My Quest For Healthy Eating - Part 1
"It's not about food," I kept telling myself.
"Living well is an emotional and spiritual matter."
"Find inner strength."
I bristled at the idea that I had to eat a certain way in order to feel better.
After all, I'd tried healthy eating for years, hadn't I? And it hadn't worked. After years of failed experiments and obsession with food, I had decided that diet wasn't important after all, that psychology, not physiology, ruled supreme.
When you've tried "healthy" for years, and it hasn't worked, what's left? You either decide you're genetically doomed to be weak and sick, or start questioning conventional wisdom.
Of course, most people start out just fine, and I was no exception...
Girl With The Hollow Leg
When I was a little girl, I was very skinny and ate whatever I wanted. People used to say, "She can eat anything, she lifts her baby finger, and it's gone." My parents even joked that I had a hollow leg.
Lots of kids have great metabolisms, so I don't think I was that unusual. What I do remember, though, is that I never ever had any inclination to diet. I never obsessed about my weight or calories or what I put into my body. I ate what I wanted.
What I wanted to eat generally coincided with what my parents liked, and my dad was a big meat eater. I remember feeling happy and connected to him as we ate steak.
Staples at home included such modern favourites as Kraft Dinner and Hamburger Helper, thrown into the mix with tuna casserole, salami and eggs, and cottage cheese and fruit or noodles.
Of course I also ate my share of junk food. At Bar Mitzvahs, I would try any dessert that caught my eye. I regularly ate chocolate bars, soda, and chips. My working mother would take us to McDonalds after school sometimes, and the whole family loved to eat out, Chinese, pizza, Mexican, casual family dining.
Through all this I was a fairly healthy girl, without any allergies or asthma. I remember being able to run fast when I wanted to, ride a bike down the street, and kick my little brother endlessly when he encroached on my bedroom. I was also an excellent swimmer, particularly at long distance and endurance, and kept up just fine in tap dance class.
I have a dim memory of learning about something called Canada's Food Guide, at some point during elementary school, and of going home and actually trying to follow it. It seemed like an awful lot of food to eat, more than I ever wanted to spontaneously, so I gave it up.
People used to say I ate like a bird, but I wasn't hungry or sick.
Enter Health Class
Going into junior high school, I was still skinny and completely unoccupied with my weight. But I do remember at this time not being as athletically gifted as when I was younger.
In grade 8, I somehow ended up on the school's cross-country team. I have memories of long, gruelling morning practices feeling exhausted, trailing behind the more athletic, older girls. It was not fun to run. I always had that unpleasant taste in my mouth that you get from running too much when you're out of shape.
But I could still swim and dance well enough.
Around this time, I had my first heavy exposure to nutritional advice. My health teacher told us in class that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. I was terrified, because two of my grandparents had already died from heart attacks. My teacher told us to get our parents not to drink cream in their coffee.
Up until this point, those little packages of cream on restaurant tables were ambrosia to me and my little brother. They were extra super delicious because they'd been sitting out all day and were warm. We would slurp them down with joy and abandon.
But after health class, 180 degree turn. Cream was the enemy. It would send my father to an early grave. I cried and begged him not to put it in his coffee. The story has become a legend in our family. The girl who cried over cream.
Enter senior high--and a metabolism on the brink of breakdown, parents borderline diabetic, a driver's license, all-nighters, and academic pressure. All coming in Part 2 of My Quest For Healthy Eating.