Foodstuffs · Health Nutty

The Most Complicated Relationship

Warning, rambling post ahead…too tired to reign it back in.

Giant pot of macaroni and cheese: mmmm.... (Source: Flickr user Dave Walker)

Like many people I know, I have a lifelong complicated relationship with food, as evidenced by the following:

  • My mom will tell you that I have been something of a picky eater since I was a kid – I don’t eat fish or shellfish (except tuna, and I do mean real tuna like ahi), I dislike most raw vegetables in general and have a strong distaste for raw onions in particular, and I dislike a number of cooked vegetables too (cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, beets, etc.).
  • I long ago came to terms with the fact that I am unquestionably an emotional eater.
  • I also long ago came to terms with the fact that I am lazy, meaning I am the target market for convenience food.
  • I have recently discovered that I am also a little bit of a foodie.
  • I have also recently decided that, for the most part, I don’t really like the idea of putting chemicals posing as food into my body.
  • I do not really enjoy cooking except on very, very rare occasions.

Can you see what I mean by complicated?

I bring all of this up because I am fighting hard against stress-eating this month. Some days I win and some days I lose hard. But actually fighting against the impulse is a new thing for me. In the past, I would have just thought, Self, you are stress-eating. And we know this and it is not good for you. But the stress will end in X days and then you will stop, and I am an exhausted brain, so I am not going to even try to make you behave. Enjoy it while you can. Clearly not the most healthy attitude, but really, it’s so much harder to force yourself into healthy habits when you are a frazzled bouquet of nerves and thoughts and worries nestled on a pillow of exhausted. I learned today that there may actually be a biological reason* that most of us crave sugar and fat when we have bad emotions: Our ancestors had to work a lot harder for their food, and sugar-fat-protein held them over through lean days and weeks and months but that stuff was hard to get. When they finally got it, they were very happy, and that biological response may actually be programmed into us. They did a STUDY with SCIENCE that says so!

Thanks but no thanks; I'll pass. (Source: Flickr user orchidgalore)

Regardless, I can’t use that argument. To me, that’s the same as saying prehistoric men had a biological interest in spreading their manly seed far and wide, so it only makes sense that men cheat on their significant others now. That’s a bullshit cop-out. I’m not going to pretend that perhaps some men feel the urge to cheat more than women do, but they have brains and the mental ability to tell themselves no – we are not all just giant intuitive ids running around doing whatever our instincts and urges tell us to do all the time. And so I can’t use the prehistoric happy food excuse for my own personal lack of control. If I would just try harder, I tell myself, I could avoid the bad-for-me food that tastes sooooooo good (and tastes even better when I’m sad or mad or stressed out). And then I argue with myself, because why do I want to live a life eating things that I don’t really enjoy? I’ve said I’m kind of a foodie; food is a hobby and a joy and a pleasure for me. Eating raw carrots and celery all day takes all the joy out of it. On the other hand, eating nothing but cheese and bread and chocolate (which is what I would really, really want to eat at all times if there were no other mitigating factors) would very quickly land me in the hospital with heart disease, and that diet definitely would not help with my weight problems any.

So what’s a girl to do? I see awesome people blog about food that looks like real, good, tasty, non-processed food all the time, and I want that, I really do. But apparently they go shopping every day or something? And also have about a million dollars to spend on groceries and endless time and energy to cook? Because they eat endless varieties of things and make those things with all the most all-natural, organic, grass-fed, cage-free, whatever-else food, which costs a friggin’ fortune. And where do they get the energy and time to put all of those amazing meals together? Who has time to make pancakes for breakfast for just themselves on a work day? And Kath (of the previous link) really does that, too – that’s not a fake blog post or anything; she just is one of those people who can somehow throw together different, delicious, amazing meals every day of the week without thinking about it. I’m so jealous!

I want to have a diet that is all of the following:

  • Delicious and decadent and fulfilling (I dislike most raw vegetables and adore cheese, so…yeah)
  • As much food as I want to eat (some days I am just a ravenous pit from start to finish!)
  • Low enough in calories that I can lose weight
  • Good for me – few, if any, chemicals or hormones or other unnatural crap
  • Good for the environment – local when possible and, again, few-if-any chemicals or hormones
  • Varied often so I don’t get bored easily (currently I eat the same thing for breakfast every single day and one of about 6 or 7 frozen things I buy for lunch – both routines are getting old)
  • Super, super easy to prepare – I hate doing much more than pouring a bowl of cereal or heating a frozen meal in the microwave
  • Easy to buy and store – we only shop once a week and we live in a condo with a small kitchen so we don’t have room for lots of freezer or fridge storage, and I certainly don’t want perishable food to go to waste
  • Inexpensive, especially right now when we’re living on only one full-time salary

That sounds to me, honestly, like an impossible combination of requirements. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe someone out there knows the way. If you do, please please pretty please give me the answer!

*Side note on that article: The end of it is all about trying to reprogram your body to get its happy from other sources. The last way to get your happy through non-food means? “Rub yourself the right way.” It goes on to explain strategic massage of foot and back areas, but that’s CLEARLY not what they intended to imply with a heading like that. Made me giggle to myself a little – hey, it would certainly be another legitimate non-food way to feel happier, right?

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7 thoughts on “The Most Complicated Relationship

  1. I have a lot of the same food parameters that you do and I’m reasonably happy with the way we eat, although I am trying to get our grocery bills down a bit.

    Okay, here are some thoughts:

    Breakfast: Make things that will either last for a few days in the fridge or can be made then frozen and then heated up on a busy morning. For my family, that would be pancakes, waffles, biscuits, and muffins. I have also heard that Irish oatmeal can be made in a crockpot overnight, but I’ve never tried it.

    My go-to breakfast for fast mornings is instant plain oatmeal with good stuff added. I personally like frozen cherries, chopped apple, raisins, and/or applesauce. I also stir in a little ground flaxseed, maybe some cinnamon, or possibly a drizzle of maple syrup or honey, and maybe some slivered almonds or other nuts. I also make oatmeal with milk, not water, for a little extra calcium. Plain Quaker oats are super cheap, as are most of the ingredients listed above.

    Or, try whole wheat toast with a little butter and then yogurt (I like plain or vanilla Greek) with nuts and fruit added. Or whip up a smoothie (yogurt, frozen fruit, other ingredients) and have breakfast on the go.

    Lunches: These tend to be leftovers from dinner the night before. If not, I like whole wheat English muffins toasted with a little cheese and then veggies and dip. Since you don’t like raw veggies, maybe add a slice of tomato to your sandwich?

    Snacks: I’m a stress eater too, so I try to keep things on hand that I can nosh on safely. Grapes are a big one for me, since I feel like I’m getting candy when I’m not. I also like dry cereal, because it’s more work to pick up individual pieces with my fingers and I tend to eat not as much. There’s always popcorn, of course. If I really want something decadent, I like almonds dusted with cocoa powder, which pack a double whammy of protein and cocoa. Yum.

    Dinners: When I post these on Facebook, it sounds like I spend a lot of time cooking, but I don’t really, all things considered. I’m learning to love my crockpot because I just throw stuff in and then walk away. This time of year, I’m very into soups and stews.

    So, where do I shop? These days, I’m hitting C’ville Market once a week, the Organic Butcher every couple of months, and then Teeter (or possibly Giant) every couple of weeks for staples. I also combine my biking with my errands and might bike over to a bakery for something fun for my girls (cupcakes). I rely on frozen veggies and fruits (peas, edamame, corn, cherries, blueberries) during the chilly months, as well as root veggies (potatoes, carrots) that store well for longer periods of time. Apples are another fruit I keep around all the time, because I add them to so many things — apples with peanut butter for a snack, chopped apples in oatmeal, etc.

  2. I am the opposite on veggies. I don’t really like them cooked at all, would rather have them raw. That being saidn if I don’t make a concious effort to put one in the lunch box every day, I usually don’t end up eating them.

    How do you feel about sweet potatos? If you slice them thin, nuke them with butter and some brown sugar it’s kind of candy like. 🙂

    I still don’t have the prep ahead thing down. There’s a cucumber in the fridge I meant to cut up for lunches this week. It’ll probably be squishy by the time I get a chance to cut it up. 😦 I hate food waste.

  3. Hi!

    I, of course, write about health and fitness and suggest strategies to help people find a way that they can be successful. So if you have the inclination, read my columns.

    For what it’s worth, I think you need to lower your expectations for what you want. If I were you I’d learn to eat whole foods and plenty of fruits and veggies, and fish. I’m amazed at the foods I enjoy compared to what I hated as a kid. I think it comes down to establishing healthy habits. Seems to me you will not be able to do this unless you make some lifestyle changes. Good luck!

  4. Smoothies and crockpot oatmeal = too many dishes, IMO. I have been meaning to try overnight oats, which are cold but which you throw into a bowl the night before with yogurt and milk and fixins and then are presto-ready-to-eat the next morning. I dunno. Jen, how do you make your plain instant? Knowing you, you aren’t buying the little single serve packets… Dinner is never a problem as Dave plans it and cooks it. He checks with me to make sure I agree to the plan generally, and I buy and pick up the groceries from Relay, but otherwise I don’t have to fret dinner. Lunch is honestly hardest for me because I have to pack it to take to work – frozen meals are just SO EASY – and dinner leftovers are usually planned to be eaten for dinner again later in the week, so not okay to take them for lunch. K, I think you’re right – the planning ahead is what hangs me up. I feel like I need to, but then I get stuck eating the same thing every day for a week or two weeks, and if I don’t plan ahead…well, I don’t have anything to eat, which equals bad plan.

    Dr. J, how do you learn to eat things you find gross? Seriously, I try fish every few months, and my reaction is gagging. It tastes vile to me. Food that makes me want to vomit does not make me happy. Fruit is no problem – I eat apples and bananas and peaches and pears and whatever all the time; I like fruit and eat plenty of it. Veggies are somewhere in the middle – I don’t gag when I eat raw veggies, but I don’t enjoy them at all either. I know all this stuff is always a process, constantly striving to do better, but I’m so tired of being in progress. I want to be done already and just live my life!

  5. I buy the quick cook oats, either at the grocery store or in the bulk section of IY. 1/2 cup oatmeal, 1 cup (or a little more) water, sprinkle in some raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon, microwave for 2 minutes and you have breakfast. (I’m a big fan of one bowl does it all).

    Lunch can be leftovers or a quick sandwich or even popcorn with a handful of nuts and an apple (Or whatever fruit you prefer. I’m an apple a day gal). I don’t buy microwave popcorn, but I do microwave my pop corn in a brown paper bag, I use 1/3 cup, just regular popcorn, with about a tablespoon of oil and a sprinkle of salt on the popcorn microwave setting. Cheap & easy.

  6. Hi Jen,
    I am also a stress eater. My new favorite not-quite-so-unhealthy-but-need-chocolate-now snack is a light yogurt with a spoonful of chocolate chips in it. Delicious!
    -Sara-

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