I wish I didn’t love cake. Do you think I don’t realize how much easier my life would be if I didn’t constantly think of ways to organize a birthday party or wedding, specifically to facilitate the eating of gratuitous amounts of cake? And pizza! Do you know how difficult my life is now that I am no longer in the age bracket where nearly ever milestone in life is celebrated with a pizza party? How I long for the days when my squirrel-like metabolism knew nothing of diet or planned exercise, when I was content to run around in circles all day because it was fun and had never met a pack of Oreos I couldn’t eat in one sitting with impunity.
Now, as I am quite aware, that time is over. My body has started to reflect the doughy quality of the foods I eat, with a general softness that makes me feel like a noodle that has been left in boiling water a few minutes too long. Realizing that, despite having a still-normal BMI, I had the general athletic and energy capacity of a 90-year-old, I decided to do something about it. I decided that I would gather a small group to do a 30-day challenge in order to get my body used to seeing nutrients and breaking a sweat at least once a day. It’s a challenge I am just now starting, and though I may not have thought it possible, my body is in the heady throes of cake withdrawal.
Do we ever stop to consider just how unhealthy so much of what we eat every day is? Do we think about how, when we remark at a restaurant as to how delicious everything tastes, the cuisine is likely aided by several generous teaspoons of oil in every dish? Even the things we usually think of as being “generally pretty okay for you,” when examined for their cold, hard nutrition facts, are actually rather terrifying. Do you like cranberry juice? Who doesn’t? It’s sweet and tart and helps you when you have burny pee. If I had to put cranberry juice into a category of “decent food” or “bad food,” I would think it decent. Why? It’s a fruit. It’s juice. It has vitamins. It seems like the kind of thing that you should drink. Do you know how much sugar is in most commercial brands of cranberry juice? As much as a can of Coke. You should have seen my face in the grocery store. I think I actually cried for a minute.
But this is the reality of so many of the prepared foods we eat every day, foods we are used to seeing to the point of no longer considering their actual nutritional or caloric implications. Bread, pasta, cheese, cereal, granola bars, yogurt — the list is almost endless. So much of our daily diets are filled with high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners and flavorings, and general empty calories. Our concept of “junk food” really only encompasses the tippy-top of the bad things we shouldn’t really be eating, while a huge portion of the stuff we consider “normal” can fall under the same unhealthy bracket, if only to a slightly lesser degree.
I consider myself lucky, in that I’ve always enjoyed cooking for myself, and thus have an easier time dictating exactly what it is that goes into my meals. But let’s not act as though so many of the things that make our home-cooked meals yummy — soy sauce, butter, olive oil, chili paste, dressings, spices, sugar, etc — don’t need to be used very sparingly in order to render whatever it is you’re making a good health move. I can make chicken breast and quinoa only so many times before I want to drown myself in a sea of teriyaki and vinaigrettes. Eating healthy, even when cooking at home, involves so much unlearning of everything that we always taken for granted about cooking. Yes, it is good to season your food. No, you can’t put a lot on.
Now that I am trying to make consciously good decisions about where and what I buy — as well as keeping track of everything I’m eating every day — the world seems a giant game of Minesweeper, liberally littered with foods and drinks meant to throw me off the course. Even our best friend alcohol is one of the biggest culprits. A glass of wine with dinner? Say hello to tons of unnecessary calories. There often seems to be no food, past the fresh fruits and veggies whose contents you are fully aware of and of which you can eat as many as you want, that is totally safe. Everything seems out to get you. Everything needs to be paid attention to, done in moderation, and taken account of. And while I am not sure what the future holds for my journey down the path of eating well, I can say without a doubt that it will be filled with learning and keeping an open mind for ways to live a more balanced life.
Except for kale, though. That shit is gross, and you can’t make me eat it.