[Metroactive Dining]

[ Dining Index | Santa Cruz | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

[whitespace] Illustration
Illustration by Impala Corona

Vast Food Nation

Go ahead and overindulge--but don't blame others for your holiday weight gain

By Christina Waters

A FRIEND OF MINE, a truly lovely woman with a curvaceously ample body, recently provided me with unintended food for thought. Meeting in an art glass store, we caught up on old friends and activities, and then she revealed--face glowing with excitement--that she was going to give herself something special this year. Her answer to all the weight she'd gained over the holidays (a confession always accompanied by one of those conspiratorial winks, as if to say, "And who among us does not?") was to sign up for a weight-loss program.

"I'm doing this just for myself," she beamed. I beamed back, hoping she couldn't tell how horrified I was. After allowing herself to overeat, she was assigning the care and conditioning of her body to some outside professional. She was happily willing to pay others to manage her weight. She could sign up for a program, "just for herself," yet she hadn't been willing to stop pigging out, "just for herself."

This double standard stains the entire fabric of American society. "Let Jennie Craig manage my weight." Are we such passive pushovers that we will only do what someone else tells us to do? Is there a dictator in the house? If so, this gluttonous land is ripe for the plucking.

Why are so many of us willing--more than that, eager--to assign blame and responsibility for our actions to others? Why do we hand over our autonomy, our freedom to direct our own lives, to somebody, anybody else, rather than step up to the plate ourselves? As that gabby existentialist Sartre would describe it, we are in a world of collective bad faith, denying that we are masters of our own fate.

What I'll call "victim mentality" is so rampant upon the land that we seem to set up 24-hour hot lines and 12-step programs quicker than Bill Gates can make another million. Woe is me, the pudgies moan (with their mouths full)--I ate too many sweets during the holidays. And now I need some program to manage my sloth and irresponsibility.

How about just closing your mouth more often? I restrain myself from saying that to friends. But I think it.

One definition of madness is the tendency to repeat the same dysfunctional behavior over and over while expecting some new and different outcome to result. How often do the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays roll around? That's right, Einstein--every year. In other words, we always know in advance that the fourth Thursday of November will put us in close personal contact with mashed potatoes and gravy, with delicious homemade stuffing and pumpkin pie slathered with whipped cream. Ditto for Christmas, which in many households provides an opportunity for women to take their best shot at marathon cookie baking. Is there anyone over the age of 8 months who considers all this wintery feasting (packaged as "traditional" culinary rituals) a big fat surprise? It's not as though they just suddenly, out of nowhere, slipped Thanksgiving on the calendar. No, ma'am. It's always been there. You can anticipate it. Most shocking of all--you can actually not turn into a feeding maniac during these occasions.

If you do, then you and only you are responsible for the consequences. Not your mother, whose cookies you "can't resist." Not your company, whose annual buffet offers a veritable Disneyland of diabetic potential. It's up to you whether you swill that third cup of eggnog, or load up your cocktail plate with enough Brie to stop even an artificial heart.

Many of you are thinking right about now that this all sounds harsh. So harsh, in fact, that I'll bet you're reaching for a chocolate chip cookie just to help you get through the next paragraph. Go ahead, but just stop whining. Hey, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. If you want to indulge--and if you don't want to exercise to compensate for the added fuel--then don't bitch and moan when, lo and behold, you gain weight. It's the calories, stupid! What ever happened to self-restraint? Not everyone has the genetic capacity, or the desire, to be thin. But no one has to be obese. To think otherwise is to cling to a convenient excuse for your own reckless, unhealthy and just plain piggish behavior.

Apologists for the pathologically overweight huff about the ubiquity--and the irresistibility--of fast-food advertising, for example. And it's true that the two-career family, or the welfare family, is more likely to swing through the driveway of Burger King rather than prepare a meal from scratch. When you're tired at the end of the day, it's more difficult to do the right thing nutritionally. So we squint. How bad could these French fries really be? We sigh and "reward" ourselves for a long workday by consuming comfort foods as if they contained no fat, salt or calories.

And here we have, wittingly I might add, stumbled onto one of the huge and horrible roots of the national obsession to eat too much. Our mothers not only urged us to clean our plates, they rewarded us with sweets when we did. Clean up your room and you can have a slice of cake. After we go visit great-aunt Agatha in the rest home, we can all stop at McDonald's and eat like there was no tomorrow. The kids oblige. The parents breathe a sigh of relief. And the habits of a lifetime are nailed into place. When we've been good, we reward ourselves with our favorite sweet. When we're under stress or feeling ugly--we eat.

The expanding problem of obesity in American children is a story unto itself (the Jan. 21 issue of Time contains but one of a growing number of current articles examining our oral overload). My diatribe here is aimed at so-called adults, people who refuse to look the problem in the face, who will do anything--even commit the suicide-by-chocolate of binge eating--to avoid taking their lives by the hand and shaping the future they want. No one is holding a gun to your head and threatening to blow up a pizza parlor unless you consume that half-gallon of butter pecan ice cream. However much people protest that "my weight problem is genetic," overweight is a too, too solid sign that something is very troubling in your life. A doughnut isn't the answer. Perhaps getting off the couch, putting down the remote control and going to a beach, a class or a therapist might be closer to the point.

I deplore our cultural obsession with thinness as much as the next woman, and I'm deeply saddened for overweight individuals who feel themselves objects of scorn and exclusion. But the cheap, quick fix of feel-good junk food consumption only puts you another step further away from how you want to feel and how you deserve to look. Get a grip, for God's sake. We each have the freedom to decide what we eat next. Exercise that freedom! Stop giving it away.

[ Santa Cruz | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the February 6-13, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate