Archive for eating

Kindly step away from the mashed potatoes: why sharing food can lead to problems

Sunday night, my husband Dave and I went out for dinner with two friends. Near the end of the meal, I was talking to said friends, focusing my attention on them, and when I turned back to Dave, I found him eating my mashed potatoes on the sly.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“I thought you were finished with these,” he explained.

“I was going to take the leftovers home and eat them tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay,” Dave said in a way that resembled a child who’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

This incident brought to mind the problems that crop up when living—and eating—with a partner.

One of my cousins—whom I’ll call John—used to say that women always gain weight after they get married. His theory was they had worked so hard to stay thin before they got married that they figured they could let themselves go afterwards.

(Yes, John is an asshole.)

Though there is no doubt some truth to the notion that PEOPLE—women and men alike—feel like they can let themselves go after getting married, especially if they went on a pre-wedding diet, I think there’s more to it than that.

I noticed when I started living with Dave that eating with him every day made me eat more because, unconsciously, I was always trying to keep up with him.

This problem manifested itself two ways:

1) I often felt like I had to eat as much as he did… If he ate two servings at dinner, I thought I should I eat two servings. Not because it was a contest or anything, but just because some subliminal part of me thought, Why can’t I eat as much as he does?

2) Sometimes I worried that if I didn’t eat fast enough, he would eat my food. This isn’t a regular problem with Dave (though it does happen sometimes), but it had been a problem with other men in the past, especially when sharing food in a restaurant. This problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes I worry about missing meals or not getting any food at all. (I blame the neanderthal in me for that.)

As a result, I began gaining weight as soon as I started living with men—both in group houses when I was single and when I moved in with Dave.

It didn’t take long for me to notice there was a problem. I hadn’t gained any weight since my freshman year in college—when I happily picked up the freshman fifteen and never looked back since before that my BMI was on the low side of normal—and suddenly I was gaining weight every week.

So I started paying more attention to my eating habits and quickly figured out what was going on. It wasn’t a difficult issue to resolve once I discovered what I was doing, but even now I sometimes have to stake my claim on my food—going so far as to draw a line down the center of our meal, so I know it won’t disappear when I’m not looking. In other words, to keep #2 from happening, as it did last night.

It does make me wonder how much of our problems with eating are associated with some weird kind of unconscious peer pressure—If everyone else is eating spinach-artichoke dip, I should eat some too! 

The simple solution is to be aware when your eating habits are negatively affected by other people and change behavior—yours or your partner’s—as necessary.

And I highly recommend keeping all mashed potatoes to yourself.

Breaking the boob tube habit

After we got home from the first half of our cross-country trip, I decided to make a change in the way we eat.

For years, my husband and I have been the kind of people who eat most of our meals in front of the TV or in front of the computer. Since we walk every morning together and talk almost the whole time, we don’t feel obligated to chat over dinner at night. And when we were still in grad school, we often ate in front of the TV because it was one of the only times each day we would allow ourselves to watch television instead of studying. In that sense, TV and eating was a break from reality.

Even now—seven years after grad school—I still feel like eating is a waste of time when school is in session (and I’m working almost twelve hours a day at least six days a week). So I often try to multi-task and either:

1) eat while I’m working in front of the computer


2) take a thirty-minute break from work to watch something we’ve taped on the DVR—usually The Daily Show or Parks and Recreation—while we eat.

But when we were on our road trip, we ate many meals out in restaurants and the ones we did cook for ourselves were eaten at our California rental, which didn’t have a television. As a result, we got in the habit of eating without watching a screen of any kind.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the result was cathartic.

We ate much less, really tasted our food, and enjoyed our meals more. From that point, it was easy to decide we would be healthier if we continued eating without distractions when we got home.

I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. We all know that we eat more when we have a television or computer screen in front of us and that eating in front of the TV is directly related to weight problems.

But what I am saying is that it’s going to be really hard for me to make this change. I’m so used to watching TV, working on the computer, or even just reading a book while I’m eating that I’m not used to the quiet contemplation that occurs when you eat without entertainment.

In other words, I’m scared I won’t be able to do it.

They say it takes thirty days to form a habit, so in one month I’ll report back on our success or lack thereof.

Fingers crossed that we can do it.

Travel post #2: Seeing (but not eating) America

This is the second in my series of short travel posts from the road as my husband and I drive from one side of the country to the other. See highlights from our trip here: Across the Great Divide.


Yesterday it hit me that the more we travel the less we eat.

A big reason for this is logistical: we don’t really have any food in the car—unless you count goldfish or apples, which we’re getting sick of and I don’t really count as food anyway. So we have to stop and buy food every time we want something real to eat.

And since we’re driving across the top of the country, it isn’t unusual to go sixty miles or more without seeing a restaurant or roadside convenience store, and even when we do find one, our options are limited. I’m almost getting tired of eating Buffalo (almost), which is the main theme in the food we find up here—Buffalo burgers, Buffalo brats, Buffalo dogs, Buffalo stew, you name it. (And, thankfully, we’ve only seen one McDonald’s since we left Iowa several days ago.) So finding food is hard enough.

And another reason we’re eating less is because we’re doing so much more. On Tuesday we visited six—yes, six!—American treasures: the Badlands, Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, the Crazyhorse Monument, Deadwood, and Devil’s Tower. And after that, on Wednesday, there was Little Bighorn.

We basically zigzagged across South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana trying to hit every spot we could before they closed the gates on us or the sun went down. (We barely got to Devil’s Tower before the latter happened, as you can see in the picture above.)

Because of all this rushing around, we didn’t have much time to spend eating, and have instead eaten almost solely to fuel our bodies rather than to satisfy our cravings. This makes me wonder if we eat more when we don’t have enough to do—or at least enough to do that makes us happy. I do know this: what I’ve missed out on in terms of eating I’ve more than made up for in experiences. It’s a trade I’m happy to make.

I Don’t Care What You Talking ’bout, Baby.

When I started this blog—almost three years ago!—I worried that I was opening myself up to criticism and that everywhere I went people might offer their unfiltered opinions about my weight, my lifestyle, and my beliefs.

Luckily that didn’t happen.

At least not right away.

For the first year or two, no one really criticized me or my body. But over the past year, that’s changed more than I’d like. Now it’s not unusual for people I  meet to bring up the blog and use it as an opening to criticize some aspect of how I live or eat.

That happened to me tonight when someone I know questioned my involvement in a boot camp exercise program, saying “I don’t think it’s good for you if you’re eating donuts and candy after you go.”

For the record, I have never once eaten donuts or candy after boot camp though I have bought candy after boot camp.

At the beginning of the semester, I went to Walgreen’s after boot camp one night and bought three bags of low-cal candy (Jolly Ranchers, Werther’s, and jelly beans) for the semester because I knew having that candy in my office and at home would keep me from reaching for higher-calorie desserts. (Still haven’t come close to finishing it either.)

And while it’s true that I tried to entice friends to join me at boot camp by offering to get a post-workout donut with them at the popular Great American Donut Shop in my hometown of Bowling Green, I have not actually had anyone take me up on the offer. (My thinking being that, like crack, once they had a taste of boot camp, they would want to go back with or without the promise of a sugary donut.)

Despite the fact that I have yet to indulge in a post-boot camp dessert, people still feel comfortable shaking their heads at me and acting like I’m a junk food addict who is using boot camp to justify my indulgences.

What bugs me about this on the surface is that these people think that, since I blog about dieting and healthy living, that gives them the right to tell me what I’m doing wrong. But what bothers me even more is that it sounds like they think I’m a curvy woman because I eat junk food all day long.

If there’s one thing I’ve tried to get across on this blog it’s that the belief that bigger people eat way more than thin people is simply false. We’re not sitting around eating all day, and we might even eat less than you. Let me repeat—big doesn’t mean slothful.

So the next time you see me buying a bag of sugar-free Werther’s candies at my local drug store, please ask yourself what you’ve eaten in the past twenty-four hours before you wrongly assume that I’m going to take the whole bag home and eat it in one sitting.

Step right up!

I work really hard at having a good attitude about my body and the way I eat, but every once in a while, I find a situation that causes me to struggle.

One of those situations is when my husband doesn’t want to eat anything and I do.

For some reason, it makes me feel like a horrible person if I want to eat and he doesn’t. I’m not sure why I feel this way. I wish I could blame him—because that would be so much easier, right?—but in truth, he’s the most supportive person in my life. He backs me up even when I tell him I want to eat ice cream from the carton or an entire box of processed mac ‘n cheese by myself. Okay, so I only do these kinds of things about once a year, but still, the point is that he’s there for me when I do.

Which raises the question why do I feel guilty when I eat without him? I’m not really sure, but this weekend I finally decided I was sick of it.

We went to Cincinnati to celebrate a friend’s wedding—Congratulations, Katie and Murray!—and see our moms on Mother’s Day, and per usual, being on the road meant that we ate WAY too much unhealthy food.

(We did manage to exercise two of the four days we were gone, so not all was lost.)

After two and a half days of subsisting on fast food and an all-you-can-eat-Mother’s-Day buffet, Dave hit the wall and declared he didn’t want to eat another bite until we got home. (Yes, he’s prone to these kinds of extreme statements.) That was fine for him, but this was Sunday afternoon, and we hadn’t had dinner yet. No way I was going almost twenty hours without food.

But that meant doing something I loathe—eating when he doesn’t.

To make matters worse, we were staying with friends, and by the time we got back to their house after a long day with Dave’s family, they’d already eaten their dinner. This meant that not only would Dave not be eating with me, but they wouldn’t either. AND on top of that, I’d have to eat my meal while all three of them watched me do it.

In other words, I’d be the floor show . . .

Step right up, ladies and gentleman, and see something that will make you cringe in horror. Appearing in this tent right behind me is the curvy lady who eats by herself. Yes, that’s right—a curvy lady who eats by herself! Come inside and see her do it . . . if you dare!

Needless to say, the idea wasn’t very appealing.

On the other hand, neither was skipping dinner.

As far as I could see, I had two choices: miss a meal or pressure Dave into eating with me. And I knew the latter would not be pretty.

And then it occurred to me I had a third choice: I could eat by myself and not let it get to me. After all, it was up to me whether or not I wanted to feel uncomfortable about eating alone in front of three other people. I could just do it and not make a big deal out of it, right?

As soon as I realized this, I felt like a new person. A person who didn’t worry about eating when no one else was eating. A person who doesn’t mind eating in front of others. All I had to do was be that person.

So I put on my big girl panties, walked right up to Habañero, and got myself a veggie taco and some chips and salsa, which I brought home and ate in front of three people who couldn’t have cared less.

I am not kidding when I say it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Choose the path less traveled, Gwyneth. Get your cheeseburger on. And I promise we’ll still love you.

A recent New Yorker article talked about Gwyneth Paltrow and the new cookbook she is releasing.

I’ve enjoyed Gwyneth’s recent run on Glee as Holly Holiday, the substitute teacher turned temptress who wins the heart of McKinley High’s glee club director, Mr. Shoe. But during Gwyneth’s last appearance on the show, I noticed that she looked frightfully pale and thin during one of her musical numbers.

Gwyneth has always been willowy and thin, but she looked really drawn and thin on Glee. Almost sickly. And then I read the article in the New Yorker.

The first half of the article includes a direct quote from Gwynnie in which she runs down what she has eaten that day: “A cappucino, some poached eggs with spinach, an apple, almonds, some cheese and bread, and a turkey sandwich with avocado and tomato.”

Pretty light fare—and it might explain why she looks so skinny these days on Glee. But later in the article, they quote friends of Gwyneth’s who say she eats like a truck driver.

A truck driver? Really?

Have you ever seen a truck driver eat a turkey sandwich with avocado and tomato?

I don’t want to offend truck drivers. And I really don’t want to offend Gwyneth since she will likely be my best friend some day. But tell me the truth—which version of Gwyneth do you think is accurate? Skinny girl who eats like a truck driver or skinny girl who lives on rabbit food?

To her credit, I suspect she was being honest about what she’d eaten that day (and I love a girl who can be honest about her food intake), but it doesn’t sound like enough for a busy thirty-something working mother of two.

Gwyneth is at that age when women in Hollywood have a choice: stay rail thin and start to look unhealthy, or eat like a normal person and say good-bye to the good movie roles.

Gwyneth has clearly chosen the latter, and like I said above, I’m glad to see her still working. But tell us the real truth, Gwyneth, aren’t you just dying for a greasy hamburger, cheese fries, and a shake?

It beats the hell out of turkey.

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.

Keep your eyes on your own plate

Tonight I went out for an otherwise lovely pre-reading dinner with a guest writer and some people from school.

Everything was going well until the waiter came to take our orders. He said he’d start with me, and I just assumed that at that point, the rest of the table—eight other people for God’s sake!—would pick up their conversations where they left off, as most people do when you are eating in a nice restaurant with a large group.

But, no, instead of doing that, the entire table sat there silently, staring at me and listening intently to my every word.

I felt like I was placing my order on a live YouTube feed.

In case you don’t know, this is not the way to behave. When a lady places her order—or a man for that matter—its best to busy yourself with other things. Look at your menu, re-fold your napkin, make small talk for God’s sake. Whatever. Otherwise, said lady may feel like you are judging her choice of food.

Okay, so I will admit said lady—that would be me!—has some food and body issues that may contribute to her desire to be able to order without so much scrutiny, and we all know that. But I still think that whenever a person orders a meal, it’s best if others don’t act like the most interesting thing they’ve done all day is eavesdrop on the very private conversation that occurs between a server and his/her patron.

Really? You’re going to have the calzone? But isn’t that the highest calorie item on the menu?

Okay, again, so I have to admit that no one actually said that or anything like it. But they might as well have for all the looks I got.

(And for the record, I ordered the calzone because, at $11.50, it was easily the cheapest thing on the menu.)

It also didn’t help that the waiter was a bit clueless. The menu said “make your own calzone,” so when I asked him what normally comes in a calzone, I thought he might say, mozzerella, cheese, and tomatoes. But instead, he said, “Well, a calzone is like a pizza rolled over on itself.”

Like I didn’t know what a calzone was. I grew up in New Jersey for God’s sake, home of the mafia and Frank Sinatra. I think I know what a goddamned calzone is.

In fact, that’s the reason I was asking. I didn’t want some Americanized version of a calzone. I wanted the real deal. According to the World English Dictionary, a calzone is “a dish of Italian origin consisting of pizza dough folder over a filling of cheese and tomatoes, herbs, ham, etc.”

That’s right—cheese, tomatoes, and ham. That’s how they make it in Jersey. But as those of you who’ve been to any branch of LaRosa’s in Cincinnati know, one person’s calzone is another person’s fill-in-the-blank. And I didn’t want any cheddar cheese in my calzone, thank you very much.

Of course, our poor waiter did not know I hail from Jersey, but still. It seemed like a simple question. You’d think I could have gotten a simple answer. And all of this happened while I was still on stage, performing for the rest of the table like a tight-rope walker.

So I felt a bit uncomfortable when I had to explain to the waiter that I wanted a calzone with mozzarella, ricotta, tomatoes, and ham.

Ricotta and ham, you say? I might as well have ordered a chocolate cake for dinner. With brownies on top.

And that’s now where it ends either.

Because when the waiter finally brought my calzone, he presented it by apologizing for burning the end of it, saying they were currently making another in case I wasn’t happy with this one. Of course, his comment caused all eight pairs of eyes to look down the table at my plate and see the newborn-sized slab of dough he had placed in front of me.

Wow, that’s huge!

I can’t believe the size of that thing!

Boy, do you think it’s big enough?

Unlike the previous words, the ones that had only been said in my head, these words were said out loud. By actual people.

I wanted to die.

Or crawl under my monster-sized calzone and hide.

I also wanted to shout, Haven’t you people ever seen a calzone before??? They’re always freaking huge. What, have you never been to Jersey before???

But most of these people probably haven’t been to Jersey, and if they have, I’m sure they’d have no idea where to find a good calzone.

(Here’s a hint: if you can add cheddar cheese to it, it’s not a real calzone.)

Here’s another hint: when a lady’s food arrives, and it looks a bit oversized, it’s best not to comment on the girth of the meal in front of her. We worry enough about our girths. We don’t need to worry about our food being too fat too.

As it turned out, the calzone was amazing and completely authentic. Sinatra would have been proud of the people at The Brickyard. But the truth is I’ll think twice before I order another Italian turnover as big as a small child when out with other people. Which, in the end, kind of makes me sad.

"It’s not like you get worse. You only get better."—Louis C.K.

198 pounds

I’ve been watching a new show on FX called Louie, which is based on the life of comedian Louis C.K. The reason this show kicks my butt every time I see it is because though it is incredibly funny, it is also so freaking smart. I don’t expect that. I expect a good television show or movie to be one or the other, but not both. And this one is.

Not long after getting hooked on this show, a few of my friends recommended that I watch Louis C.K.’s comedy special, Chewed Up, which I finally did tonight.

If I liked Louis C.K. a hell of a lot before, I am completely in love him now. I mean, I really luuuuuuuuv him.

I love him because of the totally honest way he talks about eating during this special—especially the segment about eating Cinnabons—but also because he admits his real weight. (I love anyone who does that.)

But the main reason I love him is because of the stuff he says about middle-aged women.

Throughout the special, he repeatedly mentions that he and his wife don’t have sex anymore. He talks about how having kids has changed their relationship, but there is also something melancholy underneath these jokes (which makes sense because they ended up getting divorced a year after the special was made).

But what’s interesting is that he also says that even though they don’t have sex anymore, he still wants to have sex with his wife because she is a real woman. Then he explains that, for him, there is a difference between women and girls and that he is no longer attracted to girls. Girls, from his point of view, don’t have enough mileage on them. They haven’t really lived, and it shows in their cute faces and their pristine bodies, which, believe it or not, make them less appealing to him.

But his wife was different. She was an actual woman. He explains that her eyes had grown darker over the years, her hair had a few grey streaks, her face had even sprouted some lines. And that’s what he liked about her. He liked that she was so real. That she had really lived and wore the signs of her life and that made her more attractive. He actually said that she was sexy to him because of this. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said (or something like that). “It’s not that she doesn’t look her age. It’s just that her age looks good on her.”

I mean, really, come on.

How can I not love this guy?

How can I not love a guy who finds his forty-year-old wife sexy because she shows the signs of getting older? It’s almost like he’s not playing fair with me. Because I mean, after admitting this, I honestly have no choice but to love him.

*Louie airs Tuesday nights at 11:00 p.m. EST on FX.

I always feels like somebody’s watching me

198 pounds
Dave and I just got home from a two-week trip to visit family . . . first his family in Cincinnati and then mine outside of Chicago. Two weeks is a L O N G time to be away from home, and we were feeling a bit weary by the time we returned.

I’ve always been an emotional eater. It’s not something I’ve talked about much on this blog, but it’s a fact of my life.

When I’m moody, I eat.

When I’m stressed, I eat.

The only emotion that doesn’t make me eat is extreme sadness. For some reason, when I’m really and truly down, food does nothing for me, which I think makes me pretty average. True misery can’t be solved by a gastrointestinal feast, but a temporary bad mood can be pretty much wiped out with a quick trip to Jimmy John’s.

So when I came home from our exhausting trip the other day, I wasn’t surprised that all I wanted to do was eat.

I wanted to eat cheese and crackers. I wanted to eat sliced tomatoes. I wanted to eat roast beef. I wanted to eat salad. I wanted it all.

(I never said I wanted to eat crap; I just said I wanted to eat).

The whole time I felt this way I was aware that my hunger was really about my emotions. They were saying, Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

But when I really thought about it, I was surprised that the emotion I was feeding wasn’t a typical one. Rather than eating because I was down, I was eating because I felt like I hadn’t been able to eat in peace for days . . . even weeks.

That’s because whenever I eat around other people these days I feel like I’m being watched. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t feel like my friends and family are consciously watching me. I just feel like I don’t get enough privacy during meals with others.

Every time I looked across the table while we were on the road, there was someone else looking back at me. It was maddening.

And, as a result, the entire time I felt like I couldn’t eat what I wanted to eat. I was reluctant to go back for seconds, I was anxious about big servings, and I certainly didn’t want to indulge in any high-calorie meals while I was around family.

Seeing someone else across the table may seem normal to you, but I live with just one other person. And he’s usually got his face in a book or his eyes on the TV while we eat. He certainly doesn’t watch me consume my three daily meals.

So when I got home the other night, I felt as if I’d been freed from culinary prison—finally I could eat whatever I wanted and not worry that anyone else was paying attention. Finally I could go back for seconds or pick up food with my fingers or eat a little of something and then put it back without finishing it. I could eat any way or however much I wanted.

It was liberating. Truly liberating.

But now that all that is over, now that I’ve returned to my quiet routine of being the only person who pays attention to what I put in my mouth, I can’t help but wonder why I don’t feel as comfortable eating with other people and what that says about me—as an eater and as a person.

All I really know is the answer is probably more disturbing than I’m willing to admit.

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