Of food and other demons
October 21, 2011 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Food makes me happy, and as a result I eat a lot of it. Which I really need to change. Help me? Caution: this got long, for which apologies.

I am overweight because I love food. I am sort of a hedonist, and eating good food makes me happy. I hate eating on the run, or eating crappy food. When I have time I love to cook and bake - I feel like it's an expression of love?

I'm sorry this sounds so over-dramatic, but that's really what it feels like. I eat when I'm happy to celebrate, and when I'm sad to make myself feel better. I love to feed other people whom I love. I've got this bizarre mindset where food literally equates to happiness and love, and as a result I am overweight and I really want NOT to be.

I know what I "should be" eating, and I don't hate healthy food by definition; but there is something "off" with how I look at food I guess, in which a salad or whatever looks depressing and sterile while a steak or a warm muffin just seems much more... vibrant and happy-making? I feel depressed by people who count calories and stress about a slice of pizza etc. I guess they also make me feel bad about myself? But I would hate to live that way. I do try at intervals to change my eating to be more "diety" but it just makes me really anxious, and I invariably crash and burn.

Am I a freak? How do I change my mindset? I'm not even sure I want to switch over to the "eat to live" mentality, because I find it so depressing - but I do need to change the way I eat for my health.

I have a "thing" about happiness because I was depressed as a teenager and since coming out of that I have prioritised doing the things that make me happy, and this has led to a lot of the really good things in my life, like friends and hobbies and a job which is based around doing what I'm good at and love. I wouldn't describe myself as totally happy, but apart from anxiety issues I'm not too far off the mark.

I am significantly overweight enough (maybe about 70lb) for it to mean I would need to drastically cut down on food rather than just eating healthy food in moderation. I do try to exercise, and maybe manage about 40 mins of cardio about 3 or 4 times a week. For people who suggest Atkins as a diet that will allow me to eat fatty foods - I've tried that and while it worked, it also managed, like all other diets, to make me feel anxious and physically sick.

tl;dr: how to change my food intake when I love it a lot.

Thanks for your help Mefites. I know some of you awesome people will be able to help.
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I think one big change to your mindset would be this: don't think of certain foods (steak, muffins, pizza) as "bad" foods that you shouldn't be eating. And don't think of healthy eating as requiring that you give up all the foods that make you happy.

Rather, train yourself to eat calorie-dense foods in moderation. A couple of slices of pepperoni pizza every couple of weeks will not make you fat, and is not how you got to be 70 pounds overweight. Ditto a single small muffin every once in a while. (Note "small". Not the size of your head.)

Also, think in terms of making sure you eat enough of the "good" stuff -- e.g. that you get enough vegetables -- rather than thinking in terms of not eating too much "bad" stuff.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:42 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

First off, diets are a sham. I truly believe that. Many of them ask you to cut down a whole host of things without providing a counterweight, so your body will inevitably will take control and you will suddenly come-to/awake to find yourself shoving a muffin the size of your head into your mouth, or eating an entire pumpkin pie, with whipped cream of course. I think first off you need to think like you already are: "What makes me happy?"

I love food. I don't love baked goods so much, but I LOVE food. And for you I think we just need to figure out how to make something that's better for you actually seem appetizing. I agree with your salad remark (they look depressing) because usually people make salads with just iceberg lettuce and a sad tomato instead of mixed greens with avocado and a few strips of bacon. Ever try just some bacon, avocado, tomato, hard-boiled eggs and some olive oil with balsamic vinegar? TO DIE FOR!

Need some more meat? cook up a small steak and mix that in.

Find the few things that you're currently eating that you just need to say no to (high high calorie things like bagels or muffins) and just fight those off. It's far easier to get rid of just a few things from your lifestyle instead of completely changing it.

Good luck Ziggy500
posted by zombieApoc at 6:43 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can you harness your passion for good, so to speak? For example, maybe if you had a garden, you could see tending to it as that expression of love and happiness, and then relish the foods that come out of it. Might make salads more palatable if the ingredients were home grown.

Also: sauteing with olive oil. I don't particularly care for vegetables or salads, but I can eat toooons of spinach or kale if its been cooked in a frying pan in some olive oil, with a touch of salt and pepper or tabasco or something on top. Feels much more "hearty" than a salad, but is probably a lot healthier of a staple than a big steak or something every day.
posted by losvedir at 6:44 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

honestly if you are cooking yourself and eating real food mostly your problem is probably mostly portion control. Where the calories come from isn't nearly as important as how many calories there are. I'm pretty much exactly like you and I've lost 30 lbs over the last 3-4 years just by weighing most everything I cook. Buy a cheap digital scale and use that.

There is nothing off about
salad or whatever looks depressing and sterile while a steak or a warm muffin just seems much more... vibrant and happy-making? - that's evolution. How do you deal with it? Eat 3-4 ounces of steak, find a place that makes really fucking good small muffins.
posted by JPD at 6:45 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Am I a freak?

You are absolutely not a freak. Food is used, culturally, exactly as you describe it. It's an expression of love for others, it's a source of comfort for ourselves and for others, it's used to celebrate and to console.

Others will answer your other question (how to change your own approach to food) but I wanted to answer that one. You are not a freak, you are totally normal.
posted by headnsouth at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

sauteing with olive oil. I don't particularly care for vegetables or salads, but I can eat toooons of spinach or kale if its been cooked in a frying pan in some olive oil, with a touch of salt and pepper or tabasco or something on top. Feels much more "hearty" than a salad, but is probably a lot healthier of a staple than a big steak or something every day.

I just ate a sliced avocado swimming in Olio Carli olive oil and some blueberry balsamic vinaigrette with just a dash of salt. Then I downed the oil and vinaigrette after the avocado was all gone *sniff* *sniff*

Awesome breakfast.
posted by zombieApoc at 6:47 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with loving and enjoying good food. It's quite obvious, though, that you've not learned to slow-down and savor the food. To enjoy the moment and not need to extend it indefinitely. That requires self-control and the will to deny yourself endless quantities.

I was a grossly overweight kid. In order to control it, I had to teach myself to take and enjoy the hell out of smaller portions. It takes a lot of self-control but you learn to really savor and enjoy the food your eating. I've managed to keep the weight off for almost 30 years now that way.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:47 AM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

You could make it a culinary project to research a million recipes for amazingly yummy healthy food.

Loving people (including yourself) by cooking them amazing food seems like a great idea; all you need is to remember that healthy amazing food is the most loving kind of food you could make.

As a quick example, I bet you can imagine a whole bunch of tasty recipes including only things from this quick-fire "healthy yummy stuff" list

- fruit
- green veg and salad
- yoghurt
- fish and seafood
- avocado
- brown rice
- nuts
- sweet potatoes
- olive oil
- lemon or lime juice or sherry

You could try signing up for a weekly organic veg box - it might inspire you to new heights of tasty vegetable orientated goodness, and those boxes often come with recipes for the stuff in there.

Finally I wonder whether, if you started to focus more on really beautiful presentation of food, that might help bring the portion sizes down without feeling parsimonious.
posted by emilyw at 7:01 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

First off, diets are a sham.

I also have come to realize (after a lot of suffering) that diets are a sham.

I really hate the term "food addiction". However, you may be using baking and cooking decadent meals, and viewing food as love, as a cover or an excuse for your addiction. We use covers all of the time. I have a friend that is an exercise addict. Truly. She uses marathons as a cover. A lot of us view food as love. A lot of us have had mothers who used food to comfort us as children. I find myself doing it occassionally. A kid is crying and feeling upset or was injured? Here, mommy will make you a bowl of ice cream. I have my own issues with food and would/will use food as entertainment and a way to cope.

I have lost 25 pounds eating what I want, more or less, and exercising 5 days a week on average. I count my calories but they are not super low. For me, there is nothing sad or depressing about counting calories. It has helped me so much. I feel empowered. I still indulge here and there. I eat carbs. I eat steaks. I eat steaks and walnuts and feta on my salads. I eat cake! It can be done and I don't feel deprived. Remember, as adults, we must do things we don't feel like doing -- like not eating one too many muffins and eating fruits and vegetables.

You know what to do. Eat three reasonable meals a day with a healthy snack or two. Move your body. Find some exercise you enjoy. I particularly love Zumba at the moment. It's the funnest thing ever. I also like walking/jogging to excellent music and podcasts. If you don't want to track calories, at least write down what you eat to remain mindful of what you are putting in your mouth. This is the most useful tip people fail to do. Recording what you eat is proven to aid weight loss.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 7:02 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are not a freak at all! Emotional attachment to food really common. Lots of people use food as a source of comfort. Some people just have more of a problem with emotional overeating than others. A therapist would certainly recognize this as an ordinary sort of problem, and could probably help you find different coping strategies. There are also plenty of support groups out there for emotional eaters.

Emotional overeating has never been a huge issue for me personally but I do have friends and family members who have really, really struggled with it (and they weren't freaks, either). I have seen people overcome it; it takes time and a willingness to focus on taking care of yourself, but you can certainly develop a healthier relationship with food without going on diets or depriving yourself. The Mayo Clinic has some good basic advice on getting started.
posted by BlueJae at 7:06 AM on October 21, 2011

(Okay I meant emotional attachment to food IS really common.)
posted by BlueJae at 7:07 AM on October 21, 2011

For me, this took a mindset switch. I was less of an emotional eater and more of a mindless, mmmmmm, this is yummy, sort of eater. I found the switch needed to be focused on the notion of "food as fuel". That fuel can taste good, but it's there to make you move/think/etc. Food became inputs and activity [of all sorts, not just exercise] became outputs and my inputs varied based upon those outputs.
That all sounds kind of clinical, I realize.
So, yes, find yummy, healthy foods, but also realize that food as comfort [happy or sad] isn't getting you what you want even IF you enjoy it (or you wouldn't be writing this question).
That might involve finding non-food rewards and ways to comfort yourself, picking up a physically oriented goal that you'll only be able to achieve by changing those habits, and/or some therapy. It's not about "depriving" yourself or taking away your comfort, it's about de-emphasizing the importance of that food, and, in process, enriching your life.
posted by atomicstone at 7:16 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love food but I am pretty skinny- first, you have to eat good food, like you say. Not fried, and easy with butter, cream and desserts. Also you need to eat slowly which is fine bc then you can really savor what you are eating. Also if you have a good social life and schedule (I can't do this in my day to day life although I'd like to) then you can focus on making food for others so that the happy feelings, love and good food are there but you don't have to eat as much since you might be running around as hostess. Also sadly or awesomely, depending on how you feel about it, you also need to develop a love for exercise. Again, not necessarily the sterility of the gym- maybe just walking for 45 min per day- either as part of your commute or errands, or with a friend or by yourself. You can have a good relationship with food and not be overweight. Just love it more sparingly and sometimes from afar!
posted by bquarters at 7:38 AM on October 21, 2011

There's really nothing wrong with loving food. I'm a lot like you with food, and I'm a whole foods/Slow Food person and food lover and defender of food, and damn if I'm going to eat a bunch of diet crap or forego good food to stay skinny. What this means, though, is if I'm not getting enough exercise, I gain weight. I'm currently overweight and about to start the exercising again. There are two weight loss/maintenance strategies that I have used to excellent effect:

1. Exercise more. I've been a runner on and off for 15 years. One of the many reasons I love running is that it allows me to eat normally and maintain a healthy weight. Running is very intense exercise. Given your current schedule of "cardio" (what is that exactly? What's your heart rate averaging?) you need to exercise more often and at a higher intensity to be able to eat well.

2. balance your food intake differently. Look at your nutrient balance and shift your diet toward more foods THAT ARE DELICIOUS but which offer high bulk and satisfaction for low calorie density. Some of my favorites: kale or chard sauteed with garlic, hot pepper, and olive oil; baked potatoes; veggie soups; baked sqaush; 'Asian' slaw with red and green cabbage, scallions, and sesame oil; etc. You can still enjoy cheese, meats, baked goods, ice cream, chips, etc, but keep these in moderation with other things, so that you think first about how you're going to fill yourself up with healthy veggies, and how you're going to make them taste awesome, and how you're going to reserve your splurges for when you're definitely appreciating them (not eating them mindlessly and hardly tasting them). Believe me, you'll enjoy them more. In my recent year of commuter slackitude, I've selected lots of food because I think it will 'comfort' me and it's a little indulgence that makes my day seem nicer, but in fact I'm not even getting much pleasure out of the stuff because I'm not truly savoring it. It's just a lazy response. Make it so that you turn to low-calorie-density foods first, while you really attend to the richer foods and use them judiciously, and try lots of new ways to get healthy foods to take up the bulk of your day's eating. I used to recommend Cooking Light magazine all the time, but it has become horribly lame in its new revision, so now I heartily recommend Eating Well, which is awesome, whole foods, non-product-placement oriented, and crammed with usable delicious recipes.

Short version: Use your body more, choose food well, eat well and enjoy.
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh and no snacks and NO mindless eating. Sit down to eat and enjoy it- slowly! Seriously, loving food is great but (cliche alert) you have to love yourself enough too to know when to stop. And if you eat more slowly you have time for the sense of 'full-ness' to register and it will become a natural thing to stop- not a deprivation-type-thing!
posted by bquarters at 7:43 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're a "freak" for loving food and seeing it as emotional comfort and enjoyment, then entire cultures are composed of freaks. (Many Mediterranean cultures, in particular, see preparing delicious food as an expression of love.) Many (if not most) cultures the world over have a tradition of ceremonial feasting, using food as a means of binding a community together, expressing appreciation, demonstrating love, and showing off the status of the feast-givers. Given that food is necessary for us to live, I think it's natural to love food and eating!

In addition to all the good advice other posters have given, you might want to go to your doctor and get a check-up to make sure you aren't still depressed, or have any other body or brain chemistry issues you might be self-medicating with food. Carbs increase serotonin levels, for one thing. Also check out Health At Every Size for approaches to healthy living - eating, exercise - that don't revolve around diets or weight loss.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:52 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need portion control. No matter how well you think you are doing on portion control, you should be eating less. My wife had gastric bypass surgery several years ago, and it amazes me the small volume of food she needs to consume to be perfectly healthy and full of energy. Work on reconceptualizing what a "bowl of pasta" or a "piece of chicken" or a "bit of cheese" really needs to look like. You can train you body to need less food, but it takes time. The advantage is that you will actually come to appreciate food MORE as there is less of it in your life, as each bite becomes more precious.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:56 AM on October 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

No, you're not a freak. You have a brain in your stomach and giving it food makes it, and by extension you, feel happy. The only problem is... well, you know.

Try reading "The Fat Fallacy" by Dr Will Clower, which will cure you of the notion that you should only eat a lettuce leaf and some camomile tea and may never have a steak or any coffee or anything that remotely tastes nice.

Then read "French Women Don't Get Fat" by Mireille Giuliani.

Later on, get a calorie counter app which will help you recalibrate your portions a bit - you don't need to use these for long, or continuously, they're more of a reality check for when you find yourself drifting into eating too damn much.

You can start enjoying food more than you ever have, I promise! Of course you won't be eating as much of it, but you don't want to do that anyway.
posted by tel3path at 8:03 AM on October 21, 2011

Toward the end of your question, you said that you would need to drastically change your eating habits to lose weight. I don't think that is necessarily true. Are you currently gaining weight? If so, a reasonable goal is to moderate your eating just enough to stop the gradual increase in your weight. It's a smaller, more attainable goal than dropping 70 pounds.

Once you have your weight stable, there's no reason that you couldn't lose those 70 pounds by simply being more moderate in your choices. This requires that you recognize that you don't need to eat everything NOW. Food will be available tomorrow also. You don't need to eat the entire muffin. Or you don't need a muffin today. It would be a gradual loss of weight, but certainly doable. It's not the Quick-Fix diet, but over the long haul you'd hit the target. (This is personally where I struggle. I've heard it called souvenir eating. I must have that corn dog at the fair or salt water taffy at the beach. I forget that I don't need to eat food just because food is available.)

The last thing is food really isn't love. It can be short term comfort - I just had some mac n cheese with duck and bacon - the comfort factor was surreal. Food is delicious and stimulating, but it's not love. It's hard to let go of the emotional attachment, because it feels good. You're trading off short-term comfort for long term weight gain.
posted by 26.2 at 8:15 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out if there's an OA in your area. Go, if only once, just to see what it's like.
posted by unixrat at 8:39 AM on October 21, 2011

You are not a freak! I do this too, especially lately since I've been fighting depression and don't want to do *anything* except cook, eat, relax, and sleep. I don't think I love cooking and baking nearly as much as you do, so you're way ahead of me there.

I think you should look into signing up for a farm share or CSA share and getting a weekly or bi-weekly fresh vegetable box from a farm. I did this for the first time this summer and it was fantastic (and still is! next week is my last week, waaah). If you're willing to be experimental when it comes to veg and if you're in a location where you can sign up, you should do this next spring, or some places do late fall or winter shares as well.

Having a huge box of vegetables picked out for me forced me to try things I never would have purchased normally, and the time I saved from not having to go to the grocery store and choose my own vegetables gave me more time for cooking them up. If you hate wasting food you'll feel bad if too many vegetables go unused at the end of the week, so you'll come up with creative ways to cook them all.

I found myself snacking on carrots and cucumbers and purchasing fewer snack-only foods, only things to go with my lovely vegetables, like cheeses and dip ingredients. I learned how to cook so many lovely (and hearty!) vegetables that I had never thought to buy myself before, like eggplant, beets, and kale... and lots of things I had to look on the internet to identify. Right now I have jars of peppers pickling in my fridge that I'm going to put on tasty tasty sandwiches when they're ready. Oh and the salads! After getting fresh arugula and crispy lettuce and spinach in my box every week and combining it with beets + corn + bacon + tomato + carrots + green onion + cheese + fancy homemade dressing... I will never look at a salad the same way again.

Last week I made an awesome butternut squash soup with pine nuts and greek yogurt, a fresh vegetable, herb and chicken pizza, and eggplant in masala sauce. This weekend I have a whole cabbage to experiment with, among other things. I love my farm share and from the sound of your post I think you would really enjoy one.

The other thing I like to do is create beverages! Taking the time to create for yourself a delicious mulled cider, a meticulously prepared seltzer and fruit juice and mint spritzer, a hot french-pressed coffee latte or flavored loose-leaf tea can be very satisfying when you want something to cheer you up.
posted by ghostbikes at 8:48 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

One of the things that stood out to me was how you say you like to cook and bake in your spare time. I think you can work with that in a number of ways. Maybe one of these gets you going, or you can think of another
- picking out time-consuming recipes to really work with the food (potstickers)
- making things from scratch that you might normally buy (yogurt)
- cooking for other people, at a soup kitchen or by inviting your friends over
This thought is in addition to the really good advice above (portion control, no snacking, an attitude shift on calorie counting), not instead of it.
posted by whatzit at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2011

I cannot address your underlying psychological concerns, and I absolutely KNOW that I will get shouted down for recommending either of these two "diets", HOWEVER I am on one right now and it's working great for me while somewhat keeping with my own hedonistic food tendencies.

I have found the following diets and their subreddits to be extremely beneficial:
Ketosis Diet
Paleo Diet

I also make use of FatSecret, as I find the community aspect gratifying as well as looking at other peoples recipes, stories, goals, and whatnot. I use the mobile phone app to track what I eat, which has really made a difference.
posted by TomMelee at 9:13 AM on October 21, 2011

In Europe, people eat very, very well, and yet are so much less fat than in the US. I think the keys are:

- delicious, high-quality meals with family/friends that satisfy on BOTH and emotional and physical level
- smaller portion size of aforementioned delicious food.
- a culture which does not embrace snacking outside of meals, but instead limits eating to certain times and places (i.e., ritualizes daily eating and keeps it conscious rather than unconcious)
- celebrates quality and tradition of food and makes clear the connection between happiness, relationships, and food -- e.g., regional/seasonal specialities; special holiday foods, etc. This allows you to enjoy food's connection to positive emotions in a structured context.
- more daily exercise! Europeans walk/bike everywhere instead of driving.
posted by yarly at 9:18 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're an emotional eater, diets and calorie-counting will likely just give you anxiety, and eventually backfire. You'll need to untangle the mental part before you tackle the food part.

First: forgive yourself. Food is delicious. Sugary, fatty, carby, and salty foods are especially delicious. You are not bad or weak for taking pleasure in junk food, and you're not a freak. You're human. Don't pass judgment on yourself for this very human desire.

Second: don't treat any food as forbidden; it'll just make you want it more. Instead, know that you can eat any food you want, at any time, forever. All of it will be there in the future. You do need to eat high-calorie/low-nutrition food in moderation if you want to be healthy, yes, but you can still eat it from time to time if it's what you want.

Third: pay attention to what you really want, in your stomach and in your mind. Ever go to the store or look in the fridge knowing that you want to eat something, but you can't decide, so you get some of everything and none of it's actually satisfying? That's what you want to avoid. If you have a craving for tater tots, go get some tater tots, don't get the fries. If you don't actually want anything in particular, but you're hungry, you can use that opportunity to eat something relatively healthy. If you don't want anything in particular, and you're not actually hungry, it's probably boredom or a need for stimulation speaking, and you can go find that elsewhere. If you learn how to target what you want, you'll satisfy yourself more effectively.

Fourth: find nutritious foods/recipes you do like, and introduce them into the rotation. You can do this as slowly as you want, so you get used to them. They don't feel like direct substitutes for cake and ice cream, but they are delicious in their own right. And the more often you include the healthy options, the sooner you find yourself wanting them instead of cake.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:19 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound so simple it's almost stupid, but I never understood "Listen to your body" when it related to food before a few months ago. I always thought "Listen to your body" meant "I CAN EAT EVERYTHING I WANT OMNOMNOM." But, it's actually my BRAIN that is telling me to shove donuts and chocolate cake in my face. My BODY wants to be fed healthier food and feel lighter. It wants veggies, fruit, beans, and meat and eggs. It wants to feel able to run and jump and dance. My body would never tell me, "I wish I could be so stuffed that I can't move, feel sick, and fall asleep." My brain, however, might tell me it wants all that junk to fall into a coma to escape or deal with boredom.

So, my advice is listen to your body, but understand that when it comes to food, that might also mean ignore your stupid, anxious brain.

Good luck to you!
posted by shortyJBot at 10:50 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can always try the No S Diet. [Previously]

Don't forget that it's not an accident that you like some kinds of foods; Many foods, but especially junk foods, are engineered to cause foodgasm. Natural selection has also honed us to like foods high in energy because they used to be far more rare in nature than they are for us in our current environment. This stuff is much easier to avoid in theory than in practice. So, if you eat outside whatever plan you take, just get back on board the next day. It. Is. Going. To. Happen.
posted by Hylas at 10:58 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've started bulking up my food with low-cal stuff. For example:
-instead of 1 cup of vanilla yogurt, I eat 1/2 cup of plain, lowfat yogurt with a ton of strawberries.
-I eat a lot of chili because it's easy to make in bulk and freezes well. So I've started adding lots of steamed broccoli to my chili (right before serving) in order to fill me up without all the calories.

I guess what I'm saying is: Eat smarter, not less.

Also, Atkins makes almost everyone sick for the first few days. It's like torture. But then everything evens out and you feel great. I'm a fan (but not a follower anymore).
posted by coolguymichael at 11:32 AM on October 21, 2011

When I drastically changed my diet last year, I resented it at first. I don't have cane or beet sugar or dairy. This means I can't really have convenience foods, I have to pack a giant "lunch" bag to ensure I don't get hungry. I'm almost always hungry! Then I realized that it actually is not unreasonable to take responsibility for the food that I eat, just like it's unreasonable for me to resent having to brush my teeth. I don't like brushing my teeth, but I'm a grown-up, so I do it!

After eating in way that is healthy for you (obvsly I'm not advocating you give up dairy). You will crave the bad things less. Every once in a while my stupid brain is reluctant to eat fruit, but my brain is stupid, because fruit is delicious!

I love to bake, so I bake delicious bean brownies and amazing orange oat muffins. They are low fat and high fibre and made with alternative sugars. So I never feel guilty eating them.

If I were to suggest how to healthify a diet, I would suggest giving up processed sugar. It gets rid of convenience foods and forces you to cook yourself. It takes a lot of work, and it takes a while to get over the cravings. But after a while - you won't miss eating candy - Fruit is delicious!
posted by Gor-ella at 11:39 AM on October 21, 2011

Agree with all of the above who say using food to express love and comfort is totally normal. I also agree that it's about portion control.

But salads shouldn't be depressing. Salads should be vibrant and fresh and delicious! As much love can go into a salad as into a steak. You could try things like going to a farmer's market to get fresh, local produce to feel more love for the veggies. (Also, if your veggies are not delicious, get better veggies.) Another alternative would be to get a CSA subscription -- community supported agriculture. You pay the farmer at the beginning of the season and then get a box of fresh seasonal produce every week or two all season long. (It helps fix the "money-only-at-harvest" problem for farmers.)

If you can garden, do. It requires a reasonable amount of exercise -- not enough to be all your exercise, but enough to burn off some extra calories -- and you feel morally obligated to use the produce you've grown. (Ditto with a CSA box ... you've got a whole box of gorgeous bok choy, you're going to find something to do with it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:42 AM on October 21, 2011

You are not a freak. Food is comforting and wonderful!

However, if you're about 70 pounds overweight, you're overeating quite a bit. Eating less works differently for different people, but for people without medical conditions it's about calories eaten vs. calories burned. If you're serious you're going to need to figure out which works for you:

- Exercising so much that you can continue to eat at your current caloric intake. This is extremely unrealistic for most people to stick with.

- Deciding to eat smaller portions of everything. Most people accomplish this only with formalized plans. e.g., Weight Watchers, which is all about portion control for life, not about allowed/unallowed foods.

- Deciding to eat less of certain foods if you think they're problematic for you. (Where "problematic" could be a trigger to overeat.) e.g., low-carb, slow-carb, Body for Life, Zone, etc.

Note that I am not advocating diets, which suck. I'm advocating adopting a formalized long-term strategy for changing how and/or how much you eat. Some plans built-in motivators (e.g., with WW you get to eat more food if you exercise), while other plans leave it up to you to figure out what motivates you.

I've been where you are now. I've had to take a multi-pronged approach that includes paying a trainer to motivate me to show up and work hard and adopting a formal plan of eating smaller portions, especially of processed and higher-fat items. Absolutely nothing is off-limits to me, because I'm not on a diet.

I know you can do it. Good luck!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:01 PM on October 21, 2011

I'd just like to say that there's a difference between food making you happy and eating making you happy.

I really love both of them, but there are definitely times in which I'd be satisfied eating one piece of something really good (e.g., a piece of chocolate or steak), and times in which I'd only be satisfying eating a ton of something decent (e.g., popcorn).

I think it's a little easier to curb portion sizes if you concentrate on the former.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 12:54 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my own quest for health I've come to realise how important it is to start small. Granted, unlike you I had it easy and only had a few kilograms of extra fat but I just felt like I could afford to trim down and shape up.

Prior to my decision I had next to no daily exercise, so I started going for 30-minute morning walks every day. For the first two weeks, that was enough (and I did skip a couple days out of laziness) but since then I've started going swimming, increased the pace of my walk, and I even bought a weight for strength training. Once you get started, it's relatively easy to add more challenging exercise once you feel up to it. Try to keep it varied too so that it doesn't get boring. Oh, and I also use the stairs instead of the lift whenever I get back from my walk. Every bit helps.

I also changed my diet, though unlike you I'm not exactly a gourmand. The hardest thing was dropping all the sugary stuff I was consuming (sodas, candy, fruit drinks etc.) but I pulled it off by drinking a no-sugar raspberry drink and/or eating a tomato or a fruit every time I felt like eating something. The first week was hell for my weak mind, but I managed. Then after two weeks I noticed I wasn't drinking the sweetened stuff (I don't know what to call it, it's not juice or anything I'm sure) anymore.

Unlike you I wasn't really overeating that much, so in my case I just changed to eating more healthy stuff: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, olive oil for the good fats etc. I avoid salt and sugar if possible, and prefer other spices. I haven't banned less wholesome foods, but I try to avoid bringing myself to a situation where I'm tempted to eat them (because I will).

It has been the gradual accumulation of small changes that has got me this far. There's no hurry: Figure out your goal, then take the first step towards it, however small it is, and keep going. Best of luck to you.
posted by Chousuke at 1:19 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks to Chousuke for reminding me about strength training. That really makes a difference in how much you can absorb, calorie-wise, because as you build muscle you increase your resting metabolic rate - meaning it just takes more calories to run your body. It's kind of amazing.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on October 21, 2011

losvedir said: maybe if you had a garden, you could see tending to it as that expression of love and happiness, and then relish the foods that come out of it. Might make salads more palatable if the ingredients were home grown.

I was going to say this same thing. Growing food has made me see the whole damn process as totally sacred. I am overjoyed to have one fresh-off-the-vine green bean, and I love that single green bean with all my heart. Same with a homegrown salad, even when it's just lettuce with maybe some chopped homegrown chives tossed on it. Then a few weeks later I get to add fresh homegrown peas and carrots, and that's a whole new variety of awesome ... then a few months after that we get cherry tomatoes. etc. Harvesting each ingredient is an event of its own.

Plus, super-fresh veggies are totally different than grocery store veggies. It's a completely different experience, and MUCH more enjoyable.
posted by librarina at 9:53 PM on October 21, 2011

You're not a freak. I read a James Beard quote on the wall of a restaurant that delighted me: (paraphrasing) A gourmet who counts calories is like a tart who stares at her watch. No one wants to be around someone who's constantly counting calories or being very particular about what and how much they eat, but everyone loves the generous host who feeds them well. So it's tough to handle weight loss if you're the gourmet. I will echo two suggestions above that have helped me:

(1) Exercise more. When I was first trying to lose weight, I started with 30 minutes 3-4 times a week. It wasn't enough to make a difference on the scale, and that was frustrating, even if I could tell I was getting more in shape. I didn't see a weight change until I started doing 45 minutes or more 4-5 times a week. For me, this was a very long term process. I took up running, and it took a while before I wasn't exhausted after just 30 minutes of walk/jog intervals. But when I worked up to 45 minutes months later, my body started to respond positively, and that just encouraged me to stick with it. Now I actually consider myself a runner, which still shocks my family, and I more-or-less eat what I want.

(2) Sign up for a CSA. This is a lot more fun than exercising. (My husband hasn't developed an exercise routine like I have, but he's successfully lost weight because we eat differently as a result of the CSA.) The vegetables we get in our cooler every week are amazing. All of the vegetables we've gotten have WAY more flavor than vegetables we buy at the store. And because we get a large quantity of produce, we don't want it to go to waste, and therefore we end up experimenting with a lot more vegetable dishes. Food, not just comfort food, is delicious. Discovering that lettuce has flavor can make a world of difference--now we eat healthier and there's also greater variety in what we eat.
posted by Terriniski at 7:20 AM on October 22, 2011

I would recommend the Beck Diet. It's not actually a diet, it's basically cbt for dieting. I never really thought I had emotional eating issues (I've always battled my weight but have never been much more than mildly overweight) I thought I was just battling genetics. Reading the book made me realize how many negative habits I had and how many hangups years of distinct had given me. It really helped me get into the right mindset for losing weight so that it was just something I needed to do to get from point a to b like I do with so many other things in my life and out of the emotional roller coaster that would normally accompany dieting for me.
posted by whoaali at 9:13 AM on October 23, 2011

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