Eating has never been more difficult than it is today. We have never had so many options, and we no longer seem able to treat eating as simplistically as we treat other human functions such as sleep or going to the bathroom -- by just doing it when we need to. We have successfully made a daily vital need into our enemy. Bravo to all of us.
During my teenage years, I fought a constant battle with this enemy, always trying to balance my love for good-tasting food and my love for skinny jeans. So I did what every other teenager did: I dieted. Everything I consumed was the diet version of something: sugar-free sodas, carb-free candy, and low fat ice cream. I was the healthiest of the unhealthiest, and, baby, I was on a roll.
Any food I could find a random version of, I bought: soy vanilla milk, tofu chocolate ice cream, and sugar-fat-and carb-free peanut butter cookies. I could have set up a museum with all my fake versions of real food.
So imagine my surprise when over the years, I started to expand sideways. To be honest, I got more pissed off than sad, and would swear loudly in the fitting room as the size I had to try on increased with each visit. Here I was, a young graduate student, eating fake versions of all the foods I liked -- that without their original ingredients tasted like shit -- and I still wasn’t getting smaller or even keeping a stabilized weight. I was replacing all the sugar, fats and carbs with -- actually with what?
Out of curiosity, I started to rumble through my food packages and saw words written down which I couldn’t even pronounce. Maltodextrin, sodium ferrocyanide and emulsifiers -- what the fuck had I been eating? After some extensive research, it dawned on me that the replacement foods I had been using to not get fat and miserable were actually making me fat and miserable.
Let me explain. As a boycotter of all “bad foods,” I had allowed food additives to replace them, thinking they would be better for my shape. Oh, how silly I was. Turns out food additives such as flavour enhancers, sweeteners and preservatives actually doesn’t give you a healthy body so much as they give you cancer, diabetes, heart problems, weight gain and migraines. Yeah.
With the new information I had come across, I completely changed my life around. From existing on pre-packaged food with long shelf lives I went so far back to basics my kitchen looked like the set from "Little House on the Prairie."
Slowly, I started to really look at what I was eating and would not get anything that held a weird e-number or a stabilizer. I would only eat food that I knew grew somewhere on a field and not in a lab. It may sound like a simple enhancement in your daily food shopping, but it wasn’t.
Did you know that supermarket bread consists of around 30 different ingredients, most of them chemicals and not actual flour and yeast? Or that a tomato soup from the chilled section needs four e-numbers, food colouring and bulking agents to become that tomato soup? Neither did I, but in the end, I found myself boycotting supermarkets completely.
I did all my shopping at the green grocers, conscious health food shops and real bakeries that made their own bread every morning. And you know what? I started to get happier and healthier. All my regular university colds went away, my skin cleared up, my mood swings disappeared and I went back to my normal size. And I did all this by simply eating real food, as all our bodies are intended to do (there’s a reason why Lucky Charms don’t grow on trees).
It’s been almost three years now since I started eating real food and I have never felt happier. I eat what I want whenever I want. Of course I have days where I do a naughty and eat something fauxified, but since my body has gotten used to sustaining itself on real solid food and not chemicals anymore, I feel the repercussions of it and I don’t do it often. Headaches never feel as sweet as that piece of fake chocolate.
The point of the story is that everybody has to find their own way of becoming friends with this silly primal need we have to feed ourselves. For me, it was to cut out all the fiddling and infective middle hands and go straight to the natural source of food.
It’s pretty hard to get fat if you’re living on greens and grains, and it’s even harder to develop unnatural obsessions with foods if you are allowing yourself to eat them with no eccentric rules or abnormal shame.
So the next time you want a big slice of chocolate cake, don’t get it from a shake and bake package which promises you something rubberlike under 100 calories -– instead, do it like your grandmother would have done it: real.