I’m a girl. I went to college. I gained 15 pounds. So obviously I’ve thought a lot about the nagging problem of losing weight.
I heard it all in college. Bulimia of course, microwaving onion rings and pairing them with diet coke for a meal, slim fasts, fruit only diets, eating Kashi microwavable meals exclusively, and straight-up anorexia. But things like that don’t work, or only work for a short period of time before you become completely miserable, go out to dinner with friends, or your body rebels and asks you to eat like a normal person.
But I think I’ve finally found the answer. And that answer is simply this:
Knowledge. Women tend to want to put their trust in whatever might be the silver pill without really questioning the reason. We read Self magazine and think that maybe all those little nuggets about this and that vitamin and weight loss tips will add up to something meaningful. But those are written by women like us, who are also seeking the answers.
What really changed my perspective was knowledge about our food system, about how marketers and food designers know how to mess with our minds, how our relationship with food has been perverted and warped into an unsustainable lifestyle. How many times have I said to myself, “Today, I will eat perfectly,” only to fail as soon as a bowl of chips was put in front of me. I knew chips were bad, but not really why. Why could I not resist their siren call? Why did they make me feel so unhappy and dissatisfied after?
Reading these four books answered those questions, and have given me a new perspective on food that will carry me forward throughout my life. It’s broken a cycle of promising myself I’ll do better and then failing. It’s given me confidence and, dare I say it, happiness.
Start your knowledge feast with Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser: This book, which I read in high school, was the first thing that turned me away from fast food. It exposes the dark underbelly of the sloppy and dangerous slaughter of cows, processes that lead to foodborn illnesses. Schlosser paints a picture of the connection between Big Macs and obesity, special interests and salmonella outbreaks. This was the book that made me turn to my mom one day and say, “I want to start eating organic foods. Can we get our groceries at Whole Foods?” Though I would slip occasionally over the years and grab a pizza slice, it was an important first read.
Tuck into The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan: Pollan builds on the foundation established by Schlosser by examining how almost every processed food you buy in the store is made up of low quality corn. It shows the connection between the large profits of companies like Monsanto and the bankruptcy of farmers. And it shows how much more delicious and healthful a meal of local food grown sustainably can be. In short, it makes a serious case for putting more thought into your food.
Take a break from Michael Pollan for a moment and read The End of Overeating by David Kessler: a well researched and even entertaining treatise on how food companies are more profitable when Americans get fatter. He explains in detail the devious ways the Cheesecake Factory and Friday’s build food designed to slip down your throat so fast you can eat 2000 calories before the waitress refills your coke. He explores the mechanisms that drive and downward spiral of using foods to make ourselves happy instead of fueling our bodies. It will make you rethink popping into a Dunkin’ Donuts for your next lunch.
Top it all off with In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan’s sequel to Dilemma that paints, in broad brush strokes, how we can recapture the healthful eating of our ancestors. It cracks open the paradox of the French, who seem to eat so badly, and yet stay so skinny. It gives you a chart for navigating the grocery store and avoiding the deceptive claims splayed across the front of sugary cereals. (Part of a balanced breakfast! Calcium fortified for healthy bones!)
After I read these books, commercials that used to make me drool now make me recoil in disgust. It’s like an x-ray has been held up to pictures of french fries so that I can see the chemicals (did you know McDonald’s uses BUTANE in their cooking oil?) fat, synthetic flavors, and corn.
This Thanksgiving…yeah, I ate more than I do on a normal day. But instead of going back for seconds – which I used to do even though I knew I didn’t need them – I sat back and talked with the people around me. I savored my food and then finished eating. I didn’t feel sick or disgusting, just happily full! And I enjoyed the whole, healthful, non-processed food on my plate that much more.