When I was 15 my parents sent me to a doctor because they thought I had an eating disorder. It turned out it I just had a super high metabolism.
I accepted this news and continued to eat whatever I wanted, whether it was candy bars by the fistful or entire loaves of challah bread garnished with cheese, prosciutto or tomato sauce. I eventually became a food writer, spending the last five years of my career reviewing restaurants and hosting dinner parties. No one should complain about this, but in those five years I’ve gained thirty pounds, almost all of it in my midsection.
Like a silver screen diva realizing her ingénue days were behind her, I’ve come to understand that my superpower is gone. I can no longer eat whatever I want, whenever I want, in whatever quantity I desire without consequence. After going through denial, anger, bargaining and depression, I’ve decided to confront my pork belly belly. The dreaded words I’d mocked, “diet and exercise,” have returned for their revenge and many pounds of flesh.
I’ve joined a gym. Shopping around, I dismissed those where I’d have to endure loud club music (Extreme Fitness), the odour of poorly ventilated sweat (Goodlife Fitness) or impossibly fit young people (University of Toronto’s Hart House). An above ground, boutique gym (Eclipse, which was recently bought by Goodlife), presents the quiet atmosphere I am looking for. And 30 minutes of cardio, three times a week, proves not nearly as unpleasant as I’d expected. Though learning that my 25-year-old friends are already doing this reminds me not to pat myself on the back.
The machines and routines at the gym are mostly self-explanatory. The changes to my diet are not as easily confronted or conquered.
At first I approach it fanatically, cutting out carbohydrates and increasing my kale consumption by 1,000 percent. Bumping into my butcher, he asks if I’ve been on vacation.
Also I’ve spoken with a professional.
“More than 50 percent of the calories that you should be getting in the day should actually be from carbohydrates,” says dietician Sobia Khan, who teaches nutrition at George Brown culinary school. “Sugar, sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, turn into fat. That type of sugar is what’s making you fat.”
The jar of Nutella that sat faithfully next to my bed, and its companion spoon, are gone.
Khan warns me off the mania of avoiding all carbohydrates.
“The other type of sugar, like rice or pasta, those are a different type of carbs,” she explains. “They’re naturally occurring polysaccharides or starches. Those sugars are just made up of glucose molecules, which the body is very efficient at using as an energy source.”
The starches she endorses—barley, quinoa, the buckwheat found in soba noodles—are among my favourite things. Eating lots of beans, having a couple vegetarian days each week and cramming my body with green leafy vegetables, which she also suggests, are all doable.
Cutting out snacking is the tough part. And kale is never fun, unless paired with salty, fatty, porcine things. But I make sure at all times to have a container of ready to eat vegetables in the fridge. The easiest version of that is buying “baby” carrots. But it’s not much more effort to maintain a container of blanched broccoli, green beans or rapini. It’s not just that they go into every meal, but that they dominate the ones they’re in, meat taking on the proportions of a garnish.
As the days of responsible eating turn into months, weight is not pouring off me. But I have more energy and feel better. My food habits slowly change. I start to see an addiction that long masqueraded as a cultural identity, enabled by the boost of a genetic fluke, the formerly uncanny metabolism.
Most of us allow ourselves to indulge for special occasions, Christmas or vacations. I’m starting to accept that every weekend, every episode of 30 Rock, every time a friend comes over, is not Christmas.
When these choices seem tough, I remind myself of a man I know, a great gourmand (a food enthusiast predating the word foodie) whose doctor told him that he could either change his diet or wear a colostomy bag. He chose the bag. That will not be my fate. I choose moderation.