Food: A tricky love affair

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Food. I love it. I hate it. I hate how much I love it.

Now that I’m staring middle-age square in the eye, food feels so much more complicated than it used to. When I was a kid and even through my twenties and thirties, food was easy. Hungry? Just eat. Want dessert? Sure, why not. Late night bowl of cereal? Go for it.

I didn’t think about food because I didn’t need to. I’d lucked out with one of those young, speedy metabolisms that forgave most sins, even the ones including cheese dip or hot fudge. Then things changed. That dependable metabolism went from the roar of a fast motorcycle to the weak hum of a scooter that might have water in the gas tank, sputtering as it tries to keep pace.

Scientifically, I should’ve seen this coming. Experts say that changing hormone levels shift a middle-aged woman’s fat storage to her waistline instead of her hips. So even if she’s doing everything she’s “supposed” to do, her body shape will likely change with age. The slim reed becomes a sturdier trunk. This applies even to those of us who hoped we were the one special flower who would never be impacted by something as inconvenient as science and reality. Such a bummer.

So here we are, stuck in this food relationship fraught with too many feelings, both good and bad. Tom and I went to lunch today and shared a grilled chicken salad with fruit on top, and we commiserated over how tough it is to choose the right foods – to make decisions that won’t show up on the scale two days later and shame us for being “bad.”

But experts say we shouldn’t use certain words to describe different kinds of food. Rigid labels like “good” and “bad” just make it harder to avoid falling down a junk food rabbit hole. The human brain has a way of rebelling against rules that are too strict, too absolute.

Homemade Salty Steak French FriesIf you tell your inner teenager (who is moody and impulsive by nature) that she can’t eat a French fry ever again, that’s all she’ll think about. You’ve turned a simple French fry into a cute bad boy who wears a beat-up leather jacket and smokes behind the school gym. And she will sneak around and cheat on common sense just to be with him.

So, this year I’ve adopted a more realistic yet flexible approach to food. (I started shortly after a Christmas-cookie shame spiral, and I downloaded a weight-loss app for guidance.) These days, I still flirt with calorie-rich foods because life is too short to be lived without chips and queso. But it’s just occasional flirting. I go steady with fruits, vegetables and salads.

I’ll admit that I dip the tips of my fork into a small cup of Ranch dressing now and then for a taste – just to keep things interesting. It convinces my inner teenager that she can still have a little fun without running off to Reno with a super-sized order of curly fries.

So far, this new method of co-existing with food has helped me shed 15 pounds and feel better overall. But the last five pounds (still to go) are being real jerks. They’re like stubborn houseguests. Every time I’m about to pry them loose, they show back up and insist on staying a while longer.

But I’ll get there eventually. Because I’m finally realizing that food is not here to be conquered. We can’t be at war. So, I’m making peace with the reality that I love food in all its many forms – buttered bread, broccoli, cheesecake, chicken, pasta, peas and so much more.

And like any good relationship, it needs both give and take to make it work.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon.

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