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Thursday, 13 December 2012

A Fear of Fat

“I don't like mine skinny”
My husband says of his women.

Though you’d be forgiven for mistaking the rather heady declaration as an allusion to his preference for Lattes.

Our other male friends chime in, agreeing wholeheartedly, in a unanimous show of support in the manner, if you've noticed, members of that particular species often tend to do.

“Yes yes,” they proclaim magnanimously, “we like women with meat on their bones!"
"The curvy ones!"
“You know?”

“No” I say, “I don’t know.”

They then proceed to rattle off the same list of usual suspects that all men like to rattle off.
Namely: Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendez, Sofia Vergara, Beyonce, Rachel Bilson. Etc.
This list then, is supposed to serve as real-life testimony to the fact that these men "don't like their's skinny."

Well, I beg to differ.

Lookie here, for instance: While Scarlett J might have full, voluptuous lips, a 36 inch top and a matching bottom, I'd like to focus discussion, for just a second, on her waist. Which, incidentally, is 25 inches and tiiiiiiny!!

So what these men are actually saying is not that they “don't like them skinny,” but that they DO like them skinny and not only do they like them skinny, but they like them skinny with big boobs.

And that my friends, is the denouement of the male psyche.

And yes, while we live in an increasingly PC world, what our media thinks is less obscure. I mean when:

Adele losing the pounds is good news
Aishwarya Rai not losing the pounds is bad news

I ask you - what is one left to conclude?
And so, rightly or wrongly, it will continue to be.

Closer to home, I struggle to understand:

1) How the same guy-friends who "don't like them skinny" suddenly tell me I look "nice" at the exact same time that I've happened to lose a few pounds.

OR (just so that I am not seen as being overly harsh on men)

2) The facebook “likes” - from mostly women - that got directed my way in reference to a picture taken right after the loss of the said few pounds.

And to those of you who actually sent me inbox messages (I'm very, very flattered, by the way) asking for the "secret" behind that FB picture I'd like to tell you, rather disappointingly, that there is none! 

That is, save for a good lens-man :)

But yes - I will not deny the benefits of spending a few weeks in a hot place. This means, you see, that I am not tempted to OD on "comfort food" (aka junk food) - the kind that is fairly essential in negative-4 degree weather, in order to fool myself into believing that all is well with the world.

And there you have it.

The truth is folks, as I find myself approaching my mid 30s and realizing (with some shock) that my metabolism really isn't what it used to be, I have come to the conclusion that it all simply boils down to diet.

And with that I find myself confronted by an alarming fear of fat.

This is weird, I get that.
In fact the very fact that this is my chosen topic of discussion in a food blog is rather ironic in itself. But here's the rub - the reason I love food so much is the precisely the reason I fear it.

Because when it comes to food, I find it hard to restrain myself.
“1 square of chocolate” people say.
“A tiny piece of cake”
“2 crisps”
"Moderation is the key"

You can do that??


Because if I can stop myself before finishing the entire box of chocolates, the whole cake, the full bag of crisps, that’s huge. I usually go halves and feel virtuous. But 1 square, 2 crisps, a sliver of cake? And then calmly put the rest away, pretending it doesn’t exist?

Not. That. Easy.
Maybe I’m weak. I suffer from a lack of self-control. A shortage of will power.
But that’s my relationship with food. For better or for worse.
I love food.
I adore it.
When it comes to food, I cannot, I simply cannot, deny myself.

And yet I know, I’ve started to.
Covertly at first.
A burger without the top bun, a baked samosa, pasta without the obligatory parmesan reggiano grated atop, no fried rice please.
And this is what I fear. 

My relationship with food has evolved.
I've become guarded. Restrained. Suspicious.
I no longer indulge in it, carelessly and with reckless abandon like I used to in the old days.

The game's changed.
And I hate it.

See, I have never been "thin"
Actually that’s a lie. I was a skinny baby, a normal child and a fat teenager.
And anyone who has ever been that (a fat teenager, that is) knows that it’s awful, awful, awful.

And so while the rest of my friends thwarted wanted and unwanted attention from an unending stream of boys, I spent my teenage years studying Chemistry.

Which isn’t as bad as it sounds.
It’s worse.

College was a miracle.

With the start of competitive swimming, I started shedding pounds with seemingly no sacrifice. I still ate whatever I wanted. But I swam. And somehow that worked. I wasn't thin but I was fit.

Life changed.

Now, this isn’t all superficial and appearance focused.
Where I was a rather indolent and lethargic 15-yr old, at 20 I was full of energy. Fitter, healthier. And ultimately happier.

I became a staunch believer in exercise.
Exercise and you are golden, I thought.
And it worked.

That is, all the way until the baby came.

Now pregnancy in itself isn’t the problem. In pregnancy, people expect you to get bigger. In fact the bump is an object of awe and wonder. “How much weight have you gained” is a normal question, and not a rude one. The whole thing is rather fun, actually when I think about it.

It’s the bit that comes after the pregnancy that’s the problem.

When the baby is out but when you still look six months pregnant. When the taut, tight stomach (thanks to baby) is now – umm – pure flab?
Gosh! That bit’s hard.
You know the bit where you are constantly hungry because you are constantly feeding the baby?
The bit where you spend an entire afternoon trying on every single pair of trousers in your closet and then throw them on the bed in an increasingly tall mountain of trousers-that-no-longer-fit.
Nobody tells you these things
Nobody talks about them

And so now – whether it’s almost being 35 or having been pregnant (and I don’t know the answer), my body’s changed. Exercise is no longer enough. What I eat matters.

And so suddenly, and for the first time ever, I am confronted by a fear of fat.

There. I’ve said it.

And it terrifies me.
Not the fat, but the fear of fat.
Because I feel like I'm being dragged – worse, voluntarily – into a great big black hole of denial.

Now I know not all fat is evil.  Fat – the good kind – is actually really good for you. Good fats help manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, even help you control your weight by providing a better sense of satiety.

Not to mention that fat tastes good.

My friend, fellow food lover and coffee connoisseur, The Closet Gourmand, never fails to tell me how coffee with skim milk is like drinking dirty water. "Switch to soy, if you want," he suggests. "But skim milk?"
I agree.

The highly acclaimed Monmouth Coffee tastes great for a reason beyond just superior quality coffee beans (which I have no doubt they are) - there's none of that skinny, “lite” stuff at Monmouth: only full fat milk and real sugar, thank you very much.

I know all this and yet I find that I can't help myself. I know things are different at 35 than at 15. Life is fuller, calmer, filled with self-awareness and acceptance. Yet, I dread even the thought of going back to that insecure, self-conscious, unhappy person that I was. And so, I find myself putting up with dirty water in my coffee. Where I used to top up my pay-by-weight salad box with the wonderfully tasty (and wonderfully deep fried) General Tso’s Chicken, I won’t do it anymore. I see my husband lather his toast with butter and I think how can you wilfully eat that? How do people eat a whole meal of crackers and cheese? Or cook with lard? Or eat supermarket sandwiches laden with god-only-knows how much mayonnaise every day for lunch? 

I envy them.
I want to.
But I can’t.
And it scares me.

This is not about being “thin” or “skinny” or the “right number” on the weighing scale. This is about being happy with where you are.

That I get.

That doesn’t bother me.
What does bother me is how much being happy with “where I am” is influenced by where others think I need to be?

Am I making myself happy?
Or am I conforming to society’s perception of what is considered desirable?

And most importantly - In this endless quest for conformity, am I spending the rest of my life missing out?

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