Dieting In Culinary Heaven

fatteningfoods1Houston is a foodie town. Our city ranks high in the culinary world with incredible choices of taste tempting dishes available in virtually every corner of our sprawling metropolis. Little wonder that H town is also home to the most overweight people in the country. Balancing Houstonians’ love of food with healthy lifestyles is no easy task. Keeping a slim waistline while still enjoying the cuisine that Houston chefs offer requires vigilance and dedication and sometimes time and money as well. With yummy treats tempting us everywhere that we turn, being on a diet can sometimes feel punishing.

Mike and I have both been consciously watching what we eat since January. When the new year came I quit purchasing any kind of bread products. We used to enjoy visiting the bakery at the HEB Central Market but now we rush through that section of the store lest we be tempted by the lovely creations tempting us to fall off of the wagon. So far we have managed to keep the offending products out of our home.

Our prohibition extends to rice, potatoes and all forms of pasta as well. We used to love having spaghetti with Italian sausage but now we have to be content with spiraled Italian squash instead. We frequent Sprouts and farmers markets in search of the fresh vegetables and fruits that have become our mainstay. We carefully measure calories and carbohydrates, reading nutrition labels before putting anything into our mouths. On those rare occasions when we decide to spend a night out at a restaurant we save up calories and opt for the least offensive menu items. Mostly though it’s easier to just stay home and enjoy the steamed broccoli and kale salad that we have taught ourselves to like.

I had been taking two or three mile long walks virtually everyday but the heat and the current monsoon season has kept me indoors of late. I’m back to using the treadmill which has to be the most boring form of exercise ever invented. I’ve tried listening to music, talking on the phone and reading to pass the time but I still find myself wondering how it is possible for a minute to feel like an hour. My treadmill sessions afford me proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity.  That moving sidewalk takes me nowhere but to the land of frustration. 

Parties are the hardest for me. People go to so much trouble to create such lovely dishes and desserts and I feel like Scrooge or the Grinch when I walk past the recipes that they have worked so hard to make. I fill my plate with the raw carrots and celery from the vegetable tray and eat hamburgers without the buns. I restrict myself to one slice of pizza knowing that even that tiny splurge is going to send my weight back up once again. It is a never ending battle to stay within the guidelines, especially since my results have been less than stellar.

I suppose that I am losing weight the way it is supposed to be done. I go down about half of a pound a week. If I eat at a restaurant or dine at someone’s home I tend to either gain a tiny bit or flatline. Still, overall I am moving in the right direction and find that I can wear clothing that is one size smaller than most of what is in my closet. I also admittedly feel much better but sometimes I long to give in to my cravings and scarf down a Snicker’s bar or a warm cinnamon roll.

I once took a creative movement class at the University of Houston to satisfy the physical education requirement. It proved to be one of my favorite classes. The professor who had a full bird PhD encouraged us to develop both our bodies and our minds. He pointed out that we humans tend to lean one way or another, with some of us emphasizing brainy activities and others favoring sports and exercise. He argued that to be well rounded humans need both.

The trouble that I find with his thinking is that there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for all of the things that we should do. Eating healthy meals takes planning. Exercising involves more than just the thirty minutes or hour of actual involvement. Often it requires driving to a particular locale with showering and grooming in addition. Today’s jobs are more demanding than ever and few people actually spend only eight hours at work. Our families and friends need our attention as well. If we attempt to get the recommended amount of sleep on top of all of our other responsibilities we begin to realize that we are running out of time to accomplish all our goals.

I know people who do in fact get everything done. They are generally on a schedule that is so strict that they have little time for daydreaming or goofing off. Their lives are highly regimented. For a natural born gypsy like me being a slave to the clock and a routine is quite difficult. Sometimes I find myself wanting to call in sick to my self imposed schedule. I want to just wander wherever my instincts lead me even if that means driving through Shipley’s donuts and blowing the diet for the day.

I suppose that the whole idea of being careful with what I eat is especially hard for me because until I was almost fifty I was literally able to enjoy any kind of food without it negatively affecting me. I stayed slim and trim with no effort. I had little understanding of what it means to gain weight just by looking at photographs of food. I had the gift of a super metabolism that converted all of the bad things that I ate into energy rather than fat. The first time I saw a muffin top appear around my waist I was shocked. I fooled myself into thinking that my weight gain was temporary as I watched the scale register ever higher numbers. Now I am attempting to slowly eliminate the offending pounds and realizing the cost of all of that grazing that I did for most of my life.

I don’t want to go back to my bad habits because I have worked too hard for the last five months to just give up on my quest. I’m learning what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve found that it is possible to enjoy myself when I go out with friends and family as long as I am careful. I share bread pudding rather than devouring the entire piece myself. I take home half of my order of chicken marsala. I order cups of gumbo rather than bowls. I don’t totally deny myself nor do I overindulge. I am gradually reeducating myself on the value of good nutrition. I have also developed a genuine sympathy for those who must carefully watch what they eat.

We are a land of culinary plenty and my city is at the center of the food universe. I have to admit to being envious of anyone who is capable of eating without boundaries just as I once was. It was nice to have no limits and still look and feel great. Now I am just like most people and I have belatedly had to learn how to curb my appetite. It’s a worthy cause. My health has already improved and so has Mike’s. We haven’t quite yet learned how to avoid the toxic foods but we are getting there. Wish us luck. Ours is a crusade that must be victorious.

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