Thursday, March 24, 2005

TMI, I'm sure

I am pretty sure I think about food too much. I read cookbooks for pleasure on a daily basis. I dream about food. I linger in grocery stores.

Probably the scariest part, for the outside observer, is that I track everything I eat every day on Fitday. Some people think it's psycho of me to do it, but there's a good reason. You see, I have an eating disorder. I was a full-blown compulsive eater for years, with all the scary behaviors that conjures up (bingeing in secret, skipping lunch every day out of guilt but then devouring half the pantry when I got home, etc.). Counseling didn't help. Diets didn't help. The only thing that helped, in the end, was to be conscious of what I was doing--to bring it out into a realm where I could look at it and analyze it.

It turned out my big problem was portion control. I don't have that mechanism you're supposed to have where, when you have had enough to eat, the meter registers "full" and you stop eating. So if I don't measure and tabulate everything, I tend to eat like a 16-year-old boy, which is to say a LOT. And I never stop.

(My grandmother once complained to me that she's always ravenously hungry, no matter what she eats. A light went on in my head. Isn't genetics fascinating?)

Once my best friend in high school said I ate as though my food was going to get up and run away from me.

So now I keep track of everything. And yes, I think about food more often than is probably healthy. I don't think I will ever evolve to the point where I don't fantasize about it constantly. But then again, as long as I measure and keep track, I can eat whatever foods I want and my weight stays where I want it. It makes me happy. So sue me.

For me, it has been about learning to eat a single square of chocolate rather than an entire Ritter Sport bar.

It has been a matter of redefining pasta in a two-ounce portion. It has been learning to eat only one piece of lasagna rather than half the pan--and then freezing the rest so I can't pick at it mindlessly.

It has been about splitting gigantic restaurant meals or hunks of coffeecake in two, and then saving half for another meal.

I don't just watch calories; I watch my nutrient intake. It's a great reminder for me to have some fresh greens or to munch on an apple instead of, say, raiding the breadbox for leftover coffeecake. I think I enjoy my food more in the long run when I get a lot of healthy variety. I love vegetables, fruits, legumes. I love it all.

Diet programs like the Zone and South Beach and Atkins and Jenny Craig are--please forgive the vulgarity--total horseshit. Even if they work (which is debatable), there is something fundamentally wrong about denying yourself the things you love. It is wrong to have to eat unsatisfying, tasteless, low-fat versions of full-flavored real foods. And most sinister of all is the idea of eating nutrition bars and drinking foul chemical shakes in the name of losing weight. My feeling is, I can only eat a certain number of calories in a given day. Why would I want to waste even a single one on something substandard? There are hundreds of recipes I'm dying to try. It's everything I can do to fit in all the real food I want. I have no room for fakes.

Everybody needs a hobby, I guess. This is mine. I don't eat imitations because I am too busy trying to find or make the real thing. I don't eat Nutrigrain bars; I eat apple crisp. I don't eat Twinkies; I eat sponge cake. I don't eat Quarter Pounders; I eat buffalo burgers on crusty bread.

I tend to get a little dogmatic when I talk about food, so please forgive me. I'm sure it's like listening to a Trekkie talk about why (in their humble opinion) Klingon is an especially expressive language.

But I really do feel that way (about the food, not the Klingon).