Sunday, November 16, 2008

I Love Food

There. I've said it.

I love -- adore -- food. It has been more than nourishment to me in my life. It has often been my friend, my comfort, my solace, particularly when I was a child. My mother was one of those Southern cooks who made everything taste phenomenal, and we never talked about calorie or carb content, grams of protein or fiber, or saturated fat. She came from a long line of fantastic Southern cooks, and I learned a lot at her side. Though she often shooed me out of the kitchen or nudged me out of the way because I wasn't doing something the way she wanted me to, I learned to make fried chicken, delicious Texas chili, savory beef stew, and sumptuous meat sauce for spaghetti. We made pans of lasagna, made creamed corn from scratch (and froze plenty of bags of it for the winter), hand-mashed potatoes, and prepared incredible Thanksgiving meals.

Sundays were family dinner time. Mom would put on a pot roast in the morning before we left for church, and when we got home, we'd prepare the rest of the meal: vegetables, salad, potatoes, and cherry cobbler. It was a big, noisy event that was like having Thanksgiving every week.

The desserts were a big deal, though. Paradoxically, my mother and eldest sister were always on diets, but they had some of the most amazing dessert recipes. My sweet tooth has been with me my entire life. I grew up eating fudge that would melt in my mouth, sugary and rich; lemon meringue pie with just the right "bite"; coconut cake with a delicate homemade icing; cherry/peach/apple cobblers with big chunks of fruit; egg custard baked to a golden brown; and homemade hot cocoa with a big marshmallow bobbing in the mug. I can make a fruitcake that even fruitcake haters have to admit is delectable. I can make divinity fudge without a candy thermometer, using the tried-and-true method of watching the syrup drip from the spoon, patiently waiting for it to spin a fine thread, signaling just the right quality for the optimal fudge consistency.

Naturally, these foods exacted a price from us. Mom, like many of our relatives, became a Type 2 diabetic. It gradually damaged her arteries and her heart. One of my aunts went blind from uncontrolled diabetes. Even when my mother finally got hers under control, the damage was done. Her life was shortened by her love of food and of sweets and starches in particular.

Hubby and I have watched our family history evolve and have watched our own "numbers" change at our annual physicals. First we cut back on salt, then fats, then carbs. It's gotten to where we can't just enjoy food anymore; we have to think about what we're eating, and we read labels. That has taken so much of the fun out of eating. Yes, I know the old "eat to live, don't live to eat" adage, but c'mon, wasn't it fun when we could just eat? Has America gotten healthier or slimmer by focusing so much on the numbers? Nooooo. Does that mean we should just throw in the towel and eat whatever we want? Noooo. But we already do that, don't we? There's something in our brains that makes us rebel against what we know is good for us and just go ahead and order that pizza or pick up a triple-sized cookie to go with our latte.

I've been watching a couple of shows tonight about half-ton people. That used to be Guinness world record-worthy, but now, it's just another epidemic. What really gets me is the codependents who are mired in the lives of these super morbidly obese people (yes, that's the new term). Each one of them has one or more people in their lives who brings them their drug of choice: rich, fattening food in large quantities. And you can see the anxiety written all over these enablers when the patient finally has to pay the piper, being forced to prepare for and undergo bariatric surgery. Whatever will the enabler do once portions are measured in tablespoons and not platefuls?

One of the things a doctor said on this show tonight was that people are becoming super morbidly obese out of ignorance. I disagree. I think that people know that eating this much food (i.e., a dozen eggs with a half-block of cheddar, half a loaf of bread, and a pound of bacon for breakfast) will make them fat. It isn't as though any of these people haven't been watching television, being exposed to this information on a regular basis. Most of them can read, too. They know it. And they do it anyway.

We have a few issues in our culture. In some respects we have forgotten how to love others without buying that love with money or food. My dad was big about shelling out money for things rather than showing us affection. These enablers of the super morbidly obese are loving their person with food - lots of it. Add to that the switch that gets flipped at some point in a person's head, when their quest for the pleasure of food and its ability to let them stuff down their feelings overrides their better judgment or self-love.

I wonder if there has been any research into the codependency issues that co-exist with the patient's psychology and biology. If the treatment plan also addressed the codependency along with the patient's diet, exercise, physical and mental therapy, and surgery, would the outcome be better and more permanent?

For me, I don't see super morbid obesity in my future, but I do see a continuing struggle with my sweet tooth and love of the pleasurable sensation of food crossing my palate. in 2006-7, I lost 60 lbs. I no longer look like my driver's license picture. But when I reached a size 10, I was looking a little gaunt and hollow around the eyes. Yes, I could fit into anything I wanted, but I didn't like how I looked. I'm up about 17 lbs from where I stopped the diet, and I'm not entirely happy about that. On the other hand, I'm at a size 12, which has always been a very good size for me. It's the size I was when I got married in 1983. It's the size I was before and after having my first child. And it's the size I was in the late 80s. So I'm not really complaining, but sometimes I think I need to be smaller to have a bigger gap between me and metabolic syndrome (which I had before the weight loss). Now my numbers are all good, and I am happy with the way I look. But that pavement is oh so narrow.

What about you? Is food a dangerous thing for you like it is for me? Have you struggled with your weight? What are your thoughts on these codependent food/love relationships?

Discuss amongst yourselves. ;-)

Peace - D


Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Having just lost 70-ish pounds myself, I find that food is a daily, constant struggle. Through the weight-loss process I think I've learned quite a lot about why I choose what I choose and when, but it could all fall like a house of cards in a second.

I'm just trying to find the delicate balance. And it's really hard, but I am certain, beyond a doubt, that it's very much worth it.

Jo said...

I struggle too. I watched both those programs tonight as well, and I was so disturbed by them. It just so happens I was eating a dark chocolate / marzipan chocolate bar from Purdys Chocolates while I was watching the show, and I threw part of it away.

My older brother, who watches what he eats is very healthy, says the problem with people in the 21st Century compared with previous generations is that we are over-fed. Food is too readily available now, when it wasn't before. That is so true, isn't it? We are simply over-fed.

jay said...

"One of the things a doctor said on this show tonight was that people are becoming super morbidly obese out of ignorance"

I disagree with that statement, too. Oh, some morbidly obese people may not know, but most do. I also agree about the enablers - who often seem paradoxically slim. I've often wondered what their agenda is ..

The issues can be complex, but I do feel the over-riding issue is a combination of the availability of great-tasting food and lack of exercise. Older generations tended not to have this problem because 1) they had to make all their own food, especially that fancy stuff, and 2) they worked harder at the process of daily life. No vacuums, no washing machines, no steam cleaners, no 'car for every family'. In the days of horse power, the horse had to be cared for - and they are hard work!

Another aspect is refined sugar addiction. It's difficult to avoid, but if I do, I feel sooo much better, and don't crave to eat so much.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I was talking to someone last week about the fact that he has been deemed obese yet he really doesn't look overweight to me! I could do with losing a couple of stones but I just love food too!

CJ xx

Mental P Mama said...

I am 5'9" and have always been thin. Until the age of 45. I have struggled constantly since then, but I know what to do. I just choose to eat whatever I want sometimes. I think most people know what to the way, I grew up in one of those Southern homes as well. Ah the memories. I make some family favorites occasionally, but for the most part, we eat lean meat, lots of steamed veggies and only whole grain products.

But the days I make cornbread, pulled pork and green beans cooked to death are my favorite;)

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Hi riverpoet,
I too grew up with the focus on food. I was practically raised by 3 very strong women, my Mum and two Grandmothers who all spent most of their time in the kitchen preparing meals, but even so we ate healthy. Saying that everything was cooked using butter and lots of rich ingredients... ingredients that today are shamed upon. My Grandmother was so obsessed by food and getting us fed that at breakfast time she would be asking us what we want for lunch and dinner...
I never had a problem with weight however in the last few years I have had to watch my eating and cut out the sweets as if I were to continue eating them I would start putting on weight.
I don't think anyone is truly happy with their bodies, which is why plastic surgeons are never out of work... but I'm going for the cheaper alternative and will be joining a gym soon... right after I have eaten these chewy chocolate chip cookies! haha
All the best! x

Marty said...

Hey RiverPoet, You know about me and my struggle, indeed I have had the bariatric bypass surgery. I believe that MY problem stemmed from using food as an balm for my frustration. I think that I used eating as an easy answer to boredom, anxiety, and despair. Since the surgery I have been having to find more positive ways to exercise those demons. Now that I mention it, exercise comes to mind - and having lost over eighty pounds it is much easier to do.

Akelamalu said...

I've had a love hate relationship with food all my life. :(

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Mmmmm. food for thought..lve just been blogging about how other post inspire me to write more and more, usually in the comments, and then l have to stop myself...and blog instead..l talk about food lot with my family as my family don't get it...whereas MY birth family do...and second helpings too..

Leslie: said...

Food can be a solace for some, including me. If I'm bored, lonely, or melancholy I'll be staring into the fridge or the cupboards for something to eat. The thing I have to do is NOT buy anything that I know tempts me. If I buy crackers, for example, I can't stop at a couple. So I don't buy crackers. AFter losing 50 lbs over 2 1/2 yrs, I find it's creeping back on now. But it's mostly from inactivity as a result of my back problems. Once my surgery is over with and I can get back to exercising, I'm hoping I'll get back to normal.

But I do love to eat certain things....

Maggie May said...

When I was a child I grew up in the post war days (WW2) and food was rationed until I was 10yrs old. So people didn't get plump.
Then all this food arrived from America, tinned spaghetti and dozens of other treasures that I had never tasted before. Started to get plumper.
Ever since then I have had to be careful.
Apart from chocolate, it is the savoury things that I like and crave.

Lavinia said...

This is an endlessly interesting topic. I've read a few books on this very subject, and done some reading on the internet. Food is about so much more than eating. Growing up with a European mother as I did, feeding her children was equated with loving them. Accepting food was the equivalent of accepting that love. No better way to hurt my mother's feelings than refusing to eat! I learned that very young...

Warped emotions, twisted motivations for lifting the fork to the it like this in the rest of the world or only in the west?

One of the books I've read is "Fat is A Feminist Issue". Intersting reading.

It's so wearying to always be so careful about what one eats. And habits....a lifetime of habits, can be difficult to break.

I think the saving grace is portion size. Ah, if one can tame the portion tiger, the battle's half won.

Hilary said...

It seems that as each decade passes, I'm as many pounds heavier than the previous one. The struggle to lose and keep the weight off is more difficult. I'd like to blame an aging metabolism but that would take some of the onus off of me and really, I'd rather have the control. And the motivation. And a few more decades.

RiverPoet said...

Baroness - Congratulations on the incredible weight loss! Woohoo!!! But yes, that house of cards could come down for both of us at any second.

Josie - Your brother is right. In the U.S., we produce about 3800 calories per day per person. One reason that so much food is cheap and processed into fun shapes and products is to move all that food that is produced - much of it in the form of corn (and corn by-products like high-fructose corn syrup). Scary how easily we fall for the marketing, too.

Jay - (raising hand) I'm a sugar addict. When I can get through 3-4 days without sweets, I do alright. It's just getting through those days that is so hard. To make matters worse, I cannot use any artificial sweetener because it triggers my migraines. So I am left to fight little battles with food every single day. And you're right, if we had to work as hard for our food as our ancestors did, overweight wouldn't be a problem.

CJ - Yes, my boss (who is a's his hobby) was deemed obese based on the insurance company's tables. He was denied life insurance because of it. And he probably has <10% body fat!!!

MPM - Oh yeah, pulled pork, cornbread, green're talking my language. But yes, we eat healthy when we eat at home: lean protein and steamed veggies. There are a million ways to make all of that and spice it up. I am encouraging my hubby to stop wanting to go out to eat so much, because we always overeat and usually get dessert.

Brit - It used to be that Europeans had far fewer problems with weight than the rest of us. Hubby's family moved to Portugal for work and came back svelte and healthy! It was really amazing. I don't know if it's still that way, though.

Marty - (applause!!!) I think you could be an inspiration for many people. Making that decision for surgery couldn't have been easy. Food has always been a powerful force in my life. I miss being able to eat without guilt, but I have to be so careful. Weight comes on far too easily these days.

Akela - As have I...

FFF - Second helpings are a thing of the past for me, but the temptation is always there.

Leslie - I'm sure you are looking forward to that back surgery. I've had my own share of health problems that have kept me from being as active as I need to be, but I do what I can.

Maggie - I saw that with my own mother. She grew up in the Great Depression and then matured during WWII. When food wasn't rationed, she ate with abandon, and it ended up being to her detriment.

Lavinia - Yes, there is a bit of a diet fad going on in America right now - the 3 bite diet. You can have anything you want, but you can only have 3 bites. I suppose that would work for rich foods, but I wonder if they are getting all of their daily nutrients? Probably not. And I can imagine you could really add up in the bites for the day if you had enough variety around.

Hilary - Ah, control. That is something I wish I had more of. I use a little trick sometimes, though, walking away from whatever it is I'm craving for 5 minutes. If I still want it, I go back and have a small portion. Sometimes I get busy doing something else, though, or I have time to talk myself out of it. The better thing is when nothing too tempting is kept in the house.

Peace - D

Daryl said...

I admit I am very lucky to have a good metabolism so I can eat pretty much whatever I want but I have learned as I grow older than smaller portions eaten earlier keep those extra lbs away .. and let me remain the couch potato I enjoy being.

OTOH, a very dear friend went through a divorce and just as she was getting back 'on track' her ex committed suicide ... took her almost 2 yrs to get past that and now she's morbidly obese (her own words) BUT she's happy... I am hoping she can find a way to stay happy AND lose a weight cause I dont want to lose her


® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Hi riverpoet,
Yeah I guess around a few years ago most people in Europe were slim, of average size or in shape, however nowadays the battle is really on, just like in the states, and there are lots of "obese" people.
I really blame all the processed foods and ready meals that you find in the supermarket, all the additives and high levels of hidden sugar and fats that they contain (even those that are advertised as "light" meals)
I guess people nowadays would rather just pop a ready meal into the microwave instead of making a meal from scratch and these I feel are the "culprit foods"
Of course there are many more sweets, candy and desserts too now, so that doesn't help with the need to comfort eat...
I think as people's lives have got more and more hectic, with less time to do things like cooking, the appeal of all these foods has become incredible!
I really admire the Brazilians as here in Brazil most people are really in shape and exercise regularly. Walking along the beach in Rio de Janeiro is like being in the presence of male and female supermodels most of the time and that can be incredibly self-deflating! haha
Oh go on then... I'll have another square of Hershey's! x

Employee No. 3699 said...

I was always petite (5'2", 105 lbs) until I hit 40. In the last 6 years I have gained almost 20 lbs. Since I never had to watch what I ate before I find it difficult.

P.S. Even if you make the best damn fruitcake in the world, I honestly don't think I would like it, just sayin'.