Sunday, November 25, 2012

'Tis the Season

Another Thanksgiving under the belt! Literally. All in all, it was a good day. To be expected, I ate too much and even gained a couple pounds. I feel at peace with that though because it was only a couple pounds and I know I can lose those before the next big holiday food debacle.

As I’m sure you know, Thanksgiving, or to be more precise, Black Friday, kicks off the big holiday gift shopping season. For the last few days I’ve felt bombarded with ads imploring me to buy, buy, buy! It seems somewhat ironic that the orgy of eating that is Turkey Day should be followed as a matter of course by an orgy of shopping. It makes me wonder what it is about our culture that glorifies extreme consumption and makes us always crave more, whether that means a bigger, gooier cheeseburger or a bigger, flashier flat screen television.

We even define ourselves this way, as consumers. If you look up the word ‘consume’ in the dictionary, it has several meanings, some of which have to do with eating, drinking and generally enjoying something. But the word can also mean to be used up or destroyed, as in the sense of being consumed in a fire, for example. I find this very interesting.

There are many ways to think about the act of eating. You can eat to live or live to eat. Food can be something to have fun with or a chore to prepare. And yes, you can be a consumer of food, eat it, enjoy it, use it up. It seems to me that if your eating-mindset can be defined by the word consumption, then you are most likely in the moment, enjoying the taste or how a food makes you feel. You are probably not thinking about what the food might give you in return, whether that means something good (i.e., vitamins and minerals) or something not so good (i.e., saturated fat or refined sugar).

You could also think about eating as nourishment. Nourishment is defined as something that sustains and aids in growth. If you are eating to nourish yourself, then you are definitely thinking about what the food will give you in return, both in terms of immediate nutrients and long-term health. This may sound preachy, like I’m using the simple act of eating as a way to pass some kind of culinary moral judgment, but that would be pretty foolish of me considering I’ve spent way more of my eating life in consumption mode than in nourishment mode. Let’s just say it’s something to think about.

Sometimes, like on Thanksgiving, I think enjoying a meal that would be considered excessive under normal circumstances could be nourishing. To occasionally cut loose with those we love is good for us, physically, emotionally and spiritually; to eat that way every day is another matter. It’s hard to make that distinction when everything around you is screaming buy, buy, buy! Eat, eat, eat!

In the end, the best advice I can give is this. Consumer beware.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Let The Eating Begin!

Thanksgiving is almost here! If there is one holiday that sums up our food culture perfectly, this would be it. It is a day expressly designed for conspicuous overconsumption of a plethora of “goodies” that are not so good for us. Oh sure, Halloween has candy and Christmas has cookies, but Thanksgiving has it all! It is a mother lode of mashed-up, carb-laden delight, with all manner of potatoes and squashes and stuffings, whose main reason for existence is to soak up copious amounts of butter, cream and greasy drippings. And don’t forget the signature dessert of the day, pumpkin pie, but also the runners-up, apple and mincemeat, no calorie slouches themselves. Even normally healthy foods are not safe on this annual homage to gluttony. Consider the plight of the noble green bean, the poster child of food that is good for you, yet on this day it seems it must be smothered with cream of mushroom soup and crispy fried onions.

Thanksgiving was tough for me during the first few years of maintenance. Even at times when I was doing fairly well distinguishing the concept of nourishment from all of the other meanings I had assigned to food, on that one day it seemed that no matter what, food was love, food was family, food was belonging, and if I couldn’t eat all that stuff, I was alone and forlorn. I did manage to get past that, thank goodness. The last few years, what has worked best is to just be conscious and avoid a total pig-out. Being conscious means that I don’t eat something just because it’s there. Avoiding a pig-out means that I only take a second helping if it’s something I truly love.

Recently, we’ve decided to share the cooking duties for my family’s celebration. My mother does the turkey and mashed potatoes, my sister-in-law does desserts and appetizers, and I do the side dishes. This has actually been a great thing because I get to have fun with vegetables – you all know how much I love vegetables! The first year we did this, I made my favorite cold green bean salad. This recipe is nothing like the green bean and mushroom soup dish I mentioned above. It’s full of crisp veggies and fresh herbs, with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. Before I made it for Thanksgiving, I had thought of it as a summer dish, but it worked quite well for the holidays and so now I make it for Thanksgiving every year. Last year, I experimented with roasted Brussels sprouts. Another big hit. So much so that I’m going to add roasted cauliflower to the side dish menu this year. Having something delicious and lower-calorie on the table is a big help to keep the meal satisfying without risking a big weight gain.

All that said, I will still probably eat too much on Thanksgiving. I will also probably gain a couple pounds. The thought of that used to make me crazy because I equated gaining a couple pounds with regaining the entire hundred pounds that I lost. Now I know that as long as I get right on those couple pounds, I’ll be okay. You could say that this realization is something I give thanks for.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Talking Turkey

It’s hard to put my finger on it, but something feels different. We’re just a little over a week away from Thanksgiving and I should be a nervous wreck by now, worrying about what I will eat, how much weight I will gain, how agonizing it will be to resist the tantalizing delights that will be placed before me. The reason I think I should be a basket case is because this is how it has been for me since losing one hundred pounds. Yet, none of those thoughts has surfaced. What I have been thinking is that I will eat enough to feel satisfied, maybe a bit more than I should (whatever “should” means), and life will go on. If I do gain a few pounds, I’ll just buckle down and lose them in the weeks following the holiday.

Why the shift? Well, my weight is in the low end of my range right now. Being lighter always reduces my worries about regaining. I suspect it may also have something to do with the fact that I’m approaching the five-year anniversary of maintaining my goal weight. In all of my past attempts to manage my considerable tonnage, I’ve never kept it off this long. My usual pattern has been to lose big and then gain it all back in a year or two. But this time, I’ve somehow beaten the abysmal odds that a newly slender person faces. So perhaps I feel a bit more confidence in my ability to keep Inner Fat Girl at bay, knowing of course that the trick is to avoid over-confidence.

Yet I don’t think any of that completely explains my lack of angst. There’s something else going on inside my head. I’ve talked a lot in this blog about the food culture that surrounds us. What I haven’t talked about as much is the food culture that lives inside us. By this I don’t mean food neuroses or anxieties, or family food traditions, but rather the beliefs we hold about food as it applies to each of us individually. Like my past conviction that I could not resist York Peppermint Patties – or anything with a name that began “Ben and Jerry’s…” And my current view that high-carb fare is a deadly foe. Perhaps those notions are fading away, replaced by a new belief system that holds among its articles of faith that food is not a Lorelei, beautiful, seductive, enticing me towards certain destruction, but rather that eating is a way to take care of myself. Something to be savored and enjoyed. Maybe even (ya think?) that I’m in charge, not the chocolate.

Could it be that everything I’ve held true about eating is not so much false as it is merely the way I’ve chosen to understand food?

If I get to choose, then there is hope for the future.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Outside Looking In

It’s been my experience that if you’re a person who has a tendency to put on weight easily, for whatever reason, and you lose a lot of weight, by whatever method, you really don’t have a creamsicles’s chance in hell of keeping it off unless you get outside of the food culture. Oh sure, there are other hurdles to overcome, such as dealing with your body’s sensitivity to certain kinds of foods, or understanding the destructive eating habits you’ve developed over a lifetime, but the kicker for me has been food culture. Getting outside of that culture involves many challenges. I’ve had to confront the force of habit and belief, at a micro-scale that is excruciating, as I decide, meal by meal, bite by bite, what I will and will not eat every single day. But at its heart, getting outside of the food culture is about much more than what you decide to consume. At its most elemental, it’s about relationships.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of times when my family sat around a table and shared a meal, at big holiday celebrations, but also on typical nights, talking about what happened at school that day over my mother’s famous creations, Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, sauerbraten and red cabbage, or ground beef and potato casserole. There were also times with my friends, when we went out for soft ice cream cones and Cokes, or later, pizza and beer. Those foods are forever linked in my mind with feeling connected to people I care about. Now that I stand outside of the food culture, I often feel adrift and alone. It’s a lot like looking in a window, watching a group of people having a big party, and I can’t find a way to get in. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a tragedy, it’s just disconcerting.

The medical establishment seems to be working hard at developing treatments for obesity, but there’s a defect in their method. They keep focusing on the individual out of the cultural context. In my opinion, no weight-loss drug, no diet, no “healthy living” program will solve the obesity puzzle until we address the disruption in kinship that a person experiences when they lose a lot of weight. The urge to be part of a caring community is so strong that if being slender means losing connectedness, it should be no surprise if regaining the weight seems the lesser evil. How I’ve managed to cope with this, I’m not really sure, but then I have been a bit of a loner for most of my life. I’ve always thought of that as a personal flaw – who knew it might have an advantage!

Simply put, we don’t eat in a vacuum, we eat in community. I believe that until we fully accept the role of culture in our struggles with weight, we will continue to struggle to find a solution that most people can live with.