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The day I ate whatever I wanted. September 4, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Here, in fact, to tell you that, in this Puritanical nation, food is the new sex. It’s the thing everybody loves, and everybody loves to hate. It’s the national obsession.

You can’t open a paper or turn on the computer without being barraged by the latest on the obesity epidemic, presented alongside the latest about some skeletal model or anorexic celebrity. Only in America would every women’s magazine feature some larger-than-life, over-the-top dessert on the cover and the leading headline “Lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks!” Only in America would overweight people be so universally mocked and reviled while, simultaneously, every diet pill that had ever proved effective was systematically removed from the market. Only in America would weight gain be turned into a sin, and weight loss made into a punishment.

I, for one, am sick of it. I’m sick of seeing articles on how you should eat portions the size of a quarter and weigh and measure every last grain of rice or lettuce leaf. How you should eat salads the size of Texas, but God forbid that you should use more than a thimbleful of (fat-free, of course) dressing. How you should replace real food with godawful-tasting chemical conglomerations of fat-free, carb-free, calorie-free whatevers. How you should chew each bite until your ears explode. How you should never, ever salt your fat-free, flavorless food, since after all, salt might lead to water retention, which of course you don’t want since you’re now drinking your own weight in (plain, don’t even think about trying to flavor it) water every hour. And you’d damned well better spend every waking hour counting calories, counting carbs, rating every mouthful—no, wait, don’t ever, ever take an actual mouthful—on the Glycemic Index. And, oh, I almost forgot, write down every single thing, to the last almond sliver, that you eat.

Part of America’s enduring Puritanical streak is that we like to keep busy. “Idle hands are the Devil’s playground,” isn’t that how it goes? (I thank God I’m a Southerner, brought up in the last bastion of American leisure, but even there, I fear the ability to enjoy that simplest of pleasures, relaxing, is dying out.) But insisting that dieters obsess about food to the extent that their entire day is filled with eating required foods, drinking required amounts of water, and endlessly tabulating and recording every calorie, seems parodic to me. Surely we as a nation have better things to do with our time!

I’m also sick of the demonizing of people who are overweight. “It’s all your fault, fatso!” seems to be the national refrain, and everything from rising plane fares to—I could not believe my eyes, but yesterday I actually saw this—global warming is being blamed on people who are, I assure you, desperately trying to lose weight. I know lots of people in this category. I see them exercise, I see them try to eat modest portions of healthy foods. I’m sure there must be people who buy gallons of ice cream or those horrible store cakes and eat the whole thing, but they’re not people I know. It enrages me to see these people ridiculed and reviled by a society that exalts fast food and fills ad pages and grocery aisles with super-processed, chemical-filled “foods.” A society that has trained its citizens to expect meat at every meal, dessert at least once a day, and chips, candy, and other fat-drenched, fiber-free fare between meals, washed down by soda and beer.

Not to mention holding up 13-year-old stick figures as the ideal body image for adults. There’s a reason 13-year-olds look like that: They’re growing. And they look cute with their long, coltish legs and ruler-straight figures, because—drumroll—they’re kids. They also look cute in clothes made to flatter their figures. The same can’t be said of adults who starve themselves and work out ’round the clock to attempt to duplicate a pre-adolescent figure.

Moderation, please. Is it too much to ask that women look like women, with shapely hourglass figures and curves? How about guys that look like guys rather than bodybuilders or rulers (as in measuring sticks, not monarchs). Why are we so obsessed with the extremes?

Well, here’s a secret: It’s class-based, and it’s apparently a universal human failing. When the poor were starving and thin, as has been true through most of human history, only the rich could get enough to eat. Only the upper classes had a chance to actually carry excess weight. So fat was the old thin. Rubenesque women and portly men were the fashion worldwide. Fat was a status symbol. Now, the reverse is true. Starchy, calorie-dense foods are cheap, and most jobs are sedentary. Only the (comparatively) wealthy can afford the gyms and personal trainers, the prepacked low-cal meals or low-cal, high-protein meats and seafood or personal, calorie-conscious chefs that make being thin in. Thin is the status symbol, as in “you can never be too rich or too thin.” Plumpness and relative poverty now go hand in hand. But if access to adequate food once again became a global issue, you can bet that, once again, fat would be the new thin. Strange that we never seem to learn, or to embrace the middle ground.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just accept the weight our bodies were meant to carry at every age—no more, no less? Wouldn’t it be a relief to enjoy our food, when it was time to eat, rather than obsessing about it, worrying about it, vilifying it, and letting it occupy every waking hour? Wouldn’t it be delightful to actually relegate food to its proper place and give most of our thought to other things?!! Sheesh.

All this explains why I was so delighted to see a book on our local library’s new books shelf the other day called The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. It’s a new collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berg, and the title story involves a woman who flees a Weight Watchers meeting and spends the rest of the day eating exactly what she wants to. I loved the idea of this, since I felt like it flung a gauntlet in the face of the whole diet and fashion industry. I’ve tried since then to find the time to think about what I would eat if I could spend a day eating whatever I wanted.

Actually, it’s been harder to bring my dream foods into focus than I thought it would be. Maybe that’s because I’d love to eat a lot of food, but the truth is that I can only manage pathetically small amounts. (Don’t hate me, please—I wish I still had the 17-inch waist and concave stomach I took so totally for granted through my 20s, but forget that—it’s not like eating a few bites at every meal is keeping me slim and trim or anything, far from it.)

If I could eat anything… hmmm. Maybe I’d have grits slathered in butter and salt and a hot, fluffy biscuit for breakfast or a couple of hot, buttery croissants, crunchy apple slices, and a little cheese. A club sandwich and sweet potato fries or an oven-fresh, crusty baguette with plenty of butter and good cheese and an arugula salad with almonds and mandarin oranges or caramelized pecans and pear slices for lunch, washed down with lots and lots of iced fruit tea. A slice or two of really good grilled pizza with a side of roasted veggies and a salad of mixed greens, green onions, black olives, and goat cheese, with iced tea (unsweetened, with lots of lime) and wine for supper. And, the ultimate fantasy, dessert—soft vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, caramel, marshmallow cream, and whipped cream; a slice of hot pecan pie or banana cream pie, both topped with real whipped cream; really good tiramisu; flan; fresh blueberry tart in a shortbread crust with tons of whipped cream; or even a slice of the great-looking Chocolate Shadow Cake from the latest issue of my favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Country.

Gack, for me, this is indeed a fantasy. I can’t eat both breakfast and lunch; I can’t manage both supper and dessert. Our friend Ben is constantly berating me for putting ample food on my plate and then eating three bites. (At least it doesn’t go to waste, since Ben and/or the dog and/or the chickens get the leftovers.) But it’s fun to think about, isn’t it? A delightful liberation from the tyranny of the Puritanical diet gurus. So what would you eat if you could spend a whole day eating whatever you wanted? I want to know!

        ‘Til next time,




1. ceecee - September 4, 2008

Wow! I could write a book that would ultimately just say, “AMEN” to all you’ve written. I agree, I agree, I agree!
One thing to add—emotional eating. I do it. I don’t eat apples and grainy bread and lean meats when I’m feeling (fill in the blank), I eat carbs. Salty or sweet. I am not obese, but am considered overweight by the BMI index. I really want to be healthy, but that brings us right back to the “think about every bite I put in my mouth”, which just causes me more anxiety about food, which causes me to turn to carbs to make myself feel better, which causes me to feel bad for doing it……
Enough said. Very well thought out and written post. Thanks for being a thinking blog–again. 😉

Thanks, CeeCee! We love carbs too, and when we fall off the nutritional wagon, carbs (white rice, baguettes, etc.) are pretty much always to blame! Sigh…

2. Cinj - September 4, 2008

I can totally relate to what you wrote too. I am considered obese even though I do all that I can not to be. I have come to the realization that I believe it is the chemicals in the overly processed foods that we consume that is the problem. I have tried every diet out there as well, but I am an emotional eater too, so I know that doesn’t help me any.

If I could eat whatever I want I don’t know what I would do. There are so many good foods out there, but most of them that I might choose are those very processed foods I just complained about. What a viscious cycle we have created!

It is terrible, isn’t it, Cinj! I’m lucky in that my favorite dessert really is plain uncooked fruit, and I love my salads and veggies, but I also love carbs and fats bigtime. To be as thin as I was in my twenties, I’d probably have to exercise four hours a day! Grrrrr.

3. Curmudgeon - September 4, 2008

For me obsessing about food–what, where, when, how much– was much easier than thinking or actually moving towards being physically active. The healthiest diet in the world can only get you so far. The rest of the journey requires sweat, not a gym membership or the latest styles in spandex or fancy electronic equipment, just SWEAT. I took yoga 2 semesters in college and one piece of wisdom that has stuck with me, despite never going near a yoga mat since, is that your spine should sweat at least once a day. Here’s what I’d eat if I could eat anything I wanted. First of all breakfast would not be a grab-it-and-run affair but a real meal. Breakfast would include a fruit cup–whatever is in season, an egg skillet (eggs, peppers, shrooms, salmon, lots of fresh herbs and a smidge of goat cheese), hot tea and a double chocolate waffle with a dollop of real whipped cream with a splish of Grand Marnier in it. Lunch would be grilled shrimp with a salad of fresh picked ingredients from my garden–leafy greens,tomatoes, radishes, cukes, purple carrots with fresh squeezed lemon juice as a dressing or maybe white balsamic vinegar and a blood orange for dessert. Dinner would be fresh lobster cooked Caribbean syle in a tomato based sauce with lots of garlic over a bed of rice, a salad of leafy greens and avocado and a side of fried plantains. Maybe some fresh mango for desert or a mango sorbet.

Mercy, Curmudgeon, I should have waited to read this until I’d eaten supper—now I’m ravenous! Yum!!! And you are absolutely right about the exercise component. You have to do it, and you have to do a lot more of it than seems even remotely plausible. As in (for me) walking 4-6 miles a day (at 4 mph), getting on the exercycle for half an hour to an hour, lifting weights, and doing 6-8 circuits at Curves. And that’s a DAY. Sigh. Really eats into reading time!

4. Joy - September 4, 2008

I’m sitting in my office (aka kitchen table .. I’m sure there is a Freudian connection to that as well ? LOL) applauding all of what you have written about this obscene dilemma North America ( Yes .. Canada is just as bad) has diven itself to .. and I will even confess to eating some chocolate bars today .. after buying loads of fruit and veg and “good food” yesterday .. I just fixated on having chocolate today .. there was nothing to be done about it but HAVE the damn stuff .. now … I have a headache … LOL
I just wanted to say … thank you for this post … it was wonderful !!
The irony for me is that I am allergic to some whole grains .. and soy … which seem to be very popular being pushed as the way to go with quenching womanly middle age and those bothersome hunger pains ?
BIG sigh !

Oh, no, Joy, not Canada too?!!! I thought you all had more sense up there than we celebrity-crazed folks south of the border. Keep telling yourself that chocolate is now considered health food! (I keep hoping someone will say the same for butter and pizza…)

5. mr_subjunctive - September 4, 2008

A lot of these same issues and complaints get brought up every once in a while by Kate Harding, or one of the other posters, at Shakesville. (Though lately they’re more concerned with the election, naturally. A search for “obese” on the site should bring up any number of interesting posts.) They’ve pretty well convinced me that one’s weight is a matter of choice only up to a certain point. (Which makes it all the more alarming that Alabama is requiring state workers to pay extra for their otherwise free health insurance, if they’re found to have a body-mass index higher than 35. Link.)

Also, the body-mass index is a crock of . . . whatever one puts in crocks, but that’s a whole different thing.

Thanks for the great link, Mr. S! And I agree completely about the BMI. Grrrr….

6. Alan - September 4, 2008

I say “you have to die of something so it might as well be food you love!” We have a lot more important things to stress about don’t we?

Right you are, Alan. And funny how most folks who follow that philosophy live long and die happy!

7. deb - September 5, 2008

Silence, too true. I am sick and tired of being told to eleminate foods. Instead I am adding – lots of veggie juice, lots of veggies, whole grains, and low fat dairy. If I want a chicken fried something and some mashed potatoes, I am going to have them.

Go Deb!!!

8. sjones71 - September 5, 2008

Oh boy! What a great post. This one should be required reading. If I could drop 10… or 70 pounds I’m sure I’d be healthier and my back wouldn’t hurt so much. But I am so tired of being terrified of every bite of anything I take. What’s it like to simply enjoy the food with no carryover of guilt? Do we do that anymore?

Free from any guilt or fear I would eat any kind of real breakfast with eggs and toast and sausage! Grapefruit juice. Tons and tons of it!

Ha! And thanks! I know what you mean about being terrified of every bite. Not much makes me want to live back in the “good old days,” but that’s one thing I often fantasize about: Imagine living before the 20th Century, when people didn’t know about pollutants or load their foods with chemicals, and foods that tasted good were greeted with delight rather than guilt and health concerns. Picture a 19th-Century family sitting down to dinner and loading their plates with crispy fried chicken and sausage gravy, fluffy mashed potatoes and white dinner rolls slathered with butter and liberally sprinkled with salt, a bean casserole, and canned beets (an exciting innovation) with more butter, enjoying seconds, and then helping themselves to an assortment of rich desserts, all without worrying about their weight, cholesterol levels, empty calories, tooth decay, preservatives, and the like. Simple enjoyment of one’s food? What a novel idea!

9. Silence Dogood: What If We Could Eat What We Wanted « Compostings - September 5, 2008

[…] If We Could Eat What We Wanted Posted on September 5, 2008 by sjones71 Just had to link to this one over at Poor Richard’s Almanac.  Spread it around.  Required […]


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