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A Delusional Menu

March 9, 2011

We all fudge the full impact of our bad choices, most often to allow us to continue making them. For me it was often consuming north of 3,000 calories per day when my body burned closer to 2,000. My fudging was the classic “I eat healthy” dodge – overeating, yes – but ethical, defendable gluttony. None of these oral fixations was a BMI multiplier, but taken as a mindset, the results were pretty obvious – the accretion of about 100 pounds of fat barnacles on my Wedding Day hull over the middle third of my life.  Here are some of the “healthy” comfort foods I continuously consumed for 25 years (excluding a few brief attempts at dieting):

1.       Triscuits – the pseudo-wholesome WASP potato chip. The portion size on the Triscuit box says “8 crackers;” I would consume easily 4 or 5 times that quantity at a sitting. And although I bought the “reduced fat” version and always resisted the desire to put cheese or other fat-laced condiments on them, the majority of calories present in these crackers were in fact “fat” calories and the “whole wheat” aspect was mainly symbolic mitigation.

2.       Peanut Butter. I love peanut butter and I would eat a heaping tablespoon (or multiples thereof) right out of the jar standing in front of the refrigerator any time there was a jar of it on hand, and we almost always had peanut butter as a “default” food – usually consumed in a thick layer between slabs of the darkest of breads.  I felt especially guiltless because I bought the organic/no additives/”no added sugar” peanut butter and would scrupulously pour off the grease that had risen to the top before I dug in.   Upon further review three or four years before I started my de-massing regime, it became clear to me that the net nutritional impact of peanut butter is roughly equivalent to cow butter. Yes, I know there is some protein in peanut butter, but it’s such an infinitesimal amount compared to the overwhelming fat calories it imparts that it’s a joke to eat it if your are fat.

3.       Chinese Food. I told myself that since it’s “stir fried” there is “very little” fat used in its preparation.  Right.  Believe that and I have some high-fiber Twinkies to sell you.  Truth be told, the vast majority of Chinese food is laced with fats in its preparation and the red meats that are used are incredibly cheap and unbelievably fatty.  Additionally, Chinese food has the added fat bomb of the whitest of white rice being used as the bed for its beloved lard-entrained melange.  Chinese food was often a weekly indulgence and given the fact that, of course, you had to sample at least three entrees for two adults, plus appetizers (as if my appetite needed encouraging), the quantities consumed were outsized.  But I never ordered a Chinese dessert.

4.       Pizza. If you have children, you eat pizza.  When eaten in rational portions by someone with an active lifestyle, pizza is an easy way to get carbohydrates and a little bit of protein into your diet without a lot of unwanted byproducts.   As with most of the foods I overate, I was virtuous in its window dressing: I would never order pizza with pepperoni or sausage for my own ingestion – if anything, my pizza had the guilt-free mushrooms and/or broccoli and/or chicken.  What went missing from my calculation was that the cheesy cheese used in takeout pizza is virtually fluffy fat, the tomato paste painted on has almost zero nutritional value, the dough used is the most refined of carbohydrates, and the quantities I consumed were appropriate for a sixteen-year-old football player who needs 4000 calories a day to break even.  Worse was the sequel to buying pizza – the eating of the leftover pizza at eleven o’clock at night or at seven o’clock in the morning or whenever your eye just happens to spot that one last piece that if you don’t eat it right now you’ll have to throw it away.

5.       Coleslaw. There was a multiyear period in my life when I thought coleslaw was a perfect way to “eat healthy”.  After all, coleslaw is cabbage and cabbage is a fibrous vegetable, it’s not cooked, and it’s very easy to buy and quick to eat (and cheap).  Unfortunately, the cabbage acts as an armature for milk by-products it’s coated with whose calories come mostly from fat, so the justification for eating 12 oz. of coleslaw as a “vegetable” didn’t really make sense given the hundreds of calories that went along for the ride on the cabbage.

6.       Skim Milk. Skim milk is, by all accounts, a perfect food.  Its ability to impart a very heavy dose of protein and the enzymes needed to digest it, its quick availability and ease of consumption make it a wonderful nutritional element in any reasonable diet.  Unfortunately, I drank it in very unreasonable quantities – easily a quart a day and maybe a quart and a half.  And the collateral damage of having milk is it demands things be eaten with it that are almost always fat bombs.  My own WMD (in this case, Weapon of Mass Digestion) was cookies.  But even though I felt virtuous having organic skim milk with some sort of “low fat” cookie (Fig Newtons, anything that Snackwells made, Stella D’Oro biscotti), if I’d had half a brain I would have realized that the “snack” of 8 oz. of milk and four or six “low fat” cookies was somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 to 800 calories being ingested at odd hours of the night, usually at bedtime.

7.       Potatoes. Although I never ordered French Fries (I even ceased ordering “meals” that included them with my fast food six or seven years prior to de-massing) and I was relatively abstemious when it came to scalloped potatoes, I regularly consumed both mashed potatoes and baked potatoes.  I did not delude myself into thinking that mashed potatoes, which I limited to restaurant or special occasion dining, were anything but co-equal parts of potato and animal fat (a.k.a. butter) and most gravies they bathe in have a high fat-to-flour ratio.  But baked potatoes were truly one of my “ignorance is bliss” foods.  Unlike almost anyone else I know, I would never put butter or sour cream on my baked potatoes, but unfortunately I didn’t recognize that potatoes are basically pure starch, and starch is very easily converted into fat, especially when you eat at least a three-quarter-pound potato at a sitting and often have at least one-half of another after the fact (and would gladly take the skins that were leftover from people who didn’t like them).

8.       Triple Dipping. Dinnertime was not simply a meal, it was three modalities of eating.  First was the food I would eat as soon as I got home from work.  These “snacks” would include Triscuits, a chunk of cheese, peanut butter, leftover pizza, a shard of meat, or anything else in the refrigerator.  Then it would be time for the ever-ethical dinner (often eaten in front of the television set) and then the third chow call of the evening, the “clean up” meal where any other diner’s uneaten morsels (including the kids’ partially eaten McNuggets) would somehow find their way into my alimentary canal. Of course, I rationalized this all by the fact that I “never” had “desserts” (other than the multiple cookies soaked in milk a couple of hours later.)

9.       Food on the Road. Driving at 70 mph it’s very easy to rationalize the fact that saving the three minutes it would take to walk into a store and order something that would actually be healthy is supplanted by ordering something in a paper wrapper and has 80% to 90% of is calories from the fat it is composed of, cooked in, or has slathered upon it.  I rationalized that the 580 calories of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese was a reasonable amount given the fact that I only had it with a Diet Coke.  But when you looked at the fat calories and added the fact that the greasy meat was set between two pieces of the most refined flour bread product imaginable, it was a remarkably efficient fat delivery system.

10.     No Breakfasts, But. . . Inevitably, I would stoically eschew breakfast (typically I wasn’t hungry), but this also meant I would often have a pre-lunch lunch of some form of Twix candy bar, Starbucks strawberry scone, or other high calorie treat.

11.     Lunchtime Accoutrement. What truly reflected my “in denial” status was the irregular side of “gourmet” potato chips and/or “a little dessert” that would accompany most lunches.  Potato chips were clearly invented by an evil genius (along with bacon) – on the one hand totally insubstantial, on the other, fabulously rewarding in texture and salty flavor, but pure evil when it comes to body mass impact (despite my ordering of the “reduced fat” version – usually reduced from 90% fat calories to 60%)  The alternative “enhancement” to lunch was either a single cookie (the size, these days, of a small pie) or a slab of some loaf cake (that when reviewed on Starbucks’ website revealed hundreds of calories of pure fat ingestion).

12.     Restaurant Bread. I would rarely go hog wild at restaurants except for when it came to whatever was in the bread basket.  I could easily go through an entire breadbasket myself and order seconds – concertedly never buttering said bread, but having enough of it that its caloric intake would probably be the equivalent of an entire meal.

13.     Free Samples. I would never, ever, not have firsts, seconds (and sometimes many mores) of free samples of cheese, cookies, salad, and any number of things available at supermarkets, bakeries, coffee houses, etc.  If it was free, I would eat it.  And eat it.  And eat it.  Somehow the lack of cost equated in my mind to a lack of available calories.

14.     Non-Candy Bar Candy Bars. For me, somehow, Twix “cookies” were less venal than a Snickers Bar.  Oh, there were fewer calories, but these calories were usually set somewhere between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner as a multi-hundred calorie “treat” – and although I was working out, no amount of working out could handle this layering up of larding on over twenty years. (The Twix alternative, Kit-Kat Bars, although completely drenched in chocolate, did have those wafers inside, again giving the illusion of virtue.)

15.     Low Fat Frozen Yogurt. The Seinfeld episode notwithstanding, Cherry Garcia low fat frozen yogurt is, in fact, low fat, but it represented one of my great reality dodges.  Given my obvious bulk (and bulking up) I would never, ever, “officially” purchase a “dessert”.  I would have desserts at special occasions, but pie, cake, or brownies would never be purchased at the supermarket for in-house consumption.  However, “treats” would find their way into the shopping cart.  “Treats” were things that were out of sight, out of mind, and represented stealthy comforting in front of the TV set.  Low fat Cherry Garcia was a staple “treat”.  Although in a semi-melted state it looks like something that has already been chewed and spit out, its extreme sweetness and crunchy/chewy texture made it extraordinarily tantalizing.  And as with everything on this list, the “recommended” portion was easily doubled (or more) by me, relegating a container’s contents to a two-serving lifespan.

16.     Shredded Wheat. How could something made from whole grains be bad – especially if you have it with skim milk?  Well, anything that is eaten between meals as yet another Hobbit-like pre/post/in between nosh may add minimally to the fiber that Roto-Rootered my intestinal tract, but it also added several hundred calories to a system that’s already clogged with too much energy and not enough use for it.

17.     Cheese Danish. So plain and unornamented – the WASP of breakfast treats.  How could this unassuming, bland white packet of fluff be so bad?  Because of its relatively benign appearance, it seemed a viable choice on many a road trip when my stomach felt the need for reassurance far from home, especially compared to the garish fruit-filled versions that screamed their evil intent.  I would never, ever, buy a box of cheese Danish for domestic consumption – that would be gross — but what happens at Cumberland Farms stays in Cumberland Farms.

18.     Intense Cheese. Whether an aged cheddar or Pepperjack, there would almost always be a block of cheese sitting in the refrigerator which, from time to time, perhaps every other day, I would bust off a hunk of and shove in my mouth.  If I’d been thinking, I would have realized that was between 80 and 200 calories of pure fat directly applied to some portion of my body for about 30 seconds of Homer-esque ecstasy.

19.     Whole Wheat Anything. Whether it was bread or noodles, I convinced myself that these carbohydrates were effectively congealed dirt – containing so much roughage and non-digestible “pass through” elements that they were virtually “no harm, no foul” in their ingestion – yet another classic food dodge.  Truth be told, the vast majority of whole grains ingested are very easily consumed and absorbed by your body.  The net-net is that a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate.  While marginally better, since they are less easily transported to your gut in the form of fat, these pastas and breads were for me, by seeming benign, evil carbohydrates in disguise.

20.     Carrot Juice. The king of defensible foods, which I drank every morning for several years (to the tune of close to $3.00 a pop), reflected how tragically deluded I was amid all of the previously listed stealth fat bombs.  I still occasionally have carrot juice because I find it to be a true taste sensation, but I no longer think of it as the stand-in for a sustainable diet, as it is a virtual gateway drug to fluids with flavor, and unless the flavor is aspartame, flavor in fluids equals from-the-lips-to-the-hips calories.

While no one of these multiple betrayals of rational eating made me fat, their ongoing, unabated, regular consumption made for obesity by a thousand gulps.  Somewhere in my distracted brain was the half-conscious realization that I was getting monstrously fat, and even though I could not muster the energy, strength, or even intellectual arguments for de-massing sufficient to actually do anything about it, the sense that I was in trouble filtered down through everything that I ate, cosmetically limiting the most indefensible foods to their “lite” manifestations.  “The way to hell is paved with good intentions,” but in this case the way to being really fat was paved with pseudo-ethical eating.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. George J Gillin, Jr. permalink
    March 9, 2011 10:07 pm


  2. Alexandra permalink
    March 12, 2011 10:30 pm

    Your workout info on the Hard Drive post is very interesting. I know you tried “meat and water” a few years ago. Why did you stop? You might be interested in reading Gary Taubes’ “Why We Get Fat.”* It’s not a diet book – but you should know that you’re not the only one who works (worked) out like mad with barely any result.

    You’ve figured out how easy it is to bulk up on refined carbohydrates, but you’re ultimately blaming dietary fat (“…the greasy meat was set between two pieces of the most refined flour bread product imaginable, it was a remarkably efficient fat delivery system.”) So what do you think you SHOULD be eating? A lifetime’s worth of poached chicken breast and steamed green beans? Why live at all?

    *This book is a distillation of the diet/weight related part of his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” which is (trust me) an absolutely fascinating history of the research (and dismissal of research) that led up to our current “healthy eating” guidelines. If you don’t want to bother reading a book, get a gist here, in his paper published in the journal Science:

  3. March 13, 2011 8:44 am

    Basically when I eat too much and exercise too little my body creates fat. The types of food either have more calories per mouthful (fat) or calories more easily made into fat (refined carbs) – I had to shock my bid with low fat low carb food and maintain a little exercise/muscle mass to get the bulk of the bulk off then get a better transitional diet then crank up the exercise to allow me to eat (and drink) for fun without the delusions noted above…there are some “interesting” insights along the way – inevitably at my own expense

  4. December 7, 2011 5:34 am


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