A few months ago, I wrote my column at the magazine about introducing my daughter to her first solid foods. As sometimes happens with writing, I couldn’t quite squeeze out exactly what I wanted to say—and I absolutely couldn’t squeeze it into 500 words. I would wax poetic for several hundred words, then delete it all, realizing I really hadn’t come anywhere near a point.
Deadlines being what they are, I eventually winnowed it down to what I thought were the best bits and sent it off, but it left an unfinished sensation for me. More than just laughing at myself for making baby food all summer—long before she could actually eat any of it—I wanted to try to explain why I was doing it.
Why make four quarts of applesauce from locally foraged apples when I could much more easily have picked up gallons of organic applesauce at the grocery store? Why spend so much quality time with my food processor and ice cube trays when popping open a jar or pouch would be so much simpler? Why did I choose this year—knowing full well that I would have a brand new baby on hand—to join a CSA (SO. MUCH. PRODUCE.) and grow a home garden? Why have I cooked and canned and preserved more food this year, of all years, than ever before in my life?
The truth is, they aren’t simple questions to answer.
Food has always been a weighty issue with me—pun intended, because I have battled my weight since my teens. I have gone on and off more diets than I care to mention losing, gaining, then losing (and gaining) the same 20, 30, 40 pounds over and over again. I lost 40 pounds in college and then gained it all back when I stopped drinking Slim Fast. I lost that same 40 pounds while living in California four years ago by going on the Shame diet. I was a success story in SHAPE magazine two years ago. This year, I gained almost 50 pounds while pregnant with my daughter.
In the last decade I have done Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, South Beach, cleanses and even an all-leek-soup diet (from French Women Don’t Get Fat). And then I became a food writer. Such is the irony of real life.
I wish this was where I could plug my new ebook that I’ll be selling (for the low, low price of $19.99!) with my tips for weight loss and healthy living while still being a foodie. I haven’t got it all figured out. The idea behind Laughing Lemon Pie, however, is to take what I learn and share it with other people struggling with the same issues.
- How do I balance real food and real life?
- How do I feed myself and my family fantastic, delicious food—and still keep us all healthy and strong?
- How do I afford to vote with my fork when living on a tight budget?
In considering all these questions, I’ve started to form some very definite opinions about my food, about what I eat and how, and my relationship to it all. And these are the tenets that drive what I do in my own life and here on Laughing Lemon Pie.
1. Food is not the enemy.
It took me a long time to realize that food wasn’t the enemy. Food is one of the great pleasures of my life, but I was living as though it was a sin to love good food. But the food itself was never the problem. The Bible itself doesn’t say that butter is a sin—it’s gluttony that’s the problem.
The problem, for me, was a skewed relationship with food. I was asking more of it than it could provide. The food wanted to nourish me and give me energy. I wanted it to make me happy, to be my friend, to substitute for something that was missing in my life.
Realizing that it isn’t about what I eat but why was a huge revelation for me. It became clear that butter really isn’t the sin. In fact, pretty soon, it became clear that buttery spread—and all “diet food”—was, in fact, the sinful thing.
2. Real food rocks.
After I met Michael Pollan and read his books, I became acutely aware that I was eating a lot of “food-like substances.” Things like buttery spread, sweetened fat-free yogurt, non-fat cookies—they were all “diet” foods I had introduced into my daily life to stave off the pounds. But as I realized that food wasn’t the enemy, I wanted to spend my food time with foods I loved, not foods I had just brought into my life because I thought I was supposed to. Buttery spread was out; butter was back in.
So here’s the thing: I’m a foodie, and I’m on Weight Watchers. I’m not at all ashamed of it, either. Weight Watchers has helped me drop 29 pounds (and counting) since having my daughter in 2011, and I’ve done it all eating butter, real bread, full-fat Greek yogurt, whole eggs, and chocolate chip cookies—oh, and continuing to eat out at restaurants. Weight Watchers has changed their philosophy to include more whole foods and fewer food-like substances, and their tools are helping me get to a healthy weight. Because:
3. Healthy is the new skinny.
I’m over wanting to be skinny. I will never be skinny the way models in magazines are skinny or the way actresses on TV are skinny. I’m 31, post-baby, and chronically allergic to most exercise programs. I will never wear a bikini, and I’m OK with that.
What I do want to be is healthy. I want to be healthy to feel good about myself. I want to be healthy to be a good role model for my daughter, and to be sure that I am around for her for a long, long time. Right now, healthy translates to a goal of getting my weight down to a healthy BMI. What my next goal after that might be remains to be seen.
But all that said, I’m still a foodie.
I still love to eat out at restaurants. I’m never going to turn down anything that has pork belly in it. I want dessert after pretty much every meal. And you’re never going to catch me serving low-fat anything at a party.
Yet I want to eat healthfully. More importantly, I want to teach my daughter to eat healthfully by modeling good behaviors for her. That’s why I’m so thankful to have found the blog It’s Not About Nutrition. Yeah, the blog is about helping children eat more healthfully, but I’ve learned a lot about how to eat for myself, too. The author, Dr. Dina Rose, has given me succinct ways to describe my final three food rules.
4. Have your kale and your cake.
This is the “Have your cake and eat it too” rule. It’s also the Go, Slow, Woah rule (links to pdf) or the 80/20 rule. Whatever you call it, it means that most of the time, you eat really healthy foods. Sometimes you eat moderately healthy foods. And occasionally, you go all out and order the bacon maple chocolate cupcakes. To quote Dr. Rose,
“Let’s face it, nobody needs to eat: Pancakes (a SLOW food) and a muffin (a WHOA food). OR Popcorn (a SLOW food) and potato chips (a WHOA food). But everyone needs each of these foods some of the time.”
5. Variety is the spice of life.
Eating the same things over and over doesn’t do anybody any good (see: the leek soup diet). Kids and adults benefit most from eating lots of different things. So I’ve been trying to incorporate as many new and different foods into our diet as I can. A good way to do this? Join a CSA; then you’ll be forced to figure out how to cook fava beans, salad turnips, delicata squash and beet greens seventeen different ways.
But this also helps me remember to embrace my foodie tendencies. It helps me remember to seek out new recipes and new ingredients, and boldly go where no one at my dinner table has gone before!
6. Mindfulness and moderation in all things.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s important to stay mindful of what I’m doing food-wise, and practice moderation. Mindfulness means doing things like writing this post—thinking about the real reasons behind what I’m doing. Moderation means only eating one serving of dessert after dinner, but it also means sometimes saving the beet greens for another day and ordering the tower of fried appetizers for dinner.
These little “rules” have been hard won. It’s taken me a long time to figure this stuff out, and some days I still have trouble remembering it. I’m not an expert. I’m just a gal who is trying to find that elusive balance between real life and ideal life. Sometimes I have good days, sometimes I have bad days.
I’m not striving for perfection, because perfection is a myth. What I am striving for is to be a little bit better each day. And, because it’s the nature of how I think and how I process things, I’m striving to share what I know, what I learn, and what I fail at with likeminded people through this blog.
So tell me: What are your rules for living a healthy, foodie-filled lifestyle? What are your challenges? What are your successes? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Lemon image from Freeppt.net