Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cake Walk

In recognition of my five-year weight-maintenance anniversary last month, this week’s post continues my series on all the things I’ve learned (and didn’t expect to learn) in my quest to maintain a 100-pound weight loss. This week’s surprising revelation has to do with a cherished concept in the culture of dieting and weight loss, namely, low-calorie versions of your favorite guilty pleasures. In other words…

Unexpected Nugget #3: “Lite” food is not the answer.

Is that booing that I hear in the background? Of course it is. We love and depend on “lite” food. There is an entire industry devoted to telling us that we can have chocolate cake, not only have it but eat it, and stay lithe and slender at the same time. That’s possible because the chocolate cake is not the bad old version of our childhood, full of sugar and butter, eggs (yolks included!) and full-fat chocolate. No, it is “lite” chocolate cake, made with calorie-free sweeteners and other ingredients with hard-to-pronounce names, simulating the chocolate cake we crave at a mere 100 calories per serving!

Now, I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it’s comforting to know there’s an alternative that doesn’t break the calorie bank for those times when all resolve fails and nothing but chocolate will do. On the other hand, I can never seem to eat just one 100-calorie serving of anything. I also have to wonder about the healthiness of all those ingredients with names right out of chemistry class, methyl-ethyl-this-will-give-you-cancer-or-at-least-gas. My main concern, however, is a philosophical one:

Does eating “lite” versions of the foods that made me fat keep me stuck in a mind rut that makes it harder for me to keep from getting fat again?

It’s this simple: eating a sweet and juicy orange, or a crisp and crunchy carrot, will never be satisfying as long as the ghost of chocolate cake haunts me. Though “lite” chocolate cake may be an improvement, calorie-wise at least, over authentic chocolate cake, it keeps the idea firmly planted in my mind that the way I am eating now is inferior to the way I used to eat. It is a poor second, a grim and unfortunate accommodation that I’ve had to make out of biological necessity. Since I can no longer eat “real” chocolate cake, I find myself stuck with “lite” (read “fake”) chocolate cake. This frame of mind leaves me vulnerable to feelings of self-pity. It is a psychological state in which I can wallow in the unfairness of my genetics. It’s the place where it’s easy to say: F*ck it. Where’s that cake?

Here’s what I say. Desensitize your taste buds to all of your guilty pleasures. Do it until chocolate cake, real or fake, is such a distant memory that the sweetness of an orange makes you woozy and a carrot seems the cat’s meow. This might seem like a harsh prescription, but once you’ve exorcised your food demons, it’s much easier than you think. You think it’s hard because the Food Powers That Be have brainwashed you into believing that a life without cake is so onerous that even “lite” cake is better than no cake at all.

The truth of the matter is that life without cake can be pretty darned delicious.


  1. So you don't eat cake any more? Those neuropathways in my brain have not permanently changed yet. I still want cake. After I have it, I mostly want to go back to my delicious healthier choices, because I feel so much better after I eat them. But I still want the cake.

    1. I do eat cake or other sweet things occasionally, but I find I'm happier when I don't because the more I eat them, the more I want them. The reverse is true too, the less I eat them, the less I want them.