Monday, July 30, 2012

Dazed and Confused

Pop quiz time!

The question is: what foods would you eat if you were eating solely for optimal health?

Once upon a time, I thought the answer to that question was something that all medical and scientific experts agreed upon. I didn’t know the answer, but I would have guessed that it had something to do with the Food Pyramid and that it included words like “whole grain,” “low fat,” and “high fiber.” But then something funny happened. I lost a large amount of weight and found that, in order to keep it off, I couldn’t consume very much in the carbohydrate category. By this I mean bread, pasta and potatoes, often referred to as starchy foods. Yet when I looked at the Food Pyramid, I saw a recommendation that a significant portion of my daily intake should come from these types of foods.

Huh?

This just didn’t make sense to me when I compared it to my first-hand experience, so I started to look elsewhere, hoping to find the answer to my nutritional dilemma. After four years, I’m still looking. It’s not that I can’t find any data on the optimal way to eat – there is almost too much data out there – but rather that I can’t find any agreement on the subject.

Among the voices shouting out are the traditionalists, advocating a “sensible” low fat approach with plentiful servings of whole grain carbs, the very diet by the way that seems to make me gain weight. Conversely, there is the low-carb crowd, some of whom are quite adamant that starchy foods, especially refined sugar and flour, are the foodstuffs of the devil. Another group of folks are proponents of ancestral eating, sometimes called Paleo or Primal, which is based on the idea that our digestive systems have not evolved as quickly as our technology and so we should continue to eat the way ancient humans ate. And I can’t leave out the supporters of a whole foods, organic, locavore way of eating that rejects all industrially processed edibles. Many of these ideas resonate with me, the low-carb thing for sure, but also the idea of eating real foods that have not had all of their nutrients manufactured out of them. Yet they can’t all be right.

As if all this isn’t confusing enough, we develop individual food religions as well. For example, my “no-sweet experiment.” It’s only been about a month since I started my little research project, but already I can feel the orthodoxy of it hardening around me. Just last weekend, I was at a birthday party and I agonized beforehand about whether I should eat a piece of birthday cake. Would it ruin my experiment? Would I bloat up overnight? And would eating it shatter my “no-sweet” integrity? All this over a piece of cake, for a concept that I MADE UP about a month ago.

I’ve come to the conclusion that no one really knows the right way for human beings to eat. What works for me, what keeps my weight low but also makes me feel good, is a low-fat, low-carb approach without too many sweets. If I can keep some perspective on that and not get too dogmatic, I think I’ll be okay.

I think.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Have A Dream

When I was a little kid, I believed that there would come a day when I would have my act together. Of course, I didn’t put it that way at the time, but I did have a clear picture of myself at maybe thirty years old, confident, knowing everything I needed to know, at peace with who I was, living a balanced and satisfying life. It was what I thought every adult achieved eventually, once the folly of childhood was shed.

Ha!

Here I am, fifty-five years old, still wondering if that day will ever come. Not surprisingly, I thought the same thing about losing weight. That belief led to a vision of me, finally thin, eating with ease, enjoying a diet that was tasty, satisfying and good for me. Food was no longer a source of guilt, failure or agony. As with my dream of being a fully realized adult, I saw myself calm, relaxed, and possessed of a rarified state of being where food was handled once and for all.

Well, that didn’t happen either. I’ve been successful in maintaining a one-hundred pound weight loss for about four and a half years, but it’s never become easy or effortless or “handled.” It’s important that you know this because the diet industry promises us the exact opposite. We are told that each new wonder diet, each breakthrough drug, each revolutionary program, guarantees that on their plan, you will lose weight and keep it off without difficulty or anguish. Success story after success story are paraded before us, each newly slender and jubilant (transformed!), vowing that they will never be fat again.

Hate to be a party pooper folks, but if you think that maintaining your weight loss will be effortless, then you are setting yourself up for a big disappointment. And possibly a big weight regain. I know this from bitter personal experience. I’ve lost large amounts of weight several times in my life and, except for the last time, I’ve regained every last ounce and then some. In fact, that was my pattern. Lose twenty pounds, gain thirty. Lose those thirty pounds, gain fifty. I was a serial dieter for most of my life, losing and regaining too many times to count, until at last I was one-hundred pounds overweight.

So what’s different this time? This time, I’ve abandoned the dream. I’ve accepted that maintaining a large weight loss is no picnic and never will be. I don’t always like what I have to do to keep my weight in this lower range, but in desperate moments, I channel the wit and wisdom of my mother. When I was a small girl, crying over some terrible heartache, how many times did she say to me, “If you’re going to get upset about that, you’re going to have a very hard life.” Indeed. It seems that the best way to deal with the hard stuff is to accept that it’s hard. Be a bit of a stoic. And then move on.

I’m sure this is not what you want to hear. You want to hear that there’s a magic bullet, a cure, an answer to obesity that doesn’t involve a measure of pain. But there isn’t. All I can say is, if you’re going to be upset by that... Well, I think you know the rest.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Restaurant Rag

I’ve been on vacation for almost two weeks now. I didn’t go anywhere, so I guess you could call it a “staycation.” It’s been a chance to relax, plus catch up on things around the house. One thing I like to do when I’m on vacation is go out to eat. It’s a nice change from the regular grind of stopping for groceries on the way home from work, making a quick dinner, cleaning up afterwards and all that. I don’t mind cooking on the weekends, when I have less to do and don’t feel rushed. But in the evenings during the week, cooking seems like such a drag. It’s work and by that time of day I usually feel that I’ve done enough work already. I’ve always said that the ultimate luxury for me would be to have a personal chef (along with a personal chauffeur!).

Since I’ve lost weight, it’s been hard to find restaurants that have food I actually want to eat. I’ve written before about my husband’s favorite restaurant, a neighborhood Italian place that serves LOTS of pasta. They serve salads too, but here’s the thing: salads are not their specialty, so they don’t do salads all that well. Their salads mainly involve chunks of iceberg lettuce (which taste like nothing to me), a few slices of tomato (that are usually pink and mealy), a half a dozen black olives, maybe a sliver of red onion and that’s about it. Why would I go to a restaurant and pay restaurant prices for something as uninspired as that? On the other hand, they do pasta very well, but, alas, I don’t want to eat pasta anymore.

It’s not just this one restaurant though. Go to a diner, or a chain restaurant, or even a cozy, local pub, and what will you find? Club sandwiches stacked three inches high. Bacon cheddar burgers. Quesadillas and enchiladas and burritos slathered with guacamole and melted jack cheese. Enormous plates of French fries. In fact, most restaurant entrees are enormous. Why is that? My husband will say, “But, look, they also have salads.” Yes, every one of these restaurants has a salad with grilled chicken. I wish I had a dollar for every salad with grilled chicken I’ve eaten since I’ve lost weight – I’d be quite wealthy by now!

I’ve found a few places that serve food I actually want to eat. Maybe it’s a nice piece of grilled salmon with asparagus. Or an egg-white omelet full of veggies. Or a restaurant that is very flexible and will allow me to customize a dish, have it without butter, or substitute steamed broccoli for the rice pilaf. Every now and then, my husband even agrees to go with me to one of those “good” restaurants. So, you see, there is still reason to hope.

Sometimes I wonder, could the average restaurant survive if it offered only healthy food? It seems to me that most restaurants thrive on promising an indulgent experience and I think they definitely deliver on that pledge! What else can you call an 1,800 calorie hamburger? But my real question is this: why does indulgence have to mean gorging on fattening food? Couldn’t indulgence also be defined as paying more attention to how a dish is seasoned, cooking it just right, or pairing foods whose flavors complement each other perfectly? Taking the time and care to prepare a meal that is truly delicious, as opposed to what I do most evenings, which is cook as fast as possible so I can eat and get on to whatever else I have to do that night.

We’re ordering takeout from a local pizza place tonight. I will ponder these questions as I eat my salad with chicken.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How Sweet It Is - Part 2

About a month ago I decided to try something new: I eliminated sweet foods from my diet. My motive was frustration. I had gained ten pounds over the last year, mostly due to an increase in snacking at night as a way to deal with work stress, and no matter what I did, I could not get those pounds off. I couldn’t seem to eat less either. Then one day, I noticed a connection between my appetite and eating things that were sweet, and – voila! – the idea was born. It seems only fair that I give you an update on how this very unscientific experiment has worked out.

As might be expected, the first few days were awful. I felt so DEPRIVED. I drank tea without sweetener. Ate my morning oatmeal without sweetener. I gave up Diet Dr. Pepper. Let me repeat that. I GAVE UP DIET DR. PEPPER. Believe it or not, that was the worst part of the deal, giving up my afternoon diet soda habit. And everything tasted so blah. I thought I would have to abandon the experiment but I told myself I would stick it out for at least a week. At the end of that week, a funny thing happened.

I stopped thinking about sweetness.

It was a subtle shift. My evening food cravings seemed less intense. I started noticing the actual taste of the foods I usually added sweetener to. Plain yogurt was suddenly pretty yummy all by itself. Not only that, but water quenched my thirst way better than a carbonated soft drink. I continued to eat fruit, which was the only sweetness I allowed in my diet, and it began to taste fantastic. I remember one particular peach that left me moaning in gastronomic ecstasy. And my weight dropped two pounds. I don’t think I lost those two pounds because sweet calories are more fattening than non-sweet calories. I lost them because I ate less without that non-stop sweet rush to stimulate my appetite.

Now after about a month, my weight is down five pounds and I don’t miss sweetness at all. I did have a piece of cake for my birthday last week, and then another piece for my husband’s birthday two days later. They were good and I enjoyed them, but they seemed like a special indulgence, nothing more. I had stopped drinking wine for the first few weeks also, but I’ve had the occasional glass of dry red recently without a problem. I think I’m going to keep doing this for a while.

We are told that the way to keep a healthy diet sustainable is to allow yourself a regular treat; often the advice is to work in that treat on a daily basis. (By the way, the word “treat” is usually code for sweet.) I think that’s wrong. If you eat too much chocolate, for example, and decide to deal with that by eating just a little bit of chocolate every day, you are keeping alive your beliefs about how much you need chocolate and the temptation will always be there. I don’t think we humans do so well in a state of constant temptation.

I’m sure some of you will read this and think it’s complete nonsense. After all, what is life without chocolate? But it works for me. Maybe someday I’ll be evolved enough to handle a daily dose of sweet tooth. Until then I say: How sweet it ain’t!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tastes Great, Good For You!

As I seem to be fixated on food porn, I thought perhaps I should share some of my own. Food porn generally focuses on “good food,” you know, stuff like chocolate, ice cream, or pizza oozing cheese from every orifice. But I’d like to try my hand at healthy food porn, with my all time favorite vegetable salad. This dish is great for summer picnics, but I’ve also made it for Thanksgiving dinner. The recipe was given to me by my friend and Number One Cheerleader Lyrysa. It tastes divine and you can modify it any way you desire. Here it is in its original form:

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh whole green beans, trimmed
1 large (or 2 small) sweet red peppers, thinly julienned
1 pint cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
1 cup fresh finely minced parsley
1/4 cup fresh finely minced dill
1/4 cup fresh finely minced tarragon
2 or 3 tbsp minced garlic
2 or 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 or 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice of one large lemon
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds

Stream the green beans in a large pot until the beans are just barely tender. Put the steamed beans in a colander and run them under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain.

While the green beans are draining, add all other ingredients (except the vinegar, lemon juice and almonds) to a large bowl and toss until well mixed and the oil coats all ingredients. Add the cooled beans to this mixture and toss again until well mixed and the oil costs the beans. Refrigerate for a minimum of several hours and preferably overnight.

Just before serving the salad, add the vinegar, lemon juice and almonds. Toss again until mixed.

That’s it. It’s easy, delicious, and will make your toes curl with delight! And, if you don’t like a particular ingredient, feel free to leave it out or substitute something else. This is one dish that says “Have it your way!” And as no porn is complete without a picture, here’s a feast for your eyes and your salivary glands…


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There's A Pill For That

The FDA approved a new weight-loss pill this week, going by the unpronounceable name of Qsymia. This is on the heels of the weight-loss pill they approved in June, called Belviq. (Apparently diet drugs must include the letter “q” in their names in order to be effective.) The article I read noted that one of the side effects of Qsymia is a higher risk for heart damage. So, we are fighting a condition – obesity – that can cause heart damage, through use of a drug – Qsymia – that can cause heart damage? Is anyone else confused?

I think drug manufacturers like us to be confused. We are more willing sheep if we don’t completely understand what is being done to us. And all the more profit if the average patient throws up their hands and decides to trust that “they” (whoever “they” are) wouldn’t let the drug be used if it wasn’t safe. Right?

Have you noticed how similar drug marketing is to food marketing? Both seduce you into believing that you must have this drug/food, not only that but you deserve this drug/food. It is a constant siren song to eat, eat, eat, and when you get sick and tired from eating, eating, eating, then take this new wonder pill and all your problems will go away. What’s really diabolical is that all of this enticement is a nice, neat backdrop to the hand-wringing about the obesity “epidemic,” including lamentations over those darn fat people who just need to get off their butts and zip their lips.

I detect a smelly con game being played here. It goes something like this:

You, the hapless hungry person, see the advertisement for Dominos’ newest, cheesiest, most pepperoni-and-sausage-laden pizza ever. There are close-ups of mozzarella oozing from the crust and you are done for. You must… have… some… now. And so you do, along with a side of wings and a liter of Coke, immediately followed by the next phase of the con game, called self-flagellation. How could you have eaten that greasy pizza? How could you have eaten so many pieces? How could you have eaten the whole pie? You’re a slug. A sloth. Your relationship with food is a hot mess. But wait! You can go on a diet. Yes! But which diet? You remember the last five diets you went on and the one thing they all had in common: you were hungry all the time while on them. Hey, isn’t there a drug for that? Qsy-something? You’ll call the doctor tomorrow and ask for a three-month prescription.

It’s a beautiful cycle. The food manufacturers make loads of cash because we willingly buy their unhealthy but alluring products. The drug manufacturers make loads of cash because we need their products to counteract the bad aftereffects of our food choices. And we do not blame either of them for suckering us into this gastronomic hell. No, we blame ourselves!

Now, I’m all for personal responsibility, but at a certain point the environment has to be taken into account. We live in a culture of nonstop food porn and the promise of an easy fix after the binge – until we do something about that, there will be no solution to the obesity “epidemic.”

In the meantime, I suggest you take care of yourself the best you can. If you happen to fall into the clutches of an extra-cheesy pizza pusher, don’t beat yourself up. Just acknowledge, learn and move on. It's the real pill for what ails you.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Perfection

I’ve been reading a lot of other blogs lately written by people who’ve been through what I’ve been through: losing a lot of weight and working to keep it off. It’s been cathartic to finally find a community that gets it. Until now, I’ve shared my experiences with people who’ve never been seriously overweight, or conversely, with those who have but think there’s no workable, lasting solution to obesity. To finally talk to folks who’ve been there and done that is thrilling to say the least.

One thing I’ve noticed is that while everyone I’ve encountered in weight cyberspace has had similar experiences, many have drawn very different conclusions than I have. This fact actually excites me because I’ve learned some things and discovered new perspectives that can only help as I move forward on this weight maintenance journey. Even when I disagree with what someone says, I can see where they’re coming from and respect that their opinion was arrived at just as honestly as mine was.

There’s a big idea that many of my fellow bloggers have expressed that I completely disagree with, that we have to deal with mental issues – about food and self-esteem among other things – before lasting weight success can be achieved. I’ve brushed the surface of this topic in previous posts about emotional eating and our relationship with food, but I want to explore one aspect of this a little further. I seem to detect something dangerous lurking beneath the waters and that is the specter of Perfection.

Every person who’s ever been seriously overweight has dreamed of the perfect life they will have when they finally reach whatever magical weight they’ve established for themselves. In fact, one of the biggest challenges to maintaining a large weight loss is mourning the demise of that cherished belief, when you reach your perfect weight and find that a perfect life still eludes you. How different from that is this idea that you have to perfect your mental state before attempting to deal with your weight?

It is undeniably true that people have issues with food. It is also undeniably true that food issues can significantly affect what you eat, how much you eat, and what you weigh. But I believe you can take care of your body and reach a state of health that includes being a normal weight without having to clear out every eccentricity and neurotic cobweb from your head. I’m a perfect example. I’m way crazier about food now than I was 100 pounds ago, but I’ve managed to work with my nuttiness. The key is having a strong motivation, which for me was created out of something that happened seven years ago.

In the summer of 2005, I had relatively minor surgery on my foot and had been told that I would need about a week to recover. My recovery took nearly four times longer than that because I had to use crutches while my foot healed and I was simply too out of shape to do that. During that time period, I was a functional invalid and that realization hit me hard, as I was only 48 years old and thought of myself as resilient. It brought me face-to-face with the future and how I might cope with health issues as a 70-year-old woman who weighed 250 pounds. The terror of that vision set me on this road and I’ve never looked back, neuroses or no.

So, I don’t agree that food issues have to be resolved or healed or made peace with in order to lose weight for good. And there is no such thing as a perfect relationship with food, no matter what you weigh. All I can say is start where you are and do what you can. Whatever happens, it is better than waiting for a perfect opportunity that will always be just beyond your grasp.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's All in Your Head

There’s something I’ve encountered over and over again in articles about losing weight: the idea that an overweight person will never be successful in keeping the pounds off for good unless she comes to grips with her relationship with food. (I use the word “she” deliberately because this advice seems mostly directed at women.)

The theory is that the obese person’s messed up relationship with food causes them to overeat in destructive ways. We are told that this over-consumption is an attempt to fill a void, heal a past trauma, or find solace from a deep loss. It is a psychological crutch, and once the fat person is able to deal with the real issue, she will no longer feel the need to stuff her face with Hershey bars.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

First off, it sounds an awful lot like a one-shot fix. But rather than a magic pill or a magic surgical procedure, this is magic for your head. Get in touch with your bruised inner psyche and presto chango! Thin forever! Well, um, not quite. Dealing with obesity may require coming to terms with the fact that you sometimes eat for reasons other than hunger, but that doesn’t mean it’s all in your noggin. It does mean that you need to change what are likely very ingrained eating habits, which may make the goings-on in your head even more squirrelly!

This idea also focuses the blame on the fat person and their perceived gluttony. But consider, for example, that to reach a point where you weigh 100 pounds more than you should, you need to eat an extra 350,000 calories. That’s the equivalent of about 6500 cups of steamed chopped broccoli. You would have to eat almost 18 cups of that broccoli on top of your regular meals every day in order to gain 100 pounds in a year. Could you stomach that? However, those 100 pounds are also the equivalent of only 200 of Red Robin’s highest-calorie cheeseburger options. You could probably manage that, couldn’t you? Would the current obesity rate, especially the rate of extreme obesity, be skyrocketing if our environment didn’t provide nearly non-stop mega-calorie temptation?

Then there’s the matter of biology. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the hormones regulating appetite, hunger and satiety work differently in overweight people than they do in non-overweight people. Some researchers have begun to believe that the digestive system of obese people is actually broken, along with the homeostasis mechanism that is supposed to regulate metabolism to keep weight stable, not unlike how it keeps our body temperature steady at 98.6°F. Even the most well-adjusted person in the world will have trouble maintaining a healthy weight if their gut is busted!

There’s also the insinuation that obese people must be mentally warped. Good grief! Fat people already have enough to deal with without being treated as not quite right in the head. This idea that our weight is the result of psychological failings does nothing but keep us in a state of self-flagellation and shame, which just makes it that much harder to seek out the help needed to learn a better way to eat.

I think the best way to fix your relationship with unhealthy food is to treat it like an abusive boyfriend. Ditch the jerk and find something better. But that does not require tinkering with your head. It does require the determination to find a piece of paper on which to write a new and improved grocery list. Plus a healthy dose of self-respect.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Inspiration

One question has dogged me since I started writing this blog and that is: Should I write to inspire?

When I reached my goal weight in 2008, I desperately wanted to be an inspiration. In those days, I didn’t have to do very much to be inspiring; all I had to do was walk in the room. People who hadn’t seen me in a while would do a visible double-take, wanting to know what had happened while delicately dodging having to ask me if I had been sick. Many people, friends, family, co-workers, told me that my success in losing so much weight had motivated them to try again. It was, I’ve since discovered, the golden age of weight maintenance when everything seemed bright and shining.

After a while, the excitement died down for those around me, but not for me. You have to remember that I had been morbidly obese (one of the more charming things a fat person can be called) for most of my adult life, so to finally be thin, now that was something! I was size ten, for goodness sake. I had dreamed of that mythic place – SizeTenLand – for so long, that to actually arrive there was still a thing of beauty. When I continued to share my enthusiasm for my new way of life, however, I started to notice something: my compadres no longer seemed happy to hear what I had to say.

Little did I know, but I had entered the second phase of weight maintenance, the stage where the newly slender person becomes that Annoying Convert. No longer was I the poster child for transformation (you know my thoughts on that); now I had become just another of those obnoxious born-agains who show up at your front door wanting to share the good news of their newly embraced religion. My attempts to continue to inspire those around me went unappreciated at best. Often, people seemed irritated, as if my thinness was some sort of affront.

Which brings me to the third phase of weight maintenance, namely the place where I stopped inspiring myself simply because my weight was lower, and started to fully comprehend that if I wanted to stay this way, I had to continue my new approach to eating and exercising for the rest of my life. Think about that for a minute. It’s quite intimidating!

After four and a half years of weight maintenance, I’ve arrived at a place where inspiration seems beside the point. I’ve learned that no matter how loudly I shout about the joys of life sans excess pounds, the siren call of chocolate croissants will probably out-shout me. My sharing may also piss you off and cause you to think unkind thoughts, like who the hell does she think she is anyway? There’s an integrity issue for me too, to wax poetic about my new habits without also telling the bleak truth about how hard this really is.

In the end, trying to inspire someone else to lose weight is a futile endeavor. Each person has to come to that decision point on their own, and many might never get there. That’s their choice. My goal now is to just try to paint a realistic picture of what to expect, warts and all, for those daring enough to embark on this adventure.

The good news is that it is possible to lose a large amount of weight and keep it off. The bad news is that there is no happily-ever-after. But then, I suspect you knew that already, didn’t you?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Crazy Diet Lady

In reading some of my previous posts, it seems that I’ve painted a rather dismal picture of life after weight loss. I’ve asserted that you can’t eat any of the “good foods,” not even in moderation. I’ve posited that being hungry might not always be a bad thing. I’ve suggested you have birthday broccoli instead of birthday cake. I’ve gone so far as to propose not eating sweets at all, even those containing only zero-calorie sweeteners! Have I become a kind of food Nazi, promoting a joyless gray existence, devoid of one of the most satisfying of life’s pleasures, to enjoy a flavorful meal?

This is exactly the dreary purgatory that the popular culture cautions against, aided in no small measure by the food industry and food advertisements. We are offered a Sophie’s choice. Be healthy but at the cost of eating bland and boring gruel. Or eat with gusto and abandon but endure the indignities and potential health effects of excess weight. This is the reason you drool over pepperoni pizza with cheese baked into the crust, because you’ve been sold on the idea that it’s exciting in a way that grilled chicken and salad are not. And make no mistake. You have been sold.

It’s possible I’ve also portrayed myself as a bit eccentric. Just how OCD do you have to be to measure portions every time, follow the same dietary routine every day, weigh yourself every morning. Just how anal must you become to maintain a laser focus on your diet, making course corrections on a minute-by-minute basis, all to keep your weight within that five-pound sweet spot you’ve selected? Perhaps it seems odd, but aren’t those late night binge rituals that none of us want to admit to a tad strange too?

Well, eccentric or not, the fact is that my life is better at a lower weight, even if that means broccoli instead of cake. A lot better. The three-minute joy of eating a scoop of Cherry Garcia, even the half-hour ecstasy of scarfing down the whole pint, is nothing compared to the difference in the way I feel. Now I can spend an entire day sightseeing without my knees giving out. I can walk up a flight, or three, of stairs without being out of breath. I can wear a bathing suit without trepidation. I can tuck in my shirt – you have no idea how much pleasure I get from tucking in my shirt!

Here’s another shocker. Healthy food is not boring at all! It only seems that way when your taste buds have been taken hostage by the ├╝ber-flavors of The Pigs. Once you detox your tongue, you’ll discover the amazing taste sensations that nature affords. The tang of plain yogurt. The nuttiness of roasted Brussels sprouts. The sweet juice of a perfectly ripened tomato. Appreciating these subtle and sublime flavors when you’re accustomed to a heavy slathering of fat, sugar and salt is like trying to hear the purring of a kitten while standing next to a construction site. Not gonna happen.

It’s not easy to untangle from the cultural admonition that healthy eating is dull and to be avoided at all costs, but it can be done. It will feel like suffering at first, as you endure withdrawal from food addictions and familiar comfortable ways. But then one day you’ll have a craving and be amazed to discover that what you hunger for is a salad. Yes, a salad.

Hey, crazier things have happened!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'll Have Seconds With That Emotion

Today I’d like to take a slight detour and talk about the psychology of food. You know, emotional eating. The cultural take on emotional eating goes something like this: Girl has a bad day at work. Girl gets upset. Girl goes home and eats a half gallon of Chunky Monkey. Girl feels better for five minutes. Girl hates herself for the rest of the night, and since she now hates herself, proceeds to polish off the last of the macaroni and cheese, along with a bunch of corn chips and guacamole. Some might call this a food binge. I would call it my life before I lost 100 pounds.

Obviously, a person who would do something like this is seriously disturbed, no? And isn’t that what we believe, even if we don’t say it out loud? A person who is fat is a person who’s lost control. A person who’s undisciplined. A person who is probably psychologically and emotionally deficient in some way, otherwise they would get motivated and DO SOMETHING about their weight.

That’s exactly what I believed about myself for most of my life. That there was something seriously wrong with my head. If only I could straighten out my screwed up psyche, then I would find the strength to stay on a sensible diet and lose the weight once and for all. Not only that, but I believed other people (translation: normal-weight people) were better than I was simply because they could eat cake and stay thin and I could not.

But then I lost 100 pounds. I didn’t lose 100 pounds because I cleared out all of the squirrelly, twisted mazes in my mind. In fact, in some ways this weight maintenance deal has made me more neurotic than ever. I lost weight because I put myself in the hands of a doctor and a nutritionist and DID EXACTLY WHAT THEY TOLD ME TO DO. Yes, I know, that’s an un-American thing to say. I let someone else tell me what to do. Shocking.

Yet, I lost the weight and have kept it off for four and a half years. In that time, I’ve learned a few things. Like how our intrinsic beliefs about what constitutes “good food” chain us to a way of eating that keeps us fat. How food manufacturers design products that are highly palatable (translation: highly addictive) to keep us coming back for more, and oh yes, keep us fat. How our own willingness to discount our strength and believe in our deficiency keeps us from questioning the status quo, and yup, keeps us fat. And instead of getting angry – because maybe you have a genetic predisposition to gain weight and you need help to learn how to deal with that, but instead you are pushed and prodded by the food culture to eat the very foods that will make your genetic predisposition become reality – instead you blame yourself for being an idiot who wants to have her cake and eat it too.

Have no doubt, emotional eating exists. But the question is, did I eat the way I ate because I was screwed up? Or did I eat the way I ate because I didn’t know a better way to deal with life’s difficulties and no one was able to show me a better way? My observation is that most of us have weird, eccentric nonsense banging around in our heads and you can’t really predict how bad it is with any particular person just by what they weigh. Overweight people are not more emotionally disturbed than thinner people, but they do have to deal with an awful lot of disturbing stuff, like being portrayed as out-of-control nut jobs when in reality they just have a physical condition called obesity.

Whew! I feel better now.