Another great guest post for you guys from Alex. I’m a convert already, but I hope this is the inspiration that some of you need to stop consuming “diet foods” and start eating REAL FOOD. Enjoy!
Elina’s recent posts on intuitive eating and diet/exercise balance really resonated with me. I always have been private about my own sometimes disordered relationship with food and exercise, but Elina’s honesty made me want to share my own experiences.
Until last year, I could count the number of meals I prepared at home. I ate (takeout) lunch and dinner at work and celebrated precious free time by grabbing meals and drinks with friends. I knew just about every restaurant within a five mile radius of my apartment and office and probably had steady state mercury poisoning from the amount of sushi I ate.
While my coworkers grumbled about gaining weight, I secretly became obsessed with exercise and “fake foods” to balance out my daily indulgences. Sure, I could have ordered a grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side for each meal, but I felt uncomfortable differentiating myself from my male coworkers (worthy itself of a whole other post). Plus, I have limited willpower when perusing a menu containing the word “falafel.”
I became a cardio fiend, drank huge amounts of diet coke as meal replacements, and excelled in inventing low-calorie, artificial meals when I did eat at home. My favorite concoction was what my roommate named the “jell-o cloud” – sugar-free jell-o topped with sugar-free cool whip and sugary cereal. While admittedly delicious, my “meal” undoubtedly would have caused cancer if fed to lab rats.
Moving from Boston to Budapest last year, I panicked. Hungarian supermarkets do not carry “lite” or “diet” foods, and a typical meal is breaded meat drenched in brown sauce over a bed of oily noodles. The “vegetarian” option is chicken. Unless I wanted to enter a permanent food coma, I needed to start cooking for myself.
Thus began my interest in food/health blogs where meals were based on nutrition and taste and not the lowest possible calorie count. The transition to saner eating habits, however, was not easy. While I became increasingly adept at supermarket charades, I often could not find the ingredients I wanted and did my share of stress eating while trying to acclimate to life in a foreign country.
Despite occasional setbacks, I kept experimenting and cooking for myself using real foods – mostly because I didn’t have a better alternative. Unable to obsessively read food labels and know exactly what I was ordering at a restaurant (last week I saw breaded fish described on a menu as “salmon wearing a fur coat”), [Elina’s note: say what?!] I was forced to adopt intuitive eating. And I slowly got the hang of it.
I am far from perfect but now firmly believe the body knows what it needs and how to regulate itself if given the chance. There is a reason why French (and Hungarian) women aren’t fat, and it has to do less with cigarettes and croissants for breakfast and more with not obsessing about every choice – whether those choices include or shun calorie counting. It took a drastic change – moving to another country and losing access to my safe foods – for me to stop unhealthily micro-managing my body, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Yeah, I’ll probably go a little crazy with peanut butter Puffins (my absolute favorite) when I move back to Boston next year, but I am confident my newfound balance will outweigh any temptation to return to old habits.
Food-related stories from Alex:
Langos: A Hungarian specialty, langos is fried dough topped with clotted cream and cheese and the reason why the average life expectancy of a Hungarian male is 68.
Thanksgiving: I introduced my coworkers to Thanksgiving by baking pumpkin pie using real pumpkin (for full disclosure, I unsuccessfully tried to carry-on pumpkin puree coming home from London but the cans were confiscated at security).
Chicken Paprikash: I use a little oil instead of lard when I cook my favorite Hungarian meal at home.
Thank you, Alex!! The Hangarian specialties sure look delicious (I’m guessing you did not try to attempt making the furry salmon. 😆 ) I’m glad you were able to learn to eat intuitively. I’m going to keep trying to do the same. 😀