Sunday, January 2, 2011

Healthy Thinking

Oh, groan.  Sassy's going to go all "New Year's Resolution" on us!

Not so much.  But since we all tend to turn out thoughts toward new things at the flip of the calendar page, I thought it would be a good time to talk about how I think about food, and maybe encourage just one person to change his or her thinking about food, health, and pleasure.  Yes, I said pleasure.

Many of us have twisted relationships with food and our bodies.  Ranging from mildly obsessive to downright dangerous, eating issues plague so many American women in particular.  It's part media culture, part pace of life, and part disgusting products disguising themselves as food in our lives.  We all want to be supermodels, or at least look like them, but then we are faced with boxed and canned and packaged and processed stuff at restaurants and grocery stores that whisper to us to buy, consume, feel horrid, lather, rinse, repeat.

Some years ago, I had to change my body and health.  I was 80 pounds overweight and completely obsessed with food.  Either what I was or was not going to eat!  I dieted all the time, gaining and losing, feeling bad and guilty about what the scale said and what I put into my mouth.  To me, pleasure was all about quantity and comfort.  I enjoyed cooking and trying recipes, but my favorite thing for comfort was a large bowl of orange macaroni and cheese and a coke.  Yep.

It took me plenty of time to lose the weight - I kept having babies!  2006 was the year I finally got to my goal.  Then I had another baby in 2007 and had to lose some baby weight.  For the most part, over the last 4 years, I've stayed within 5-10 pounds of my ideal weight. 

You all know I eat butter, cream, bread, cheese, meat, sugar and all the other diet no-no foods.  How can that be?  How can you either lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight (and relationship with food) and eat such luxurious things?

No one has expressed it better than a woman named Mireille Guiliano, in her lovely book "French Women Don't Get Fat."  I'd heard about this book years before I read it for the first time last year.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend that every woman in America read this book, men might as well, too!  Her follow-up book "French Women for All Seasons" is excellent, too, and I've now seen there's a cookbook.  That's fun.

Anyway, it's all about "The Secret of Eating for Pleasure."  Doesn't that sound nice?  And doesn't it contradict our silly way of thinking about food and dieting?  We torture ourselves with eating 'rabbit food' as I call it, exercising ourselves to death, and wonder why we can't maintain the weight loss, or why we feel so awful in the process!

You gotta love a woman who tells us to eat butter on our bread.  Even eating bread seems evil in our low-carb minds.  But Mireille maintains that we can eat bread if we change how we think about it!  Sounds simple - and it is!  Eating bread is not eating half a loaf.  It is taking a reasonable slice, putting a bit of butter on it, putting that bread on a plate, and sitting down to EAT IT.

Sit down!  Now there's an epiphany.  Put your food on a plate, take a knife and fork, sit down and eat it.  No computer, no tv, no book, no yelling at your kids.  Taste the food, enjoy the flavors and textures.  Eat slowly.  Use a pretty napkin.  Make sure you table is pleasant, not all cluttered with papers and laundry.  I guarantee you that this one, simple step alone might change how much you eat in the course of a meal.

You just need to get this book and read it.  The library is a good start, because you can read it and then fall in love with it and go buy it.  Might as well get all three of her books while you're at it!
My challenge to you, and to myself again, in 2011, is to eat for pleasure.  No big plates full of food.  No mindless snacking.  No empty calories of stupid convenience foods.  Buy and prepare the highest quality ingredients you can afford.  Try new recipes and learn new techniques, concentrating on flavor.  French women are really on to something with their purposeful eating and enjoyment.

Move our bodies!  If you enjoy the torture of the fitness center, go for it.  My own preference is walking.  I am blessed to live a half mile from town, and I can walk to Target, the bank, library, grocery store, and a multitude of other errands.  I love to get my kids settled for their nap or rest time, put on my backpack and my iPod and head to town.  I can do some light errands, and make a two-mile loop in the process.  The walk home is always more of a workout as my backpack is full of library books or groceries, along with a bag in each hand.  Often, the kids will come with me on bikes and scooters, and there's an extra benefit for me.  I have to walk faster AND they can all wear backpacks to spread out our return load :)

Learn all you can about healthy food and healthy eating and healthy living.  You might have some issues with your mother, a broken heart, a stressful job, or a husband that doesn't understand you.  I wish I could help you with those things, but I can't.  For me, I had to remove my list of excuses as to why I couldn't be healthy.  It all came down to me and the control I had over what and how much went into my mouth.  I had to learn about real food and real portions.

(Confession:  right now I'm in the 10-over idea range.  Oops, too many cookies.  I'm planning to re-read "French Women Don't Get Fat" over the next couple of days and renew my thinking once again!)

Here's to a healthy and tasty and SASSY 2011!


  1. Love it, Jill! I agree with you 100%. The book was amazing, and like I've told you before - (I am sure you're getting sick of my stories beginning with "When I lived in France..." ha) but...When I lived in France, I had 5 different French host mothers and they were all thin, healthy and beautiful! I had two that I was really close to, one of them had 4 boys, and another was in her 60's and was the most beautiful *older* woman I had ever seen. They both ate bread, dessert and drank wine...but like you said, they walked a lot, and ate for pleasure. We had 5 course meals daily and these women were just beautiful and fit! I can remember Chantelle (the woman in her 60's) would always make up a DELICIOUS veggie soup that she would eat the day before and the day after a huge even when she knew she would get an excess amount of bread or sweets. None of this processed at the time, but now I see just how smart she was! She weighed herself weekly, but was by no means obsessed. She ENJOYED life!
    I am also in the 10 over range. :) I had waaay too many cookies! I look forward to cutting our sugar consumption way down tomorrow.

  2. Good timing on the article. Too much Holiday food. I really need to get back on a healthier diet once again. And start walking!!
    I'm going to re read French women also. Good idea. It is an inspiring book. Thanks. ~ Beth

  3. When I lost 4 sizes in three months I ate all that "no no" food. :) YUM

    For me it was about homemade food not dieting.

  4. I almost bought this last week at the used book store b/c you had mentioned it, but thought...nah I'll wait. I will now go back and get it this week! They ahd the other 2 as well so I'll just get them all! ;D Thanks for sharing as I have a HORRIBLE relationship with my food that has to change..NOW! :) Another great post!! ;D

  5. I had this issue in college bigtime. I read a book called, 'Overcoming Overeating' which really helped me get the binging under control and lose weight to a normal, steady place. I also later read a book called 'Potatoes not Prozac' which helped me understand the brain and blood sugar chemistry, the biochemical roots of addictive eating, and a food plan/life plan that helps keep me feeling good. And finally, a summer in France in high school crystallized a love of eating, going to farmers markets, and a passion for cooking that has always stayed with me. My cooking - like yours - is extremely influenced by French approaches. I think I do more saute based dishes than you do. You do more roasting and stewing than I do. I loved this essay. I love your blog. I'm serious about what you could do with this. keep working on it....

  6. I'm requesting the book right now (audio version) :) Happy New Year, friend!

  7. I have such an unhealthy relationship with food. I love to eat. I always have but at one point I didn't seem to suffer for it. I'm trying to change. I just put this book on my list of books to read. I'll hopefully get it from the library next week. Thanks!