Archive for September 24th, 2010

Eating in America

Last February I was dismayed when my scale read “222.”  2 is my favorite number, but at 6 ft 0 inches, that’s too much.  So I went on a diet, started an exercise routine, and by May 16th — the day we left for the Germany travel course — I was at 190.  That was a good 32 pounds lost in three months.

The good news is that I have kept up my exercise routines, now with 5:45 AM step machine workouts, and evening bowflex work outs three times a week.  I feel good.   The bad news is that my weight has climbed back up to about 196.  Moreover, it’s done that despite the fact I am still trying to eat in a healthy manner, limiting both snacks and eating out. Those last belly pounds remain resilient.

Part of it is the amount of weight I already lost this year.  You lose more than 10% of your body weight (for me that was about 22 pounds) and your body goes into “starvation mode.”  It assumes that some kind of calamity has hit the food supply.   The pounds are dropping fast, clearly something must be wrong!   And in a state of nature where you struggle for your food rather than struggling to avoid the allure of KFC chicken or Sbarros stuffed pizzas, that was a good thing.  In fact, my current weight is back very close to that 10% level (and 222 was a high last February, before that I was stable at about 218 — 196 is exactly 10% less).    So I may be at that 10% plateau below which weight loss becomes very difficult.

Yet I want to get down to about 185, or if I can put on some muscle perhaps 190.   And I’m not going back to getting half my calories from soyburgers like I did last spring.   A month of intense of calorie deprivation like I engaged in last spring could get me there, but I don’t want to do that.   I want to find a healthy mode of slow but consistent weight lose and develop habits that will keep me where I want to be.

My problem?   I love sweets, I love fatty food, and I find eating vegetables to be a chore.  I’ll eat them, but they don’t satisfy me so they can’t replace the foods I like.   But when my snacks are ice cream, Ritter Sport candy bars, bread and butter with salami, the calories add up quickly.   Worse, I want to eat like the television tells me I should.

Big yummy pieces of pizza full of pepperoni and sausage, stacks of pancakes next to eggs and bacon, a big juicy steak beside a loaded baked potato with a dinner roll.   Pasta — pasta with creamy sauces, stuffed with cheese, and preferably three helpings.   I want gelato daily, to eat bagels and cream cheese, and to supersize my fries.   I want milkshakes.   I want delicious breads, well crafted pastries, and lots and lots of butter.    I don’t want these things in small quantities at special times, I want them in large quantities multiple times a day!

I see these things on the TV all the time, being eaten by young people with beautiful bodies, showing me how cool pasta in an edible bread bowl really is.   The restaurants entice me, telling me that “I deserve a treat,” and of course, I do.  Always.  That statement is true every time it is made, I deserve something special!   I work hard, I help people out, I deserve a treat.  A pizza.  A DQ blizzard.   A Tim Horton’s vanilla cream donut.

At night as I unwind I deserve a drink, maybe two.  I deserve to feel relaxed and a bit buzzed as I watch Jon Stewart mock the political class.  (And if I have to watch Sarah Palin, then I deserve four or five. )   I also need to snack on popcorn with butter, potato chips, or a little salami sandwich while I unwind.  It was a rough day balancing work, kids, grading, etc…I deserve it.

Of course, if I did all that I’d soon be pushing 300 pounds.   Eating in America is hard — and hard in a perverse way.  It used to be that health was more likely endangered by malnutrition or under-eating.   Eating was hard because you had to either grow or trade to ensure a variety of foods, raising animals and then preparing, preserving and rationing your foods as winter came.   Bland food is delicious when you’re struggling to survive (I think I understand that judging by how good my Boca soy burgers tasted when I was in my intense diet last spring!)

Now it’s so easy to grab something tasty — often it is also cheap, and often we underestimate the damage it does.   Many meat and pasta dishes at common restaurants chime in at 1200 calories or higher.   Add drinks, desert, and the complementary bread and butter and it’s easy to walk out of a restaurant 2000 calories richer.   If you weigh 150 pounds or less, that’s all you’re allowed for the day without risking weight gain!

There are always temptations — snack foods, breads, cakes…easy to pick up at the store, and easy to munch on over the course of the day.  A donut at work, coffee with cream and sugar…it adds up!

To try to keep weight off  I have to recognize and keep reminding myself that the food cornucopia that advertisers say I should be able to enjoy is, in fact, an illusion.   They’re selling a product, often enhanced by artificial flavors and dyes.   The idea that healthy fit people can constantly enjoy these foods while staying fit is not true.  I cannot let myself be seduced by the images and temptations on TV, on Main Street, in the mall, or at the grocery store.   They are poisonous,  filling my taste buds with delight while destroying my health and fitness.

I need to take control.  Yes, I like pizza.  I like ice cream.   And yeah, I’m in this world of plenty and not being an ascetic, I’ll enjoy.   But I’ll not enjoy at the ravenous quantity of intake my advertising manipulated emotions cause me to want (or think I deserve).   I’ll figure out what I can afford to enjoy, and plan it for maximum pleasure.   I’ll savor it, rather than pounding down pizza slice after pizza slice.   My superego has to snatch the donut from my id.

Yet even as I type that, I have to fight the Homer Simpson inside who is suddenly thinking “Mmmmm, Pizza and donuts, mmm *drool*…”