The Skinny Daily Post™

Short, daily essays on weight loss and fitness
from a really average woman who lost 100 lbs.
and works every day to keep it off.

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Sunday, February 16, 2003  

Great Meals

Warning: If you're feeling weak today, and not in control of your eating, then please save this post for later. There's food reveling ahead, and lots of it.

When we start a new way of eating it’s easy for us to give up the idea of enjoying our food. When you work so hard on breaking old behavioral associations with food, it’s easy to try to turn your back on food entirely, to try to break all bonds with it. Turn off the taste buds.

But, unless you’re living in a cloistered environment, I really doubt that a strategy of food avoidance will work in the long run. We’re not alcoholics who can make the hard choice to give up alcohol forever. (Though many of us need a good AA-style group, or regular support network to stay on top of our food cravings, forever.)

Like it or not, humans gathering around food in celebration and communion isn’t going to go away because we wish it. We simply have to learn to deal with food in a healthy and interesting way. I recommend taking the bull by the horns. That is, if you don’t cook really well now, then maybe it’s time to learn.

I had dinner at my friends’ house last night. A year and a half ago, in the thick of my weight loss effort, this was the sort of event I would dread. Really panic over. I’d be concerned about what I could eat, if I had to “go off” my eating plan, if I would gain weight because of the one dinner, if eating a big social dinner would stretch my stomach, trigger a binge, if, if, if. Some of you will think that sounds a bit nutty, but others of you know exactly what I was feeling. You can really let weight loss torque your brain.

But last night’s dinner I’ve been looking forward to for some time. For one thing, these are interesting people. For another, the husband has become a passionate cook. He’s learned and absorbed so much information about cooking that he dreams in spice combinations. His idea of a good time is a run through the Dean & Deluca catalog. His dreams involve Zingerman’s cheese counter. He reads recipes for the fun of it, in his easy chair, on the Web. Business trips become chef safaris. He’s on the prowl for people who use the freshest ingredients in the most interesting ways. When he cooks, the technique, the dish he’s after, his memories of great meals are all in his head and hands. He brings it forth and presents it in a way that is really an art. He’s a food artist.

He’s not a professional chef. He simply looooves to cook. He’s not even a big eater. His focus is on the making. I could see in his face as soon as he finished presenting this meal he was thinking about other combinations, different ingredients. He was still cooking, really.

He served Indian cuisine last night. Fresh, gorgeous shrimp stir fried quickly with chili and mustard and cilantro. He made something called Palak Paneer, which is a lovely spinach and tomato and onion stew with lightly sauted homemade cheese, all infused with toasted cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander. We all stood around in the kitchen, poking our noses in pots as he worked, adding, tasting, thinking. We sipped our wine, engulfed in clouds of spicy steam.

And then we sat down to this wonderful, healthy, delicious meal of whole fresh foods cooked perfectly. At their wonderful table. In their beautiful home. We didn’t gorge. We didn’t eat the sort of ridiculous portions and calorie loads you can get at mega restaurant chains. We ate a beautiful, healthy, balanced meal.

What, are we supposed to miss all of this because we have problems with fatness? Or sit there in fear and trembling, ruining the whole experience? Should we not be tempted by food that tastes good?

Heck no.

I think the best possible way to hang on to these experiences as we change our way of eating is to become good cooks. Experimental cooks. Cooks who read recipes and translate and experiment exactly the way my friend does. We pick up skills in making stews, stir-frys, and soups, roasts, terrines, and reductions. And we make them from fresh ingredients, informed with our vocabulary of spices. Make, enjoy, serve delicious foods. And then we eat them with joy, and in reasonable amounts.

I don’t think it’s necessary to buy only low-carb or low-fat cookbooks to become good at cooking for ourselves. To really learn to cook, take the learning seriously. Take classes, read books, watch chefs and learn techniques. Pick up a bit about food chemistry. If you’re in control of your carb and sugar cravings, go ahead and watch the food channel. It’s not as scary as you might think.

So here’s my proposal: we can adopt a new way of eating that can sustain our health AND live well. That means doing more than just eating cottage cheese and fruit all day long. It means not depriving yourself of the satisfaction of well-cooked, shared meals. Depriving yourself of flavor and joy at the table is a sure set-up for long-term failure. We are built to enjoy our food. And we should.

We need to learn to cook again without eating one whole meal in the kitchen and another at the table. It helps a lot if you’re not too hungry when you cook. Have a big glass of water before you begin to prepare a meal. Have a cup of tea nearby. Learn to barely taste food, rather than eating whole mouthfuls of it as you cook. Learn to enjoy the anticipation that cooking smells conjure. Use fresh ingredients. Prefer foods that take more energy and time to prepare, not less. Shun packaged foods. Take a long time preparing your food, and the experience of it will be more satisfying than if you heat up something frozen.

Can shopping for ingredients and cooking be a way to unwind at the end of the day, rather than a source of stress?

And when you eat a well cooked meal, eat it slowly. Let every mouthful hit your whole mouth. Chew. Swallow. Enjoy aftertastes. Spend time at the table. Take a long time to eat less food. Focus more on the conversation than the meal.

But enjoy the meal. Follow the links and reclaim your kitchen,


Anne Willan’s cooking classes
Follow the chefs
Ingredients to empty a wallet of any size
Great cheeses and oils and more
Serious spices
Kathleen Daelemans, the spa chef
Kathleen’s book, less about recipes and calories, more about technique and learning

posted by Julie |
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