By Judi Cutrone, From Women's Health Foundation
If you're very lucky, one day you'll have an ah-ha moment when it comes to food. And it'll blow all of those diet books, magazine articles, endless commercials and miracle drugs out of the water. It will be so simple, so obvious, that for the rest of your life, those fad diets will mean nothing to you. You'll be able to read Us Weekly's 9,430th story on "Celebrity Moms Who Shed the Baby Weight in 3 Days!" without wanting to stab the supermarket cashier.
I don't want to say what that moment will be for you. We all require different things to be as healthy as possible. So, we require different revelations, too.
But I'll share my own. After 15 years of yo-yo dieting, of miserable teenage years, of weight-loss centers and spurts of progress followed by years of regression, I just gave up. I was tired, so tired, of fighting with my own body.
The war I had waged since I was 11 had exhausted me. My body and my heart sat on opposite sides of the battlefield, spent and wasted and miserably unhappy, with no victor (except maybe the Lay's Potato Chip people). I love food and I was tired of denying it, tired of denying myself. I just didn't want to think about it anymore. I wanted to think about something else.
I was also broke. I'd flirted with cooking but never really gave myself up to it. Now, faced with boring lunches for work day after day, with bags and bags of cereal for breakfast, a thought occurred to me: What if I taught myself to cook—really cook? It'd be cheaper than going out to Baja Fresh every day. And who says I had to make salads for lunch anymore? I wasn't dieting. That was over. I could have whatever I wanted.
So, I got out a couple of books and looked for something that sounded good, something that was relatively easy and did not sound like a punishment. I don't remember what it was—obviously not very memorable. But a few weeks later, I stumbled upon Wolfgang Puck's recipe for vegetable soup (with a fancy French name—Provencal Vegetable Soup). It looked easy. Soup was easily transportable to work and would last all week.
Try some Chilled Soups for Summer Days.
It wasn't good. It was miraculous. But moreover, I thought that I was miraculous. I couldn't believe I'd made something (ME) that tasted so good (a lucky, totally accidental coincidence that it was an "in-season recipe" and I was in the right season. Pure luck). And I didn't care that it was healthy. I mean, it was a nice benefit, but the War on My Body was over—you got me?
This wasn't about diet, it wasn't about eating to make myself skinny or to run faster or to look like a magazine cover model. It was about food, about taste—pure and simple. The fact that I felt good, really good, after eating it was a happy bonus. But it was enough to make me want more of the same. My heart and my body had found a tentative peace accord in vegetable soup.
Logic snapped it into place: Real food tasted better than fake food. I feel stupid for even writing that, but there you are. It just does. Plaster me with labels—go ahead, call me pretentious, a "foodie"; blindfold me and throw me into a Whole Foods where you think I belong; tell me I'm smug. I do not care.
I am so happy to have finally found peace with my body and my heart that I couldn't care less what you think it says about me—about how much money I have (um, not a whole lot) and what I believe (hippies 4 eva? Yeah, not so much).
These days, eating well is easy. It's actually a joy. Cooking is fun and relaxing and suits my type A personality to Do Things Well (especially since the outcome is cheaper than eating out and crazy delicious).
I try new things so I don't get bored. (Indian is next. I like to choose super spicy things during a hot summer because I am clearly a genius.) I pay attention to what makes me feel good. I eat more for lunch than for dinner. I don't have carbs before bed. It might not be what works for you, but it's working for me just fine.
And, yes, OK, I lost weight. A lot of weight. I have more energy, and I sleep like a champ, blah blah blah. All of that stuff is great, and I appreciate my health—I do—but when you love food, that can't always be the point. Or, at least, not The Only Point. (See above. See exhausting).
For me, the ah-ha moment came when I stopped listening to everyone else and started listening to my own body, how it ran and what it needed. What it wanted. What a surprise to realize that all it wanted, all along, was really good food.
So, in a weird way, ignore everything I just said. Seriously. Start blocking out all the other voices. And start listening to yourself.
Judi Cutrone is a senior social media strategist at The VIA Agency, a Portland, Maine-based advertising agency. She also authored a food blog called "Some Kitchen Stories" and has written two novels.