Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Joy of Cooking Again

During the days of my "youth" (actually, it would be more accurate to say "my young adulthood"), I was quite into cooking. That seemed to have started due to my first apartment, which was in Manhattan. The apartment was small, but the kitchen (also small) was marvelously laid out as efficiently as the interior of a sailboat and stocked with every kind of cooking tool and device, including a hefty library of appealing cookbooks.

That got me off to a great start, which I continued, and then enhanced, when I went back to California to go to law school. The school had just built a brand-new apartment building on campus that the students could rent and this was a population of renters viewed with great respect who presumably were headed toward being in the moneyed class (if they weren't there already) and therefore required suitable housing to prepare for it (in other words, this was not "slum" or typical "student" housing). As it happens, the kitchen in that apartment was perfect and remains to this day the very best kitchen I have ever had. So I really got into the cooking there, going so far as to making my own bread, mayonaise, yogurt, jams, and other ordinarily packaged things in addition to frequently holding elaborate dinner parties. A friend and fellow-student at the school said that he and I were the only ones who didn't let having to brief cases get in the way of keeping our kitchen clean! (He however, actually went on to become a lawyer, something I decided not to do, maybe because I soon realized that I had greater interests elsewhere.)

Somehow, once I was out of school (a youthful, high-energy setting for generally everybody), I seemed to settle down into "sedentary working adulthood" and for some of us what comes along with that is putting on weight. Thus as I moved into working life in Los Angeles, I also enrolled myself into what is apparently a difficult-to-escape-from cult--that of the eternal dieter.

Surely you've heard this somewhat confusing aphorism, "dieting makes you fat" and studies have pretty much shown that this is true. Well, sure, dieting also can make you thin, in the short run, at least, but suppose you think of being on a diet as being somewhat like being forced to always have sex with someone who doesn't turn you on. Maybe this is what happens in marriage--the spouse becomes dull and unattractive, and so the impulse is to have an affair. So one could say that "marriage makes you unfaithful" in just the same way that "dieting makes you fat".

What makes you fat in dieting is the yo-yo effect of (a) living with a severely reduced calorie (and flavor) load, which (b) lowers your metabolism and (c) makes you finally get the hell off the diet and binge eat (maybe for years), which leads to (d) making you twice as overweight as you were before the diet, until (f) you get so miserable with your body that you try the whole thing over again with a new diet, which takes you back to (a), ad nauseum (or, if you are a teenage girl, "ad bulimium").

I've been there, I know all about it.

That started when I lived in L.A. "the first time" (that is to say, before I lived here, moved away, lived a dozen other places, and then came back here this time), where, incidentally, I had a really cool apartment but a lousy kitchen that got me into the habit of not only eating reduced "something" food (low calories, fats, carbs, or whatever) but also not enjoying the process of preparing whatever it was that I was making. I realize that there are all sorts of diet cook books out there that cater to every diet fad there is so that you can take out whatever ingredients or items you think are to blame for your being fat. I even bought myself a huge Weight Watchers gourmet cookbook that in size and appearance is somewhat akin to the complete cooking guide published by Le Cordon Bleu, but something about its artificiality (or artifice) never lured me and so it sits gathering dust on the shelf.

I had lost all interest in cooking, because I had lost all interest in eating anything that I prepared myself, because I would only allow myself to prepare diet foods (so instead I enjoyed eating out all the time).

And to think that this attitude of denial and suffering lasted for over thirty years--this constant alternation between fortitude and failure and all the time getting no pleasure except in illicit eating, and from that, whatever pleasure it contained was diluted by guilt, which was mentally like a little e-coli along with the hamburger.

Can't last.

Well, this go-round I lost more weight than I had ever lost before, but it was only half of what I needed to lose, yet suddenly it just had to stop. I couldn't stand Weight Watchers any more, even though just previously I had been singing its praises for how good-looking my body was becoming. I couldn't stand not looking forward to any party or eating occasion. I couldn't stand eating the same old "partial" foods any more. I couldn't stand feeling that I had done something terribly wrong by having a waffle or ice cream. I couldn't stand the lecturers at the meetings whose advice was always about how to eat miniscule portions ("at Trader Joe's they sell almonds in individually-wrapped one-point packages") or manufactured fake foods ("at The Heavenly Diet Shop they sell low-carb pancake mix and at Humphrey's Frozen Yogurt Shop they have sugarless frozen yogurt"). But most of all, I couldn't stand the OTHER people at the meetings. The meetings and the people there are supposed to "give you support". What support? Nobody ever really says anything unless it is to complain about how (once again) they failed at this party or that restaurant. "I was so hungry I just went ahead and binged on chips and dip," or "At first I was going to order pears for dessert, but I found myself going ahead and ordering a Mud Pie, instead." And the advice always is "So, you learned from your mistake, didn't you, well next time, eat a big salad, drink lots of water, and don't forget to ask the waiter to take the bread off the table."

Worse, perhaps, was that when I participated (and my version of that was to share some philosophical point of view that seemed to get me over a hump, such as "While I couldn't see how I could enjoy this cocktail party without eating a lot of stuff, I realized that if I engaged my other senses, such as appreciating the beautiful setting or really got into people's conversations, I could enjoy something other than food"), the room would be dead silent while some people turned around to look at me strangely as if they were thinking let me get a look at this freak, or whoever you are, you arrogant bastard, I wish you would just stop. I mean, I have to say it, but most of the people who are in Weight Watchers meetings are not really working to change too much. What do I really have in common with them? And then there would be the sudden shocks to my consciousness (okay, so I admit I'm an arrogant bastard), such as when somebody new would join: why, they're so fat! I know that is awful to say (my mother would really be shocked when I'd confess it to her), but that's really how it was for me. I mean, duh, this is Weight Watchers, there are going to be fat people! But somehow I kind of expected the whole world to slim down while I was...I was seeing the world from slimmer eyes and the fat people mucked up the viewscape.

So I knew that it was no longer working, but I didn't know what to do as a substitute. I kept rotating my mind around the idea that "I need to have it be organized somewhat like a school," you know, like you enroll at one end, take classes, do homework, take exams, and end up with a degree at the other end. But then one day I saw a video on YouTube by a man who was telling high school kids how to get a college degree really cheaply. His suggestions included taking all the AP courses and getting as much college credit for high school courses as you can, going to free or very low-cost junior college for the lower division courses, and doing as much independent study as you can for the upper division courses. He said, "If you can't study on your own, you aren't mature enough to go to college." Wow, that really hit me. Here I had been saying that I couldn't lose weight without being part of a "college-like structure", and he was saying that a college student ought to be able to do his studies on his own (all you need is a good library, who cares about the renown of the professors?). So I was shamed into understanding that I had to lose weight on my own (let's be grown up about it). I couldn't need some person or some group standing over me, making me do it (i.e., the old Weight Watchers "weekly weigh-in").

If I had to do it on my own, then I have to really understand it. The science of it. How it works. It's no longer acceptable to have an organization tell me how much food I have to eat, or what foods I should or should not eat.

So here are some things that I have learned:

1. Much of what we are told by organizations (corporations, governments) is wrong.
2. Things natural, traditional, and primitive are healthy; things manufactured, packaged, processed, adulterated, and marketed are unhealthy.
3. A vast variety of different foods is far more healthy than a limited selection of the same old stuff.
4. Two pounds of weight loss a week is too much for most people, who have to eat below the lowest acceptable minimum daily amount of calories in order to have that level of weight loss, which means that they are injuring their body, not getting enough essential nutrients, are losing lean body mass, and are lowering their metabolism, which makes them gain more and more stored fat on less and less food.
5. We have lost our natural appetite-"stat", eating according to a schedule or chart or diet plan or habit or addiction instead of eating what we really want and need, so we need to sensually reconnect with our body so that we will become aware once again of what we should eat and how much.
6. We also need to use our bodies more in movement, work, and play (making this fun instead of a chore), which will increase our muscles which burn fat and improve our metabolism so that our body weight will normalize; this is putting an emphasis on burning up excess calories instead of eating fewer calories.
7. We have to ENJOY EATING AGAIN, with real food full of natural nutrients. Get rid of the guilt, just get in touch inside. Then it is no longer deprivation, and we are no longer fat, having broken out of the "dieting makes you fat" viscious circle.

So now I have regained my joy of eating things that I have cooked at home. I got four new cookbooks, all of which I have been using in making exciting and delicious new meals. The first one I got was The Coconut Oil Miracle, which I had gotten from the same source where last summer I had gotten the book on how healthy the sun was. There are two corporate myths exposed--it is essential that we get out into the sun, yet people are afraid of it ("skin cancer"!), but the truth is that the diseases caused by vitamin D deficiency are gigantically more common than skin cancer. The sun CURES diseases.

Coconut oil, the much-maligned saturated fat "tropical oil" (thanks to self-serving marketing distortions by the soybean producers) is probably the healthiest oil a person can get. Unsaturated fats, particularly "poly" unsaturated fats, are cell-damaging free-radical producers, whereas saturated fats are anti-oxidants that clean up free radicals. Coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid that gets immediately used for energy and is NOT stored on the body as fat, and in its metabolism, kills infections. Few people on Earth have been more beautiful and healthy than the Polynesians (prior to their replacing their healthy natural diet with Western-produced processed canned and packaged junk food that makes those who indulge ponderously fat) and there in Polynesia you have the abundant use of BOTH these maligned sources of health, the sun and coconut oil.

So I started with the fun of making some of the recipes in the coconut oil book, which led me to desire a broad cookbook of native Polynesian cuisine, so I got a beautiful one from Amazon.com. Then, during spring break, our school had its annual trip back east and two of the participants brought back cookbooks as gifts for me! One was a uniquely wonderful book of Early American recipes, publishing the favorite recipes of early American heroes such as William Penn, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and dozens of others. That book really hit the spot with me. And the other gift book is a true treasure of traditional Amish cooking. The Amish are one of my favorite and highly-admired cultures and they still live naturally and minimally-technologically off their eastern Pennsylvania farmland and it has been quite a treat to start making some of their wonderful recipes. All of a sudden, eating is very exciting again (and shouldn't it be?) Later today, I am going to make three dishes from that Amish cookbook.

So, did I blow up like a balloon with jumping off of my "diet" and eating, instead, "salmon and rice with coconut-cream sauce" or "William Penn's favorite potato omelette" or "Amish cornbread"? I've been on this for about a month and the answer is no, I haven't gained a pound. I haven't seen weight fall off, either, but my weight loss will be rather slow until I increase my movement (I don't want to say "exercise" any more than I want to say "diet".) But our reduced summer schedule is right around the corner and I will be doing things outside a whole lot more. I expect to move into autumn being somewhat thinner (10 pounds worth, maybe?) and with the renewed enjoyment I have been having lately with NO suffering, I'd say that would be a delicious accomplishment.

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