

For the past couple of days, a lot of what I’ve been seeing in my inbox and Facebook feed are “How to prepare for Ramadan” articles. I’ve seen a few on how people who are fasting 17-hour days can still manage to fit in exercise. Normally I’d be like, “You people just need to SHUT.” But I kinda want to continue my yoga routine. I don’t want to lose all the momentum I’ve gained in the past month or so since I started doing yoga. But who knows?

(Yes, I started doing yoga, albeit at home in a relatively judgement-free zone… although sometimes Mr. Rafia will come home earlier than usual and I’ll have to hear him fake-mock me. No, I have not seen the benefits either in flexibility, balance, strength, mental stillness, not to mention my perennial goal of losing those “stubborn few pounds,” but I know I must continue to plow on).

Am I physically and mentally prepared for Ramadan? I guess – it’s inevitable.

Did I prepare? Do I ever?

I know it’s not the “right” thing to say, but I ain’t gonna lie. I had a conversation with a friend recently about our approach to food and as I was reminded again, my entire day is structured around meal time. Up until not too long ago – and I am not exaggerating – I used to go to bed with the thought of breakfast the next day… thus explaining why I was 100+ pounds overweight as a teenager.

Though I am no longer technically even overweight, food still dominates my life and so fasting is difficult for me. I think it’s safe to say that it is difficult for most people. But in addition to the void in rewards I receive in the form of food, Ramadan forces me to change the way I structure my day. And as my life is a testament to, physical changes are much easier to make than mental ones.

Sure, I intend to read more Qur’an, cut down on all forms of entertainment (pictures of cows are not entertainment, BTW, they are like breathing for me), read books that are Islamic in nature… I know there will be an element that is missing this year, like last year. Despite the difficulty in abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset, what Muslims look forward to is the communal spirit of this month. I’m going to miss my family even more than I normally do.

No more of trying multiple times to wake up my lion of a father to get him to eat the pre-dawn meal. No more thinking I’ve awaken earlier than others to only find my mother already in the kitchen going on with her day. No more of later reading Qur’an with her until mid-morning. No more of hearing my brother asking “Is it time? Is it time?” right before we break our fast. No more of praying all our salat together as a family. No more of being forced encouraged to attend taraweeh prayers in the mosque with the family.

I mean, I didn’t love it then. But nostalgia, you know?

I am not sure what Ramadan will look like this year for me or for Mr. Rafia. It’s only our second Ramadan together, but I hope it’s one in which our faith in God becomes stronger, that we both worry less (me, especially), and put all our hopes in God alone.

For all of you who are fasting this Ramadan – and even those who aren’t – I pray and hope for the same for you all.

You know what? I think I am ready.

The Richard Simmons Saga – A True Story

I am an obsessive person. And I can be an elitist about the things I love.

Only very recently have I been able to publicly admit that I like the movies better than the books.

You know what I’m talking about.

Okay, fine. It’s been a while.

The real reason I read The Lord of the Rings in high school was to prove to myself and other Tolkienites that I was indeed a true fan and not some peon of a moviegoer who will like any commercial success just because it is a commercial success. Remember that part about being an elitist? I’m not proud of it; but we all have our vices. This one doesn’t hurt anyone, so it’s okay.

Well, another one of my ~*retro*~ loves is Richard Simmons. Richard has been in the news of late. Even the Indy Star reported on him 6 hours ago – this is a big deal, folks! We can thank the new viral podcast, Missing Richard Simmons, for this sudden interest. To see Richard’s face in the news again is a sheer delight. But the fact that Richard has not made a public appearance in over 2 years is not a new discovery for Richard Simmons enthusiasts, such as myself.

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I chose this picture, because he’s wearing purple and also, he’s the closest thing to an angel we in the 21st century will ever know.

If you suspect that I am trying to cash in on Richard’s sudden popularity because I’ve never made reference to him in my blog before… well, I’ll have you know that I did have a category titled “The Female Richard Simmons.” It didn’t last for long because sadly I could never be.

But I have pretended to be the Female Richard Simmons for some time now, even if it was a running joke between me and myself. Like my love for cows, I can’t really pinpoint an exact time when this love blossomed, but also like my love for cows, it became more pronounced after my weight loss. Actually, my cow and Richard Simmons obsession might go hand-in-hand.

I’ve always admired Richard’s exuberance in public appearances. I never watched Whose Line is it Anyway, but you best believe I’ve watched this clip multiple times.

In my generation, there was only one man… no, human being like Richard. Cher? Madonna? Oprah? No. For me, it remains Richard. He’s all of them and more – and boy can he work those dolphin shorts! He was always his unabashed crazy-self in a world where being prim and proper was the way we were taught to be. He inspired me to be my crazy self. In fact, whenever I do outlandish things, I think of Richard.

In a way, it’s good that a new generation will get to know and love this beautiful human being. Love trumps hate, y’all.

But more than Richard’s fabulousness, it was our similar stories that solidified my love.

Richard and I both were severely overweight when we were younger –  and we both lost that weight as adults. Going through such dramatic weight transformations like that instantly bonds you to another human being, whether you’ve met that person or not. My LOVE for cake and the GUILT I feel for eating it, only “former fatties” (you, my friend, are not allowed to use this term – unless of course, you too are a former fatty. Then in that case, email me! Let’s be friends, okay?) can truly understand the masochism of it all. But unlike Oprah or Ricki Lake, Richard was just a ball of fun. It was infectious. You could tell he genuinely cared about helping people, too. He has given hope and inspiration to countless individuals like myself who had convinced themselves that “fat” was all they were ever going to be.

Since I believe in doing good with one’s blessings, I decided that as a gesture of gratitude for being able to successfully lose weight, I would be the Female Version of Richard in my own very limited way. I even thought about getting a Master’s degree in Nutrition. I am not kidding! But then again, I also considered getting a Master’s degree in Teaching and Writing at one point, so I guess that doesn’t mean anything.

But back to the facts. Do I think his housekeeper is holding him hostage? No, but it sure does make the ordeal all the more interesting. I’m thinking that Richard may have gained a few pounds. I am not trying to be mean-spirited here, but hear me out. For someone who’s been as big as he was, I know it’s a struggle to maintain. You don’t all of a sudden get a new metabolism or disinterest in food with a new, smaller body. You carry all the vestiges of your past, even if the world thinks you’re past it all. You can’t erase your history! Those who claim otherwise are either a) lying or b) robots. The scrutiny we get from the world for not being Kate Moss is bad enough, but to have been overweight and then be seen as a weight-loss success story? It puts on a kind of pressure that no one can ever truly understand, unless they’re walking in those same running shoes. It’s what I think of every time I look in the mirror, anyway. Each pound I’ve put on since my lowest weight has a voice of its own that likes to taunt me.

And although I do think Richard is ~timeless,~ let’s face it: he’s not as young as he once was… although, always young-at-heart :)

If my theory is correct, Richard honey, let me say this to you: take all the time you need, baby. I will always love you, no matter what!

 

The War On Our Bodies

Once “fat” becomes your marker for self-identification, obsession with weight and body image perhaps never leave you.

Sometimes, I desperately wish I was more like Alison Sweeney.

Alison Sweeney, for those unfamiliar, is the former host of The Biggest Loser and soap-opera actress who (relatively) famously struggled with her weight in her youth. She later lost this weight and has since become an ambassador for “healthy living.”

My sister used to watch Days of Our Lives, the show Alison was on, in high school. Sweeney’s character “Sammy,” like the actress who played her, also struggled with her weight. I, being my sister’s shadow, would often glance upon the television screen in the background while I (not-so-)quietly sang to myself and played with my Barbie dolls. I remember one time, Sammy hid a box of donuts in her closet or under her bed and when no one was watching, lunged for the box and proceeded to stuff her face.

I thought it was the coolest thing ever – and wished I could pull off something like that.

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Me, while the chubbiness was still (arguably) cute. It wouldn’t remain that way after puberty.

Today, Alison writes a monthly health column for Redbook magazine, which I read each month.

Please allow me to explain: Eons ago, I joined some freebies website. I still get offers for free 1-year magazine subscriptions. A couple of months ago, I got one for Redbook. Being a newlywed, I figured I might be able to make use of some of their articles – recipes, relationship advice, home tips, etc.

Anyway, Alison often gives advice on how to fit health and fitness into our busy schedules. Such gems as: “When you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, don’t forget to get in those lunges! No one will give you weird looks. In fact, they’ll admire you for making fitness a priority!” and my favorite, “Always keep a healthy and delicious snack like baby carrots (which BTW are disgusting) with you when you travel. That packet of 10 peanuts (though it will do nothing to allay your hunger) is LOADED with fat and calories.”

I obviously made those examples up. But you get what I mean. “Practical” tips that are anything but practical.

I must have had a momentary lapse of judgement when I signed up, because “women’s” magazines are worse than late-night infomercials, people. They’re loaded with craptastical platitudes that offer very little of any substance. But each month, I find myself allured by the cover and headlines and fool myself into thinking, “it won’t hurt if I just skim through.”

Except it does. It hurts a lot.

I can’t blame Redbook entirely. We live in a world saturated with unhealthy body expectations. Those little “helpful” tips and nonchalant comments whirling around in the atmosphere? They all add up.

My husband keeps saying he needs to lose weight, because according to him, he’s not the weight he used to be when he was in college. I just listen – I can never tell ANYONE they need to lose weight. I know first-hand that it does more harm than good. Besides, I like my husband just the way he is. He’s cuddly like a teddy bear.

But I can’t help but transfer his thoughts on to myself. “Does he think I need to lose weight, too?” This compounds onto the already tumultuous battle I’ve been fighting with myself for the past seven years.

7 years ago, as you may or may not know, I lost over 100 pounds. Alhamdullilah, I am grateful for being able to lose this weight, as I was pre-diabetic and nearing morbid obesity, but adjusting to my new body has been anything but easy.

I’ll spare you the 7-year history for now, but I’ve gained about 10 pounds since I’ve gotten married. 10 pounds in 9 months! That’s a lot. I’m thinking this might be due to the fact that we eat out at least once a week – I’m new to cooking and look forward to the weekend breaks… and trips to Cake Bake. And also, my meds. You know, I’m just gonna blame it ALL on the meds!

I’m not overweight by any means, but I am not happy about this weight gain. I see those 10 pounds as a failure – and a gateway to even more weight gain.

But I do not want to go on another diet. I refuse to. 

I’ve discovered enough about myself to know that the often-touted “lifestyle change” is just another diet in disguise for me. I’ve lived over a year of creating rigid, arbitrary rules, like not eating any foods with added sugar, for example. And I can’t do it anymore. I won’t do it.

Even though I’m done with dieting, I’m obviously not over the dieting mentality. Every comment I hear, even if it’s not directed toward me, I take as an indirect reproach for being unable to maintain my former, short-lived though it was, skinny self.

I don’t know how Alison does it.

But I am not Alison – and never will be. This reminds me of something that my sister once said: “It’s all about acceptance.” But self-acceptance is hardest of all.