Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Stuff of Life

At the root of all of our beliefs about food is a simple idea: Food is Good. Food is literally good in the sense that it keeps us alive. It should be no surprise that the thing that makes our lives literally possible should develop so many positive associations, becoming synonymous with things like celebration. Love. Giving to others. You could say that food is the original joie de vivre.

Back in the day, before such triumphal creations as Hot Pockets, food was a simple pleasure. This was a time when the term “food manufacturer” meant a farmer. When the vegetables you ate came from your garden, or the farm stand down the road. When a milkman (and they were all men!) delivered milk to your doorstep in glass bottles, each with a thick layer of cream rising to the top. When you couldn’t wait for summer because that was when you could buy fresh peaches again after a long, dreary winter without. Food was local and seasonal, and because you couldn’t have anything you wanted at any given moment, you really appreciated the rare occasions when you had that special treat.

Big Food changed all of that. First off, modern refrigeration and transportation techniques have allowed us to have peaches (or strawberries!) in January, even in places such as where I live in upstate New York. And second, we got “improved” flavors. I put that word in quotation marks because what I mean by “improvement” is that lots of fats and sugars and salts were added to products to create ├╝ber-flavors, SO appetizing, SO delectable, SO scrumptious, that mere food in its natural state could not compete. We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being able to indulge in any food we crave at any given moment (and we do crave them because they have been designed to be irresistible), yet these same foods (full of fat, sugar, salt and preservatives) do not promote good health and may even be making us sick.

In reading my recent posts, I’ve noticed something else about all this. As much as I talk about all the foods that tempt and taunt me, it doesn’t seem that I see food as a good thing. More than merely lamenting that I can no longer indulge in my favorite guilty pleasures, I seem to be caught up in the messy business of untangling myself from a painful and addictive pattern of eating, where food is the devil on my left shoulder, enticing me to allow my Inner Fat Girl to reemerge. In other words, food does not bring me joy and pleasure, the stuff of a good life; it brings only one of two equally disagreeable states: 1) deprivation, when I deny myself the foods that made me fat; or 2) brief moments of respite, when I allow myself to eat with abandon, followed by the inevitable weight gain and its constant companions, shame and self-condemnation. Rather than embracing food as good and life-preserving, I guard against it to protect myself from harm.

How did my ideas about food become so perverted? I’ve realized that staying at this lower weight is probably not sustainable if I continue in a state of mind that treats food as something dangerous. But I’m not sure how to flip the switch to a more positive outlook, where food is both a good thing and a healthy thing. I had some successes recently by staying away from “improved” foods – my “anti-sweetener” experiment for example – but it’s still a work in progress.

And I guess I just have to keep working on it.


  1. I think food (whole foods)
    non-food (processed)

    I eat food.

    I don't give credence to non-food.

  2. I agree that certain "foods" are best avoided. Yet I also find it is hard to untangle from the 50 years of my life that preceded my most recent weight loss. Even after 5 years of maintenance, I still find myself slipping back from time to time into old, comfortable habits.