Howlings / Eating healthy but dying for a cheeseburger
I need your help. I don't ask for much from you, and my request is simple. Please run to your nearest restaurant, I don't care which one. Buy me some food, the greasier the better.
A cheeseburger, a slice of pizza, french fries, some pasta bolognese, whatever.just make it rich, salty and over 1,000 calories. Bring it to me, quickly. I'm desperate here.
Oh, I can hear you already. You lazy schlub, you're thinking, why can't you get it yourself? Better yet, why can't your own wife pitch in?
Because I can't, and she won't. She's got me on a "cleanse"
Thanks to some powerful genetic factors (led by a mother who still works as a Pilates instructor), I've been blessed with good genes and metabolism that have kept me reasonably thin my whole life. It's been a gift, really. But over my 42-plus years, I've abused that gift.
Unlike most normal human beings who learn some level of balance and sacrifice in their diets, my naturally thin frame has led me to believe that I can eat everything and anything. Bowl of potato chips on the table? Not for long. Kids want some pizza for dinner? I'm in, call Jordan's and make it a large. Wait, this restaurant puts foie gras on their nachos? Cancel that salad, and put in a rush order.
When it comes to food, I have never learned the art of self-control. And, unfortunately, I've developed a taste for the worst kind of fast and greasy food. I would eat this computer if it were battered and deep fried.
But you'll be happy to know that it's begun to take it's toll. My weight began to jump a few years ago, and while it's definitely plateaued, the numbers are higher than they should be on my frame. My love handles sent me a card for Valentine's Day. And I'm scared to think what my arteries must look like after so many years of stuffing them with cheddar cheese (extra sharp, please).
Last year, my wife went on one of these health cleanses, designed not only to help you lose weight but primarily to increase your level of digestive health and general well-being. It lasted around a month and, being the supportive husband that I am, I made fun of her the whole time. And I continued to bury my face in Ruffles while she mixed her healthy concoctions in the other room.
But this year, when she mentioned her concern for my health, and dramatically suggested that my rear end wouldn't look good in a hospital gown, I took some notice. So when she suggested that I join her this month as she did another cleanse, I surprised her. I said yes.
I've been hungry ever since.
I instantly knew I was in trouble when I attended the introductory meeting of the group going on the cleanse, which featured about a dozen women sitting on yoga mats. And me, token male. I felt like Keith Olbermann at a Tea Party rally as the women talked about baby weight and menopause. I nodded a lot, and wondered if it would be awkward to order Chinese food for delivery on my cell phone.
But the leader of the group made a lot of sense, and I began the cleanse. The first week was an abrupt dietary switch, a kind of detox where I needed to rid my diet of certain key elements (like taste, flavor and enjoyment). No caffeine, no dairy, no glutens, no wheats, no red meat, no artificial sweeteners, no soda, no alcohol. Considering my body at this point is made up of a combination of carbs and artificial cheese toppings, this was a big change, a 180 degree flip. But I plowed through it, attempting to find wonders and satisfaction in brown rice crackers and almond butter.
The weeks following have been even tougher. Two meals a day have been replaced by liquid shakes made up of fruit, protein powder and some other mysterious substances that might ban me from professional sports. My wife is nice enough to prepare them, and led me into the cleanse with the promise that the shakes were delicious. They are not. I've learned to deaden my tongue a bit while pretending they're dirty martinis. The third meal (at which I can actually eat food that can be chewed) becomes a daily highlight, something I look forward to like a summer vacation even though I need to follow the same military restrictions from the previous week. I dream about broccoli. Maybe that's the point.
There's a lot more going on with the process, mostly about ridding my body of toxins and learning to "embrace hunger." That last part isn't going to happen, not for me. I'm more likely to embrace a co-worker's discarded hamburger wrapper than my hunger.
So it's been tough, and I've hated almost the whole experience. I'm cranky and tired. My kids have learned to hide their food from me. The dog and I now stare at their plates together. It's embarrassing.
But here's the problem: it's also working.
I've lost weight, seeing numbers on the scale I haven't seen in a decade. I actually feel lighter and healthier. And the few restaurant meals where I've diverted from the cleanse rules (sorry, I'm not bringing a green protein shake into Gramercy Tavern) I've found myself choosing items that actually have a chance to be good for me. My wife, who has helped with every step of the process, is beaming with pride at her cleansing husband (and his less lumpy body).
The cleanse wraps up next week, and I've got some thinking to do. There's no way I can permanently give up the foods that I love. I just saw a television show that showed a chef at a greasy spoon making a plate of chili cheese fries. Three great tastes that go great together. I don't care about the toxins, I'm going to have to get me some of those at some point.
But maybe, just maybe, I'll find a moderation point. I'll be able to realize that those delicious foods are fine once in a while, but should be considered a treat, not a staple. And while I'm sure I'll gain some of the weight back, maybe I'll be inspired by the possibilities and change how I go about my daily food consumption.
We'll see, and I'll let you know what happens. But you know what helps me think about the future? Fried chicken and mashed potatoes with gravy. Pick up some for me and I'll meet you around the back of my house.
She'll never know.
Michael Wolfe's "Howlings" column runs monthly in the Westport News.