How I learned to stop worrying and just eat the darn cupcake

Food wasn’t a good gift from God to be received and eaten with pleasure and gratitude. It was something to fear, and fear it I did. The original sin, I believed, was a kind of gluttony: a deadly sin. It was better, according to Proverbs, to put a knife to my throat than to indulge in that sin. And in a distorted attempt to please God, I came to regard almost every meal as potentially gluttonous. One day when I was 16, my mother came home from work to find me sobbing on the front stoop, unable to focus on the AP history textbook open on my lap.

“What on Earth is the matter, Rachel?” she asked with alarm.

“I was so hungry, and so I found a chocolate cupcake and ate it.”

Chocolate Oreo Cupcake. Photo courtesy Talmadge Boyd via Flickr Creative Commons
Chocolate Oreo Cupcake. Photo courtesy Talmadge Boyd via Flickr Creative Commons
I was obsessed with food and with my body, and the obsession, which had started almost innocently with a desire to please God and not to be a glutton, threatened to swallow almost everything else in my life.

Later that year, my mom sent me a postcard at church camp proudly announcing my AP test scores—to my embarrassment, the camp director read it aloud before congratulating me and calling for applause. When everyone in the dining hall looked at me, smiling and whooping as only rowdy camp kids do, I nervously adjusted my clothes and looked down at my plate, thinking not of my test scores but only of whether or not I looked like an undisciplined glutton, and whether everyone was judging me for how much food I’d piled on my plate.

I was obsessed with food and with my body, and the obsession, which had started almost innocently with a desire to please God and not to be a glutton, threatened to swallow almost everything else in my life. I was starving, and not just physically.

{I’m at Today’s Christian Woman this week with an essay on discovering how to Eat With Joy. Click here to read it.}

Unfortunately, I’m told, it’s for subscribers only. If you don’t want to subscribe, but want to read further on the topic, you could always just buy my book!

This Year, Don’t Diet: Eat with Joy

I love food. I enjoy thinking about new recipes, planning menus for dinner parties, cooking, and, of course, eating: everything from fresh baguettes, cheeses of all kinds, chocolate, and, especially, the New York pizza I grew up with; the kind that turns the paper plate transparent because it’s so greasy.

Fewer than ten years ago, though, I wouldn’t have been able to admit that this most basic of human comforts–food–brought me so much pleasure. In fact, food didn’t bring me all that much pleasure in those days. For a full ten years–from age 14 to 24–I struggled to get by mostly on Diet Coke and Granny Smith apples. I was eating so much raw broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and spinach that I had intestinal trouble and my doctor, after calculating how many servings of fruits and vegetables I was consuming each day, insisted that I needed to cut back for the sake of my health.

I had to cut back on vegetables and fruits. For my health.

My body–still growing during many of those years; I was a very late bloomer–craved heartier nourishment, and as a result, I began an unhealthy pattern of alternating self-starvation with the consumption of huge meals (often eaten in secret) after which I always felt guilty and awful. Once, I walked for miles and miles to ‘atone’ for what was, in retrospect, a thoroughly normal meal. I was embarrassed to be seen eating. I didn’t want anyone to know that I secretly loved food as much as any person, maybe even a bit more.

I thought the ideal attitude to have toward food was indifference: ‘fill the tank with healthy fuel, not too much, just enough’ was the philosophy I tried to live by. If I happened to enjoy eating something at one time or another, I’d be filled with guilt and shame. Dietary “righteousness”–usually in the form of huge salads with no dressing besides a splash of vinegar–was all that could please me. I tried to live as if I had no sense of smell or taste; no hunger or cravings.

I wish I could say there was a single moment in time when that all changed–a New Year’s resolution I made to start enjoying food and stop abusing it (and my body) for good. But the truth is more complicated, as the truth often is.

{this post continues at iBelieve}

My Flip-Flopping Reactions to Affirmation in Gifs

So yesterday I found out that my book, Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food, won the Christianity Today Book Award in the category of Christian Living.

I never seem to take things in just one way.

One part of me does this:

…and tries to brush it off as no big deal.

But then the other part of me is busy doing this:

And then somewhere in between the skepticism and the overenthusiasm is when I start to feel very Mr. Rogers-y. Because I feel like I just want to thank everyone who has loved me for being me, encouraged me when I was discouraged, insisted that my words and thoughts had meaning, and urged me to press on with hope and confidence.

Friends, family, editors, publicists: you know who you are. Thank you.

 

 

Yes, Oreos are as Addictive as–or more addictive than–drugs. That’s not news.

But didn’t we know that already?

The quintessential fast-food trio of “burger, fries and Coke” perfectly illustrates the food industry’s ability to capitalize on our most instinctual taste preferences. Unlike, say, a pot of vegetable stew or a bowl of apple slices, the fast-food trio contains all three potent tastes–salt, sugar and fat in combination–endlessly engineered, tested and retested for “hyperpalatability,” making them addictive as well as irresistible.

Flickr Credit: Bowen Murphy. Used under CC license.
Flickr Credit: Bowen Murphy. Used under CC license.

Fast-food chicken tenders–even the kind made with “real” chicken breast–are softened, conditioned, injected, salted, sweetened, coated, fried, tested, retested and adjusted to press all the right buttons in your mouth and brain.

As David Kessler explains in The End of Overeating, the foods […] dished up by the industry are designed, reworked, tweaked and readjusted to deliver the maximum amount of addictive, “hyperpalatable” effect. This processing tends also to increase the number of calories we can take in with a minimal effort, much like the effortlessly drinkable “cupcake in a cup” envisioned in the playfully futuristic movie Wall-E.

PET imaging shows that on the level of neurochemistry, “hyperpalatable” foods have the same effect on human brains as drugs like heroin, opium, and morphine. Tasty, rich food combinations like these were once rare and expensive, if not entirely non-existent, but now they’re cheap, ubiquitous and addictive–and don’t you think for a moment that the food companies don’t know it.

I know I’m not alone in regarding this as an issue of justice, especially when you consider that the majority of government subsidies go toward crops that are raw materials for these hyper-engineered, hyper-addictive foods–which is why, calorie for calorie, potato chips are cheaper than carrots, and soda contains some of the cheapest calories in the whole supermarket. It’s people who are poor who end up paying the highest costs for all this, to say nothing of the expense that diet-related disease presents to the taxpayer.

If that’s not an unjustly earned profit–“swallowing up the needy and making the poor of the land to fail,” as the prophet Amos put it in the KJV–I don’t know what is.

{also see my book Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food. Parts of this post originally appeared there.}

“I Have Not Read This Book Before.”

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Katherine Willis Pershey, the (very talented) author of Any Day a Beautiful Change, has written a lovely review of my book in the Englewood Review of Books. I loved that she began by saying that she’s read most of the locavore/foodie books, and dreaded that my book might be a sort of “Pollan-lite” for Christians, but found herself saying “I have not read this book before.” And one of her favorite parts of the book was one of my favorite parts–a story about Jack and Edie.

Alas, her review is not readable online, but you can find subscription information for the (truly excellent) Englewood Review of Books here.

And (shameless plug) if you want to buy my book you can do so at Hearts & Minds Books, the IVP website, or Amazon.com.