Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Rant

Last night, Mom and Matt and I cooked a delicious dinner of enormous Philly-cheese-steak sandwiches, dripping with tender roast beef and carmelized onions and peppers, each decadently coated in a layer of munster and swiss, melted and blistering from a quick tour under the broiler.  

As we munched our way through these, Mom brought out a Wall Street Journal article she'd wanted to share with us, found here.  It was about weight loss, "hedonic impulses", people's differing chemical abilities to resist culinary temptation, obesity, and the like.  It suggested that some people are simply more controlled by those impulses than others, and purported to explain why "some people can resist dessert while others can't".  

And it included a quiz.

Readers could rate statements, then add up their score to discover how controlled they are by their hedonic impulses.  The gist was that the more strongly you agreed with the statements, the less in control you were when it came to food, and the more likely to be unhealthy.  These statements included, among others:

"I love the taste of certain foods so much that I can't avoid eating them even if they're bad for me." 

"I think I enjoy eating a lot more than most other people."


"It's very important to me that the foods I eat are as delicious as possible."


It is this kind of attitude -- that there is something wrong with you, that you are too controlled by your "hedonic impulses", if you want your food to be as delicious as possible -- that is the foundation of the messed up relationship America has with food.  Don't enjoy food too much, or you'll be a fatty!  FEAR DELICIOUS FOODS. 

Let me tell YOU something, Wall Street Journal.  

When I was at my heaviest in college, I would stop by the McDonald's on campus twice a week, guiltily (and/or drunkenly) cramming in French fries and hating myself as I ate.  The Armadillo Grill's nacho cheese dip was a similar guilty pleasure, but so guilty it almost wasn't pleasurable.  I would eat these terrible, empty, tasty foods, feel absolutely horrible about doing it, resolve over and over and over again to diet (meaning cut out all carbs, or all fats, or eat only Lean Cuisines for a month, or only V8 for a week leading up to a fraternity formal) and then, inevitably find myself back at the counter where the McDonald's worker knew me by name. 

I didn't savor food.  I didn't enjoy it that much.  I feared it, feared facing down things I wanted to eat and knew I shouldn't.  So I just crammed it in and felt guilty and fat.  And as a result, I WAS fat.  

The truth is, you simply can't lose weight successfully -- for the long term -- if you see it in black and white.  Brussels sprouts are terrible, but you have to "be good" and eat them.  Chocolate cake is an enemy to be resisted at all costs, and if you have a bite, you've failed.    

No.  Speaking as someone who has lost forty pounds in the last four years, slowly but surely, one of the things that most appealed to me about the whole foods/slow foods movement was its message of truly LOVING food in a healthy, normal, positive way. Brussels sprouts are dang good, if you cook them how you like them.  And a small piece of that chocolate cake isn't going to derail everything you're working toward.  On the contrary, if you deny yourself all the pleasure in eating, eventually you're going to be back there at the McDonald's counter once again.  You do need control, and you do need awareness of your choices, and yes, sometimes you do need to say "I've had enough" ... but you also need to love every bite of the food you're putting in your mouth and not feel guilty about that.  

I still have a little way to go on my own weight loss journey, as I work to lose another ten in time for my marriage to the THINNEST MAN EVER BORN. (Author's edit: I have recently been notified by Kim that I am, in fact, marrying the SECOND THINNEST MAN EVER BORN.)  And I still have nights where I come away from dinner and realize I'm stuffed full, having eaten much more than I really needed or wanted to.  But focusing on whole, slow, natural foods, and on how much I enjoy the acts of cooking and dining with loved ones, brings me great, great joy.  Savoring small portions of truly mouth-watering meals, feeling great about what I've made and who I'm eating it with, knowing exactly where the meal came from and loving how it tastes: dining makes me feel like a part of the planet.  I don't fear food anymore; I give thanks for it.  Good food really is a gift from God.  

So thanks very much, Wall Street Journal, but I'll keep my hedonic impulses.

And damn it, yes, I DO want my food to be as delicious as possible.  

That is all.

Oh, wait, also --


  1. Hi, just wanted to say that I really love your blog. I read about 40 food blogs a week through my Google Reader, and yours is most definitely in the top 3. I am attempting a similar whole foods endeavor, and I appreciate your honesty about the whole thing. I am trying to lose a bit of weight, but more than that I'm trying to stop putting chemicals and other crap into my body...trying to get healthy on the inside. Losing weight and looking thinner on the outside is a bonus.

    So, I have a question. I have the hardest time with lunches, of all things. I work in an office 8-9 hours a day, so I have to pack my lunch. No fridge, micro, or any kitchen equipment. Do you have any recommendations for balanced whole foods lunches that can be eaten cold or room temp? Yogurt with homemade granola and local honey is getting reeeeaaally old.

    I love your rant, too. Completely agree. :)

  2. Thank you so much! I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. And I definitely think it's the way to lose weight; feeding your body right with nutritious, recognizable foods instead of strange chemical concoctions.

    As for lunch: yikes! No fridge or micro definitely makes it harder. I usually pack half of what I made for dinner the night before, then reheat.

    As for things that don't need reheating:

    People always say "pack a salad" on this kind of a blog, but I hate salads for lunch at work; during the workday, I want something heartier.

    I'll often pack a PB&J with an apple, or (if I'm eating early enough it won't be out of the fridge too long) slices of a bakery baguette with a wedge of brie, some shaved prosciutto, and sugar snap peas. Hard-boiled eggs also travel well. Hummus on a bakery pita or bagel with fresh greens and tomato can stay at room temp through the morning and still be okay. Or the night before you could mix up a home-made bruschetta (tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil) or salsa (tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, lime, corn or black beans if desired) and pack it in Gladware with some toasted bread or a handful of chips.

    Hopefully this helps! Anyone else reading this blog have any other brilliant ideas?