Born and raised in Compton, CA, Rodjinae Brown is a writer currently living in Los Angeles. When she isn't working, reading, or eating, Rodjinae writes essays, short stories, and poetry based on her lived experiences and those of the people around her.

Meal Prep (August 4th 2018)

It’s late Sunday afternoon, and I’m meal prepping.

This is a new ritual of mine. I’ve only been at it for a few weeks — a month at the longest. I pick out the recipes on Friday, grocery shop Saturday, and cook on Sunday.

I have been on a diet for around 6 weeks. The first two weeks were an awkward time of trying to figure out how to go about it. I have not dieted intensely since my freshman year of college, and even then, my diet was purely incidental. Dining Hall food is a treacherous path to tread.

Dieting requires planning and plotting that can be confusing to navigate at first.

The gym, on the other hand, is a familiar and happy place for me. I can always walk into a gym and have enough confidence to know what to do. That’s a privilege I gained in college, and I love it.

Food is an entirely different story.

I love food.

I love food, but I do not always get the chance to savor its preparation. Sunday afternoons are my time to do so. I am not a person who eats terribly, but I’ve always struggled with navigating eating. This struggle came to a head my senior year of high school.

I awoke very early one morning with debilitating stomach pain. I lay in bed crying out, but no one in the house could hear me. My mother had left for work, and both of my sisters were sleeping far from me. Eventually, I grabbed my phone, and with fumbling fingers called everyone in the house hoping they had slept next to their cellphones.

I don’t know how my sister got me in the car, but I do remember sitting in the ER waiting room in tears.

My father arrived not long after, and he looked at me wearily and asked, “Are you sure it’s not just cramps?”

The rest of the hospital staff treated me with the same indifference. When I finally got to the examination room, they asked me to describe how I felt, gave me painkillers, told me I had gastritis, and sent me off with a prescription that did nothing for me. I was also given a rather vague list of foods to avoid.

They ran no tests. There was no ultrasound. They drew no blood.

No matter what I did, I was going to be in pain.

For the next four years, I would become wary of the food that I ate. Even things that were not listed reignited that familiar stomach pain. The best I can describe is the following: a spiky tennis ball rolling slowly through my intestines over the course of a few days.

Even after adhering to the list piously, I could not stop this from happening. So, I gave up. No matter what I did, I was going to be in pain.

The menu for this week’s breakfast is a sweet potato breakfast bowl.

I bake the potatoes for 50 minutes until they’re soft. By the time they are finished baking, my house smells like the last week of November.

I scrape them out of their skins into a large mixing bowl that belonged to my great-grandmother. To the bowl, I add almond milk, two and a half bananas, along with a teaspoon of maple syrup.

Recipes for diets love using maple syrup as a sweetner. I have used more of it these past few weeks than ever before.

I use two different methods of mixing them together, before I ultimately decide to pour it all into our food processor and puree the hell out of it. I taste test it. It takes like lightly sweet pie filling, or baby food which does not seem appealing, but it works fine.

Once that’s done, I pack it up and move on to my next recipe.

I have been overweight most of my life. Even while remaining active this whole time, my weight has always been a problem and a source of mockery for me. When I went to college, I moved across two states and became determined to reinvent myself.

So, I began to quietly diet.

Tracking calories is a confusing process, and it is not something of which I am particularly fond. I put a lot of pressure on myself to maintain calorie intakes and deficits. Every time I try to give them a shot, I stop after a few weeks due to pressure.

Now, I just keep myself accountable mentally for what I put into my body.

I counted calories for the first two months I was in college. I dropped 20lbs which made me excited, but I wanted something more. I was tired of doing cardio, and I wanted to be able to see more of a change in my body. That’s when I started weighlifting.

Photo by Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash

Weightlifting is incredibly simple, but challenging. The following is an oversimplified explanation: you pick up something heavy and you put it back down. You keep doing this over the course of time until that heavy thing is not as heavy anymore. Then, you go to a heavier thing and repeat.

The challenging part comes in with form and types of weightlifting. Yes, you must pick up the heavy thing, but you must do it in this way or else you will hurt yourself. Picking up the heavy thing in one stance works certain muscles, but in another stance works another muscle group.

I took to weightlifting easily because I’ve always been strong, and this was me taking the opportunity to be stronger. Those last three years of college saw me in the best shape I’ve ever been in.

I was still overweight. According to my doctor, I was actually “quite obese.”

The item for lunch this week is a creamy chicken and veggie pasta which tastes too good to be under 400 calories.

I am already enamored with this recipe because it only takes one pot to prepare it which means I can reduce messiness. I start by chopping and measuring out the vegetables. I love vegetables. I prefer them to fruit. I enjoy their versatility.

As far as cooking goes, I actually do a pretty good job on my own. Thanks to my stomach ailment, I had to learn how to cook for myself. With diets, you have to follow recipes as much as possible in order to get the results you desire.

So, while I’m internally balking at some of the lack of seasonings and embellishments, I follow the recipes while only making certain adjustments to account for my allergies.

First, I chop the brussel sprouts. Based on their size, some pieces are cut in thirds, others in fourths.

I worked out five times a week in college. I would do 10–15 minutes worth of cardio a day, and then lift for the next 30. I wasn’t a big fan of cardio, but I knew it was necessary.

I just hated that I could not breathe.

My whole life I have struggled with breathing. Every time I mentioned it to a doctor, a coach, and even my parents, they blamed my weight. I heeded their words and did my best to push myself to overcome this problem. Nothing ever worked. I would run, shin splints throbbing, gasping/wheezing/coughing, hoping that I would lose the magic pound that would help me breathe.

After I lost the 20lbs in college and still could not breathe, I went straight to the Student Health Office and requested the asthma test I had been denied for so long. Low and behold, it was found that I had exercise induced asthma. I have an inhaler now that I carry with me everywhere like a validation badge to show that I wasn’t just making it up all those years.

Next, I measure out the mushrooms because they’re already cut. I dump them in the pot as well. I suffer through the onions which always make me look like a soap opera star giving a daytime Emmy worthy performance. None of the tricks to keep your eyes from watering work for me. I make quick, and honestly sloppy, work of the onion because the recipe doesn’t go into specifics on how it should be chopped.

My family goes back and forth between being supportive of or deriding my current diet.

I have distinct memories of what it was like talking about my weight to family when I was younger.

“When did you get so fat?” one of my cousins asked.

“That’s the chunky one.” An aunt called out in greeting at a family event.

I would try to distract them with talks of my grades, which were impeccable, or the books I was reading, but the conversation always returned to my weight.

I still get teased about the “unfortunate tuna incident”, in which I walked into my grandparent’s kitchen and demolished half of a tuna sandwich. It turned out to belong to my grandfather, and he was very angry at the loss of his lunch.

One of my cousins does a perfect impression of my sobs as I stated, “I was hu-ngry.” He gets the hitch that my voice had just right. It is funny because I was fat, not because I was genuinely hungry.

I don’t hate myself, at least, not anymore.

I add the rest of the vegetables to the pot before cleaning off the space. I wash the chopping board and knife before putting them back onto the counter. It is time to chop the chicken. I wash my hands.

I rinse the chicken thighs off, making sure to clear them of bone fragments or congealed blood. I then place them on the cutting board and wash my hands once more. Cleanliness is very important.

My sisters always tell me that I don’t look fat. The word “thick” has become mainstream, and it is now the preferred monniker for my body type. My sisters say say this out of concern that I am doing this diet because I hate myself.

I don’t hate myself, at least not anymore. That hatred was shed in my freshman year of college.

I know now that I have extreme bodily privilege. While I am far from thin, my biggest problems are the opinions of my doctor and shopping in certain stores. I still have many freedoms that other people larger than I do not possess.

I chop the chicken, add it to the pot, and put the cutting board and knife in their own separate side of the sink. I wash my hands thoroughly, and rinse the cutting board several times to wash any debris down the garbage disposal.

I add the water and pasta to the pot. Then one by one, I add thyme, salt, pepper italian seasoning in place of rosemary which we’re out of, and two tablespoons of goat cheese. I am allergic to cow’s milk; so, this substitute is necessary.

I place the pot over high heat. Then, I begin to clean.

As I wash the dishes, I slice my finger on one of the blades for the food processor. Typical. I pause to rinse the cut with peroxide and find a suitable bandaid. Then, it’s back to work.

I think I have come to an accordance with my body.

My weight-loss efforts have been fruitful so far. I have been able to learn better moderation when it comes to food. I have learned a great deal of new recipes to add to my repertoire.

I have also learned that I’m not entirely crazy about spaghetti squash, and that some recipes require more money than I’m willing to invest something I’m only going to eat for a week.

Most importantly, I think I have come to an accordance with my body. I feel really good, and I haven’t had a stomach ache since I started.

The pasta dish is done. I measure it out into the bowls I use for lunch every day. I scoop the sweet potato mash into a mason jar. As soon as it’s all packed away, I put everything into the refrigerator.

All done until next Sunday, where I’ll have two new recipes to meal prep, and a new way to look at my body.

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