I came around the corner of the laundry to find my two-year-old daughter munching on a serve of dog biscuits. She was very pleased with her find and didn’t want to let go of her treats. I wasn’t too worried – I know the biscuits have no artificial colours and probably don’t have too much offal in the ingredients! …And she’ll have such a glossy coat! This morning she was sitting on the grass under the washing line nibbling on a mushroom she’d discovered growing there. I’m happy for her. I wish I could find delight in such simple foods.
My problem – and this is where the whole sordid tale starts – is a compulsion to eat chocolate and biscuits (people biscuits, not dog biscuits), when I have no need for extra calories at all. I tried to put on a skirt for church and found I couldn’t do up the zip – and this is a skirt I have worn quite comfortably for the past year or so since losing a lot of my pregnancy girth. So instead of continuing to lose weight I found I had started putting it on again.
I was in despair! Could it have anything to do with the fortnight-long chocothon I put myself through as a treat for my birthday? Could it have anything to do with the biscuits I eat at night when I’m feeling a bit peckish? Could it be the food I eat when I’m not hungry at all – but just eating for something to do?
It is a sordid tale indeed. For we buy organic fruit and vegetables when we’re not growing them ourselves. We espouse the health benefits of exercise, rest, fresh air and clean water, yet as fast as I do one good thing, I am undoing it with another bad habit.
My bad habits started as a child. (Like most modern people I blame it all on my upbringing.) Instead of preparing lunch for me to take to school, my mum would often bring me a can of soft drink and an apple turnover at lunchtime. When I didn’t get a special lunch delivery, I was able to order tuckshop, and all I remember receiving were big fat cream buns in a plastic bag. …And they didn’t have that horrible real cream either but mock cream with lots of gelatine and sugar. I’d scoop out the cream and put it in the bag, chew a little hole in the end, then squirt the cream into my mouth. Yum!
As I got older, Dad told me “salt will kill you, but there’s nothing wrong with sugar”. He would take me to the bakery and ask what I wanted. Apple turnovers dusted with icing sugar, jam and cream donuts, custard tarts, vanilla slices… whatever I wanted, I could have. Perhaps it was his way of being a ‘fun’ dad after my parents had separated. I didn’t care; I just wanted the pastry.
My parents didn’t seem to have much concern about controlling my diet. I refused fresh fruit and vegetables and preferred to eat cereal, tinned spaghetti and anything processed with lots of sugar or fat. I didn’t make the effort to expand my range of food groups until at the age of 17 I left home and realised two things: 1. Junk food is more expensive than simple, natural food, and 2. normal people saw me as weird and fussy when I rejected most vegetables on my plate.
Obviously it took a long time to re-educate my tastebuds and to recognise the value of fruit and veges. Years of frustration in the kitchen gradually led me to the point where I can now cook simple but healthy meals for my family without a panic attack (or feelings of revulsion). I even crave certain vegetables when I haven’t had them for a while!
But still, ‘old mate’ sugar calls to me in between meals, and whenever I go shopping. There are plausible reasons why this is so… low blood sugar after a trying day, urging me to lift my mood with a quick sugar rush and some endorphins. The concept of ‘comfort food’ never meant much to me, until I actively tried to stop eating so much sweet stuff. Now what I can’t have, I want more than ever.
Struggling with self-control is a familiar issue for everyone. I spoke to a lady who was trying to lose weight by having special milkshakes as a substitute for eating the things she shouldn’t. I asked if she was exercising, and she said that she hardly got time to use her treadmill. She said, “I’ve got a thousand excuses why I don’t do it, but I know it’s up to me to make the effort.”
Sometime ago I set myself a 30-day sit-up challenge, to see if I could tone up my stomach (like on the TV ads for the “You-Beaut No-Strings-Attached Belly Bonanza”). The first night I lay on the lounge room floor and spent 15 minutes doing variations of the traditional sit-up. The next night I forgot, but then I did well on my second attempt at the 30-day challenge. Then the next night… well… I didn’t actually specify that the 30 days had to be consecutive!
I am reminded of Paul’s statement in Romans: “I am a mortal, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate…. I know that good does not live in me – that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don’t do the good I want to do; instead I do the evil that I do not want to do.”*
I have made yet another resolution to cut out the biscuits and empty calories. I will try to exercise more. I will eat only what is beneficial for me (most times). This time I am going to make it work! But I’m not doing it on my own. I’m going to ask God to help me, and I know that where I am weak, He is strong.