In Which I Address the Matter of Food

For the last few months I have been reading Shapely Prose (SP), the blog site of Kate Harding, a leading Fat Acceptance (FA) advocate. She and her two cohorts on SP assert that diets do not work, and are in fact unhealthy for both the human body and the human psyche. That one’s weight is no indicator of one’s health, that bodies naturally vary in girth as well as in coloring and height. She encourages us to think of our bodies and our health in more constructive ways. She advocates the adoption of HAES (Healthy At Every Size), in which one pursues the act of eating and exercising with awareness of one’s unique physical and spiritual needs.

In addition, I have started watching the BBC show “You Are What You Eat” and though it is not FA-friendly, it does promote healthy, body-conscious eating, and I have learned a lot about food, and healthy eating, and unhealthy bodies. The show has confirmed what I have long felt deep inside–that I am unhealthy and unfit; that I am a sugar-junkie; and that my over consumption of fat and sugar is the most significant contributor to all the negative symptoms I feel inside my body: bloat, mood swings, lethargy, insomnia, distractability, moodiness, cellulite, weakness, acne, and ironically enough, depression and stress. Gillian McKeith, the star and driving force of the show, would insist that I immediately begin a no-sugar detox diet to eliminate all the toxins in my body’s cells, and replace it with the healthier sugar found in raw fruits and veggies.

And you know what? My recent venture into healthy eating–into paying attention to what my body responds to and how, in trying to follow the principles of HAES, tells me that in this much at least, McKeith is right.

In recent weeks, I have tried eating more healthy foods and I am pleased with the results. My attitude towards food is changing. My palate is gravitating towards the simpler, lighter, and naturally flavorful foods. Even though I love the taste of pizza and cheeseburgers and french fries, those foods (red meat, dairy, fat) make me ill. They give me heartburn, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and bloat. They give me IBS. I feel lethargic and get halitosis. I love chocolate and soda pop, but they make me gassy, and the fluctuating sugar highs wreak havoc on my moods. And I have reason to suspect that my sugar-heavy diet is a significant cause of my insomnia.

In contrast, “rabbit food” and low fat, whole grain meals make me feel energized and content. My body does not feel bloated and dense. I am not tired or lethargic. The desire to be active is stronger. I sleep better.

The more I associate the “bad foods” with feeling ill, the less strongly I desire them. And recently, I am amazed to discover that the more “good food” I consume, the more I come to prefer their taste!

The other day, I was eating veggies with hummus, and had a craving for potato chips. I went out and got some, and with the first bite, I was disappointed with the flavor. It tasted like salt and bland, greasy potato. In contrast, the veggies and hummus were much more satisfying: crisp carrots, celery, cucumber, and snap peas in roasted pepper hummus. I threw out the chips, and I doubt I will ever have a craving for chips again.

The same process is happening to my experience of sugar. Compared to the sweetness of fresh fruit, a chocolate candy bar is mild and bland. (But chocolate satisfies me on an emotional level that I cannot explain. Fruit satisfies my sweet tooth, but it does not yet replace emotional satisfaction I get from chocolate.)

Red meat and dairy are nearly distasteful to me now, and the thought of consuming fried anything is enough to make me feel a little queasy. Instead, I am now eating raw or blanched produce, whole grains, and the occasional serving of chicken, pork, or salmon. I don’t think I shall ever become a true vegetarian, but going as far as I have has made me feel more healthy than I have felt in many months, perhaps years.

I am a Foodie. I love food. I love experimenting with it. I love eating it. I love going to fancy restaurants and trying out unpronounceable menus. I love reading recipe collections, drooling over the pictures, and cooking from those recipes. I like altering recipes and creating my own meals.

Food has always been a emotional comfort to me (which is as it should be–if eating were a an unpleasant, dreadful task, we would avoid eating. Consider the anorexic: she fears food and finds the task itself a horror, and goes out of her way to avoid eating, despite a biological imperative. The joy of eating is part of the healthy mind). But experience has taught me that certain foods do not sit well inside my body; the more so as I grow older, and the more I realize that the more of certain foods I consume, the less healthy I feel, even if the consumption of that food brings me a transient joy.

I think I shall always have room in my diet for rich, fat-heavy foods and fine cuisine, and sweet, luscious chocolate. But it will no longer be my main source of sustenance, as it has been for most of my life. I will be an omnivorous vegetarian: a diet that revolves around the abundant power of the sun, where meat is of secondary importance. My body is the most important indicator of my health, and it is telling me in no uncertain terms that this is the path I must choose. And it makes me happy to know that this is not in any way a “diet” or a “lifestyle change”: something that I must force myself to do. Instead, it is only the way I am becoming.

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18 thoughts on “In Which I Address the Matter of Food

  1. awesome. I love this post.

    Have you read the Michael Pollan? He has two (although I’ve only read one). The first is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and is fantastic–a truly wonderful read. His new one is “In Defense of Food: an eater’s manifesto”. You are at exactly the right place for both.

  2. I came to this realization myself at the beginning of last year and whenever I stray back toward sugar (a love/hate relationship) I find that I am bloated and lethargic also. But when I avoid it and keep focused I feel much, much better. Now if I didn’t work with a bunch of women who believe they will feel better if they share their addiction to fatty foods with the rest of the office!

  3. I admit to being a bit of a chocaloate/sugar hound, but in general I find that if I eat healthily most of the time (a fairly low-fat pesca-vegatrain diet, it frees me to have something richer once in a while without consequence.

  4. Jen: I shall check out Omnivores Dilemma at the library.

    m@: sorry! But girls talk about our insides all the time. you sorta get used to it.

    angel: The people in MY office are constantly bringing in DONUTS! Oy vey!

    citizen; that is my goal. I do know that if I eat mostly good, then the sometime consumption of bad is not so harmful to my sense of well being.

    woozie: too much of anything is bad for you. “Too much” is relative and varies from individual to individual. For me, fat is not healthy for me, and red meat contains a lot of fat. And in America, red meat is often prepared in extra fatty ways. So I must avoid them.

  5. It’s fantastic that you listen to your body and are feeling better as a result. I’m actually a vegetarian (although I eat fish, but would like to eventually cut them out), and have also found that you tend to start craving the fresh foods. Sometimes I’ll just know I need a fruit and the idea of eating sugary products sounds awful. I can’t get over chocolate either, but I hear the dark chocolate (particularly the Dove brand) has health benefits. It’s good you’re growing and changing in a healthy way.

  6. It’s fantastic that you listen to your body and are feeling better as a result. I’m actually a vegetarian (although I eat fish, but would like to eventually cut them out), and have also found that you tend to start craving the fresh foods. Sometimes I’ll just know I need a fruit and the idea of eating sugary products sounds awful. I can’t get over chocolate either, but I hear the dark chocolate (particularly the Dove brand) has health benefits. It’s good you’re growing and changing in a healthy way.

  7. I highly recommend you read Fast Food Nation and the book the author released after it. Sorry, can’t recall at this moment.

  8. I began eating healthier out of necessity when I developed IBS. Now I have it pretty much under control except for a flare up now and then.

    I’m still struggling with the candy bars though…

  9. I’m a big foodie myself. Love love love food. Talking about it, cooking it and eating it. The sugar thing is a definite problem but something I have learned to embrace. As far as meat goes, I go back and forth between vegetarian and cavewoman. Being vegetarian makes me feel so much better, but it’s hard to do when I have a husband and kids that love meat.
    I’m glad you’re on the right track though, good for you!!! It sounds like you’ve found the balance that so many people are always looking for.

  10. This is a great, inspirational post – the more so because it has the smack of conviction about it. You’re right about diets being bogus. The only way to go is the way you’re going, changing your lifestyle and letting your tastes change with it.

    I don’t think I’ll ever completely cut out chocolate or sugar but I don’t eat red meat and usually get my 5-a-day in which lets me splurge from time to time.

    Well done, Rachel. I’m glad the changes you’re making are reaping you so many rewards!

  11. Gosh, there’s so much to say here. Firstly, I’m not a big fan of Gillian McKeith, not least because she is a bully. Secondly, I agree that our bodies are all different, but if they are out of balance – either under or overweight, then we need to be honest with ourselves about the causes of that. As you have found, being good to your body reaps results, but similarly, when we consume what we know is bad for us, we are doing so for a reason – however unconscious.

    Finally, dark chocolate is actually good for you. I prefer it – nice and chocolatey, little sugar or fat. As a foodie with a gourmet palate, seek out some fine patisserie chocolate and indulge!

    Puss x

  12. I have eaten much as you are now doing for most of my adult life, and people nearly always think that I am at least 20 years younger than I really am. More importantly, I nearly always feel energetic and healthy.

    It is lucky for me that I am a natural vegetarian and that I dislike meat, fried foods, and most gooey desserts although I share your passion for dark chocolate, which has antioxidants to justify it.

    We just learned that Flip, who is very skinny, has very high cholesterol and the only possible dietary contributor is his addiction to potato chips, which he no longer gets (if I can help it.)

    Good luck with your new lifestyle. I know it will continue to work out well because it really does grow on you.

  13. i totally posted a comment about this ages ago. it didn’t take. probably because it wasn’t very supportive of your new lifestyle. deep fried snickers for everyone!

  14. man, this is an inspiring post, but unfortunately, i just ate pizza and feel the need for some chocolate ice cream.

  15. “The joy of eating is part of the healthy mind” – I love this.

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m going through similar thoughts myself.

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