Archive for indulgence

Do you need a pick-me-up?

Some days you just need a pick-me-up. I’m definitely having one of those days.

As you can see on my “healthy living” page, I think it’s crucial that we give into our cravings and treat ourselves to what we want on those kinds of days.

Because if we don’t, let’s be honest—we’ll just want it even more later.

Today I’m getting my pick-me-up in the form of chocolate cake and ’80s music…

I really hope you get what you need today too.

Pregnant women lead us into the light

of weight each week, mourn the loss of waist—
jeans too tight to button, I prefer to blossom.
I surrender to coconut salmon in banana leaves,
miso soup with prawns, paella, lasagna, seafood
risotto, mangu and tostones, salads of blueberries,
blood oranges, and papaya, the bloom of belly,
breasts spilling over seams, petals of areolas darkening.

I’ve abandoned the lunch-break park with its tire swing
and picnic of stale chips for the circus, lion tamers,
dogs with purple tutus, magicians pulling doves
from top hats, trapeze artists somersaulting
through the air. I want the Big Top’s pillows
of cotton candy dissolving in my mouth, mounds
of popcorn shiny with butter, globs of caramel
apples, hot dogs drenched in mustard.

Blood thickening and milk springing from nipples
remind me: be open. Enough of this suburb
with its square meals served in look-alike
houses. Give me Paris with its artists scattered
on sidewalks, painted confetti, dancers
in discotheques stretching onto streets at dawn.
With more body to envelop, I’ll browse boutiques
at the Rue du St.-Honoré, lounge sipping café-au-lait,
nibbling a croissant’s flakey layers. Order coq-au-vin
or pot-au-feu, decorate the board with baguette,
brie. Will mousse aux fraises complete me?

If I’d been born with different genes—
petite, straight-hipped, willowy-tall—would I enjoy
fat bowls of kalamata olives, sliced avocado,
desserts of mangoes in cream, pumpkin pie?
I surrender to possibility, to joy, to feasts
of seven-grain breads, lamb stews, chocolate
soufflés. I thank this baby whose growing bones
demand wheels of provolone, sticks of mozzarella,
cubes of sharp cheddar, cups of vanilla yogurt
at two a.m., whose kicks remind me to taste
roast beef, venison steak, the cream of deviled eggs.


Christine Stewart-Nuñez is the author of five volumes of poetry. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in a variety of magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Calyx, Arts & Letters, and North American Review.

The themes of her work range from explorations of popular culture, inquiry into the lives of historical women, and the gendered body to pregnancy/childbirth, loss, and travel.

Food is not magic by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld


Sometime during all this cooking*, I had a revelation: Food is not magic.

Yes, food can sometimes feel like magic. In most cities, at any given moment you are less than fifteen minutes away from an instant burger, fries, sandwich, or pizza. The only effort you have to put in is forking over your debit card.

But effort was put into that food, even if you didn’t see it. Someone prepared it for you. Someone delivered the ingredients, someone put them together and made them presentable for your consumption. In the case of fast food, there are food developers, food tasters, and food scientists involved. Food scientists.

Before I went to Costa Rica, I was in Houston for a physical. It turns out that my cholesterol is high. Like really high. Not high enough to cause my doctor concern, but high enough that she suggested I work on lowering it. Then I went in for an eye check up and while my doctor was looking into my eyes through the phoropter, she asked, “So do you like eating sugars or starch?” Turns out she could determine my diet excesses by looking at my eyes.

In combination, those appointments made me realize that cooking at home is an important goal for me. My cholesterol tends to be on the high end of normal, and the amount of stress in my life recently hasn’t helped. Throw drive-thru meals on top of that, and it becomes a problem. Even eating too many sweets has an effect on my body.

But here’s the good news: If you eat out of your own kitchen, you kind of can’t help but be healthier. Baking cookies and brownies is an involved process that takes far more time and energy than grabbing a box of them from the store, so there are likely to be fewer temptations sitting around. Fruit, meanwhile, is naturally sweet and requires no more preparation than a quick rinse under the tap. Chicken and beef often take more time and effort to cook than fish and vegetables, so you’re more likely to throw some tilapia in the oven and make a salad for yourself while it bakes.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend such a major shift in eating habits to anyone. I had to work the Saturday before I left for Costa Rica and it resulted in me cheating. I was on my feet for eight hours, which I expected, but then my relief called in sick and I was asked to stay for four more. After running around like crazy getting eleven brides started with their registries, I almost had to crawl out of the car and onto our couch. My husband was already there, at the end of his own long day. He offered to order a pizza for us, which filled me with a rush of relief. Once I was finished eating, however, I had another rush—one of guilt. “I really could have made that pizza,” I found myself thinking. As Molly has pointed out in her “Cheeseburgers and the importance of indulgence” post before:

“The other thing that’s important is not feeling bad about allowing yourself to eat that cheeseburger or brownie sundae. Because the worse you feel about it, the more you’re going to want to do it again and again.”

So true! Once I got back from Costa Rica, the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction. I went on a pizza, Panera, Taco Bell, McDonald’s binge. I didn’t go to the grocery store for a week. Without realizing it, I’d put myself on a kind of diet. I dedicated myself to an unreasonable goal. I’m back on track now, with the realization that sometimes it’s okay to eat out, whether it’s ordering a pizza after a long day or going to a nice dinner with a friend to catch up.

Restaurants aren’t the enemy, as long as the kitchen is your close friend.

*In case you don’t remember, I committed to cooking all of my meals at home for the entire month of February.

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

"Smothered in Delicious Yellow Chemical Sludge"


Thora Birch as Enid in Ghost World, 2001

198 pounds

A few weeks ago I went to see The Kids Are All Right, an amazing movie, which just happened to be playing at a massive thirty-screen multiplex that had recently changed ownership.

The first sign that things were different occurred when we pulled up, and there was no longer a sign of any kind telling people what was located inside the building. Instead, there was just a piece of large poster board with the name of the theatre painted on it in thick black paint. Now remember this is a thirty-screen multiplex, and it just had this poster stuck to the front.

I knew immediately something wasn’t right.

When we were waiting in line at the ticket booth, we also noticed that there were a half dozen employees flitting around with artificial smiles on their faces, asking customers if they needed help with anything. It felt like we had died and gone to Stepford.

But the weirdest thing of all happened when we got to the front of the line.

Every single person who bought a ticket was rewarded with a coupon for a free medium-sized drink and a small bag of popcorn. At first I thought these coupons were being passed out at random, but soon it became obvious that EVERYONE was getting them.

Initially I was excited about our luck—I almost never splurge on popcorn or drinks at the movie theatre. Not because I don’t want them, but because they cost so darned much.

(If you haven’t been to the theatre in a while, you should know that you can no longer get a small drink and a small popcorn for less than ten dollars, which means this theatre was passing out the equivalent of ten bucks to every viewer.)

But not long after I got my free snacks, I started to feel differently about them.

As we walked to Screen 22, I looked around and considered all of the other moviegoers. Some were big and some were small, some were pretty and some were not, but despite our many differences, we all had the exact same thing in our hands: a small popcorn and a medium drink. It felt like the theatre owners were using some kind of mind control to make us all do the same thing. It felt like we were pod people. And suddenly my free popcorn and soda seemed rather grotesque to me.

In the theatre, I ate some of my popcorn and drank some of my soda, but it wasn’t the same—my enjoyment was half-hearted, and I barely finished a third of what I had. I just didn’t want it anymore. It was like I was experiencing the same thing people always say about country clubs: nobody wants to be a member of any club that will have them. And I didn’t want any part of an unhealthy snack that someone had just handed me, free of charge. Not only did I not really want it, I was also hyper aware of how gross it was—the yellow chemical sludge* known as butter movie theatre land was collecting inside the crevices of my artificially colored popcorn like an environmental disaster.

At the same time that I was disgusted with the food, I was also disgusted with myself—Had I really longed for this stuff on so many occasions before? What was it about this crap that had appealed to me so much? In that moment, I had no idea why anyone would voluntarily pay for such a snack even though I’d done it more than a few times myself.

The result was that I wanted to eat less popcorn and drink less soda—that night and every day since then. And it made me wonder if part of the appeal of eating something so unhealthy is that we’re not supposed to eat it.

When I was sixteen, I had jaw surgery that left me unable to eat solid foods for six weeks. In the time leading up to the operation, my doctors told me that it was one of the only times in my life when I could eat whatever I wanted because I’d be losing a lot of weight during my recovery. For a few days, I ate junk food 24-7: Twinkies, Doritos, Mac ‘n Cheese. But after a day or two of that, I got sick of it and went back to my normal diet.

I think that’s exactly what happened at the multiplex that night—since I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, I didn’t really want any of it anymore. Of course, that made me ask myself, what would happen if I let myself eat whatever I want all the time?

I’ve always believed that indulgence is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and I’ve always known that if you deny yourself something you want, you’ll only want it more. But I’ve also believed that giving into those temptations every once in a while helps you keep your cravings in check. But maybe—just maybe—if we gave into them whenever we wanted, they would lose their appeal forever.

I wish I could say I believed it was that simple to kick the junk food habit, but I’m not entirely convinced. But I will say this: I’m staying away from the yellow chemical sludge as long as I can.

*That’s what Enid (pictured above) called it in Ghost World.

Rebuffed at the buffet

192 pounds

Recently I was at a social gathering that included a plentiful buffet of snack food—decadent cheeses, fine breads, gourmet meats, tasty guacamole, salty tortilla chips, and much more. I was standing near this table of goodies when one of my friends saw me and said something like this: “It must be nice not to have to worry about dieting! You can eat whatever you want.”

There is some question about whether my friend meant this comment literally or not, but I do sometimes feel like people don’t completely understand my “will not diet” approach.

Not dieting does not mean that I can eat whatever I want.

I really wish it did!

What it does mean is that I don’t go on “diets,” and if you’ve read my “What is a diet?” post, you know that I define a diet as something that requires us to change our eating habits for a set period of time. Some people would call these fad diets or unhealthy diets. I just call them crazy ways to make you less healthy in the long run (even though they might help you drop a few pounds in the short run).

Famous fad diets include the Atkins diet, the Zone diet, the Cabbage Soup diet, the Grapefruit Diet, the Thousand-Calories-a-Day diet, etc. I also consider it a diet when people give up something—like sweets or flour—for a set period of time.

Basically, for me, a diet is anything that means that you can’t eat as you normally would.

And this brings me to my approach.

No, I don’t diet in the way I’ve defined above. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t watch what I eat. My goal is to eat healthy all the time, but don’t let the word “healthy” fool you. For me, eating “healthy” is as much of a mental approach as it is physical one. It includes having plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats as well as a moderate amount of carbs, dairy, and dark chocolate in my daily diet, but it also includes eating cheeseburgers, sodas, and sinful desserts from time to time. And that’s because I believe that indulgence is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. If we don’t give into our desire for high-calorie, fatty foods from time to time, I believe that desire will only grow, causing us to actually eat more of the bad stuff than if we simply allowed ourselves those indulgences now and then.

For me, “now and then” means limiting my indulgences to about twice a week. In other words, I let myself go a little crazy about two times every week.

Usually that happens on the weekend, but last week that meant splitting a large Buffalo chicken pizza with my husband on Thursday while we spent the day grading at Greener Groundz and going out for a high-calorie Mexican dinner with some girlfriends on Friday night.

Because I knew I was going to have those two big meals, I didn’t allow myself to eat whatever I wanted at that snack buffet I mentioned earlier. If I had, I promise you that I would have had a much bigger plate of cheese, meat, and bread than I did.

No, unfortunately, even the “will not diet” girl cannot eat whatever she wants.

The Optimist’s Club

192 pounds

If you haven’t already noticed, my weight has gone up a few pounds over the last month even though it’s supposed to be going down. There are two simple reasons why this has happened.

First and foremost, as some of you know, I had surgery just over six weeks ago, and afterwards, I lost six pounds without even blinking.
On Tuesday, December 8th, my official weight on this blog was 189 pounds. (Though I actually hit a low of 187 the weekend after my surgery, which is technically six pounds less than the 193 I weighed before surgery.)
Sure, it was wonderful to see the scale dip into the 180s, but it was an artificial low caused by the fact that I was eating next to nothing and loaded up with medication that made it hard to keep anything in my body. I was back at 190 within a couple of weeks, and I think my weight might have leveled off there if it hadn’t been for one other thing . . .
. . . the holidays
I’m not one of those people who buys into the idea that we should all be super careful about what we eat during the holidays. My feeling, as I said in my “Season of Indulgence” post, is that the holidays are a time to have fun, and we should enjoy that once-a-year reprieve from thinking about every calorie that goes in our mouth. I’m a firm believer in the idea that we should all give into our indulgences from time to time—usually once or twice a week—and Christmas, Hannakuh, and New Year’s are no different.
Another reason we gain weight during the holidays is because of the added stress of traveling, seeing family, buying gifts, etc. I know that I definitely ate more food between Christmas and New Year’s precisely because I was dealing with family and other holiday commitments.
No, feeding our emotions isn’t the healthiest response to stress, but it’s a fact of life. I’d rather admit that than ignore it. Yes, like everyone else, I sometimes use eating as a way to cope. But as long as I know that, I can make sure I don’t do it too often.
And if that means I gain a pound or two (the national average) during the holidays, so be it. We all need a little extra lining to keep us warm through January, February, and March, right?
Studies have shown that the issue is not that measly pound so many people pick up over the holidays. The real issue is not dropping that pound before spring sets in. In fact, as long as we lose what we’ve gained within the next few months, there are no long-term consequences for having a little bit too much eggnog for a few weeks each December.
Yes, real problems occur for the people who don’t shed the weight they put on each year during the holidays because the pounds start adding up over time. But I guess I prefer to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty—as long as we get our collective act together after January 1st, it’s really not a big deal.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I kind of hate it when people beat themselves up after the holidays because they ate a little too much. I would rather that we all recognize how easy it is to gain weight over the holidays and how much more important it is to focus on being healthy again than sitting around crying into our new desk calendars about it.
So that’s what I have to do now . . . get my act together and drop the two pounds I picked up over the last month. It won’t be easy, but I know it can be done.

Season of Indulgence

190 pounds

It’s Christmas Eve, and I just finished spending a long night with my family. We did the usual stuff—got dressed up, went to church, ate a big dinner and some holiday cookies, played games, opened our first gifts. It was an average American Christmas in that sense.
But one thing about the night made me feel a little better about our society’s normally extreme attitude about the way we eat.
My aunt brought several decadent appetizers including an amazing pepper jelly, which she served over cream cheese with Ritz crackers. Let me repeat that . . . served OVER CREAM CHEESE WITH RITZ CRACKERS.
Calories galore.
When she first got it out, we all thought it was too rich and heavy for us to finish before dinner, but as it turned out, we sat around the coffee table noshing on it until there was nothing left but a few smears of orange jelly around the outside of the plate.
It was that good.
And when I said something about how I probably shouldn’t be eating so much, my normally disciplined aunt said, “Who cares? It’s Christmas.”
I had expected someone to agree with me—especially since both my aunt and my sister are exercise nuts and very thin—but instead my aunt reinforced what I already believed: that sometimes we just have to let ourselves go.
And it hit me while we were scraping the serving plate clean that holidays are the one time Americans allow themselves to eat what we want. Whether it’s Christmas or the 4th of July, we let ourselves give into our most indulgent cravings on special occasions and for at least a short time don’t think about how they will affect our waist size or the number on the scale, something Americans almost never do the rest of the year.
Despite all the warnings about gaining weight over the holidays, I’m a firm believer in the importance of indulgence, as I’ve discussed before. Yes, on average people gain up to a pound during the holidays and those pounds add up as time goes on if they are not lost later in the year, but I believe that if we allowed ourselves to indulge all year—and not just during the holidays—we would have less desire to do so on the big days and would be able to do so in moderation. I know it may sound like an oxymoron to promote moderate indulgence, but I do think it’s possible. Because I believe if we allow ourselves decadent foods throughout the year, we are less likely to go completely overboard with them during the holidays.
So, on the one hand, I’m thrilled that Americans let themselves go a little bit over the holidays and consider it a welcome change from the country’s obsession with dieting that monopolizes the rest of the year, but on the other hand, I wish we would all learn to give ourselves more latitude all year long rather than just a few days a year.

Gobble gobble

193 pounds

I ended up being too sick to go to the family Thanksgiving celebration this year. It’s only the second time I’ve missed a traditional turkey dinner. (The last time occurred during my adolescence when, due to unforeseen complications, my family ended up eating tuna salad sandwiches for Thanksgiving.) The effect of missing a big family dinner this year has been that I’ve been thinking all day about the meaning of the holiday and, of course, about the tradition of eating until we feel sick.
I heard earlier today that the average American eats 4400 calories on Thanksgiving day—that’s twice what most of us eat on a normal day. As I explained in my post on indulgence, I fully believe in the importance of giving into our cravings from time to time.
And I guess I feel the same way about Thanksgiving. It’s hard to imagine going to a big turkey dinner and counting calories or skipping dessert. I mean, what would be the point?
I remember one Thanksgiving years ago . . . I was living in D.C., so I celebrated the holiday with an aunt and uncle who live in northern Virginia. The only problem was that this particular aunt and uncle happen to be health nuts, so there was nothing fattening or high calorie on the table: there was no cheese ball, there was turkey but no gravy, the potatoes—regular and sweet—were baked and served plain, the stuffing and rolls were nonexistent, and the cranberries and green beans were steamed. I can’t remember if there was dessert, but I have a vague memory of low-fat ice cream. I felt like I had died and gone to culinary hell. To me, Thanksgiving isn’t really Thanksgiving if, at the end of the day, you don’t feel like you’ve eaten too much.
And I guess this all comes back to one of the main reasons for this blog: if we don’t allow ourselves these random pleasures from time to time, then I worry that we force ourselves to live in a constant state of denial. A state that pushes us to crave what we can’t have even more.
So now that you’ve all finished gorging yourself on turkey and potatoes and stuffing covered in thick gravy, sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, rolls oozing with butter, green beans in a decadent casserole of mushroom soup and french fried onions, and a big piece of pumpkin pie a la mode, don’t forget how important it is to give into our cravings from time to time and not feel bad about yourself for doing it. It will all balance itself out anyway. Because chances are that if you went overboard today, you’ll probably cut back tomorrow.
And those people who cut the gravy and the butter and the fat and the sugar today? Trust me, they’ll be the first ones in line at Cinnabon when they hit the mall tomorrow.
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