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." and "It's very important to me that the foods I eat are as delicious as possible." ARE. YOU. F-ING. KIDDING. 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.
Yes, another food blog. Just what the world needs.
Inspirations: *Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food". Brilliant. Buy. Amazon.com. Life = altered.
*My former piano teacher, whose digestive system went suddenly AWOL last summer. She was diagnosed as 100% food allergic. (100% FOOD ALLERGIC.) But the story has a happy ending. She weaned her body back, and now eats a diet of entirely whole, unprocessed foods: coincidentally, exactly the diet prescribed by Pollan.
Her blood work is better than mine. And let me tell you, her body is banging.
Put them together, and voila: I challenge myself, for (at least) one year, to follow the "eating algorhythms" laid out in "In Defense of Food". I'll post my recipes and meals, and try my best to be sickeningly honest about successes, failures, milestones, and results.
A final note: This food blog has nothing to do with "Julie and Julia". I am, in fact, more than a little aggrieved it came out in the months preceding my venture. I would feel robbed, but frankly, I can't begrudge Meryl Streep anything.
Eating food, not too much, mostly plants. For a year.