Have you ever noticed when you can’t have something, it’s all you seem to want in the world?
In my case, at the moment, it’s bad food. Since the new year, I’ve been working on being healthy and trying to lose a little weight. Since I’ve finally had to acknowledge that the days of having a super fast metabolism that lets me eat pizza with French fries and cheese sauce for lunch and not gain an ounce are gone, I now have to watch what I eat.
Also, now I’ve learned the glorious ways of The Food Network and what it is to really cook, I confess that I cringe at the idea of pizza and French fries with cheese sauce. Separate, they’re ok. Together?...What was I thinking???!
Still, food is different in our youth, I think. Unless you’re born knowing that you love food and want to spend your life cooking it and appreciating it, food is a learning process. This is why, as a child, I preferred things like fishfingers and chips and frozen pizza over more exotic things like, say, beef casserole or meat pie. I think there are two types of children: The picky eaters and those that will eat everything. My nephew who will be eight this year is a picky eater. He eats Oscar Meyer Weiners, cheese puffs, cheese and a few other very select things. My niece, on the other hand, will eat almost anything.
I was a picky eater. I didn’t like very many things at all. I wouldn’t eat mashed potatoes. I didn’t like ‘gravy’ dinners. I didn’t like anything remotely different so Chinese food was out. I used to think lasagna smelled like vomit. You get the idea.
I stayed a picky eater all through high school. I remember in my last years of high school, I went on dates to exotic places like The Olive Garden (don’t mock- in high school in Indiana, that is exotic). I would order fettucine alfredo because it was ‘safe’. There was no scary tomato sauce or meat or weird vegetables in it, it was simple.
Then, in college, something changed. I hung out with a group of friends that liked Chinese food and Mexican and seafood. Our dining hall offered things to eat I’d never tried and since it was ‘all you can eat’, I started to try new things.
From then onwards, I was no longer a picky eater. I don’t even know the moment of revelation where I realized that I was now eating ‘different’ food. It just happened. I don’t know if it’s because, in college, I was always hungry because I was quite active and busy or because I was just exposed to more. It’s hard to say but I do know that that time period in my life changed my food habits.
Of course, college is also the time when it’s ok to eat junk food. It’s ok to have pizza several times a week or to eat an entire bag of Doritos and wash it down with Mountain Dew while you’re studying. It’s ok to run to the express area on campus and grab a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza and a bag of barbecue potato chips for lunch. There’s no one standing next to you saying, “Where are your veggies?” My eating habits weren’t that unhealthy though. I liked veggies and fruit so even with the junk food, I still got some nutrition in there.
But, even with the occasional injection of healthy eating, my college years were filled with the food that belongs to the young: pizza, hamburgers, tacos, Doritos, etc. This is not to say that older people don’t eat those foods but hopefully you know what I mean.
Nowadays, I don’t eat like that. It’s partly because I can’t eat like that and partly because I don’t want to eat like that. Now that I cook and like to expand my horizons as to my cooking techniques and habits, food is no longer just something I have to eat to keep going or because my stomach is rumbling. Food has become a pleasure to both eat and to cook. I’ll never be a chef because the idea of working in a kitchen being screamed at by a Gordon Ramsey wannabe makes me cringe but I do love to cook. It’s become one of the ways I unwind. I write. I read. I watch TV. I cook. These are the simple things in life that make me happy.
I like to buy things like fish spatulas and ricers. I will treat myself to a new Calphalon pan rather than a new pair of shoes. I will appreciate things like Maldon sea salt and Spanish sweet smoked paprika because they really do make food taste better.
Now, for me, the hard part is trying to balance my love of cooking and flavour with trying to lose some of the extra weight that the holidays and indulging in too much bad food have helped me gain. It’s not that hard, really. I tend to cook a lot of vegetables and vegetable based dishes anyway so as long as I’m in control of the food that I eat on a daily basis, it’s not hard to stay within my calorie/fat range for the day and still try to lose a little weight.
The hard part is that the minute I know that I can’t have something, I suddenly think I want it. Chocolate, for example. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. On occasion, there are times when I want chocolate more than anything but that’s not too often. So, when I plan to watch what I eat, it’s automatic that chocolate won’t figure in because I don’t eat much of it anyway.
So, of course, what happens? Yes…all I can think about is chocolate whether it’s those yummy Lindor Truffles (the red ones) with the melty milk goodness in the middle or a rich bite of Cadburys with it’s singular sweet flavour.
It’s not just chocolate. It’s things like bacon. I love bacon. Bacon is the meat that will always prevent me from being a vegetarian. Sometimes, you just need bacon. When you’re trying to eat healthy, bacon is not a huge part of your life. Sure, you can substitute turkey bacon but unless your taste buds are lifeless and dead, it’s NOT the same, regardless of what JennyO might say.
There are other things too: French fries, pizza and salty potato chips. I try not to eat them. It’s hard when suddenly your brain fixates on the idea of McDonald’s fries and you can almost smell them or, worse, you go downstairs at lunch and the lobby smells like fries.
It seems that the more I try to resist, the more my brain says, “oooh, go on! You deserve it!”
Sometimes I do. I’m not being so healthy that I’m denying myself everything. Complete denial leads to binges. It’s just that I have to balance the bad with the good so I have to ‘plan’ for the indulgences. If I want French fries for lunch, then I will have a salad with light dressing for dinner. That’s how it goes. It’s working out well so far. I just need to get my brain to cooperate with me a little more and try to get it to convince me that baby carrots ARE just as good a snack as potato chips (though I still think the TV ads that are promoting them that way really need to face reality- they are NOT the same) or that apples with honey are a much better TV snack than salt and vinegar potato chips.
It’s an ongoing process. It’s just interesting because before I was watching my food intake quite so much, I never craved bad food as much when I actually let myself have it often. I suppose it’s true: We always want what we can’t have.
Even though every now and again, it’s ok to cheat…just a little. Life’s more fun that way.