On Cheating

Generally, I'm not much of a cheater. I'm not competitive enough in cards or board games to feel like cheating, I kind of go in with a loser's attitude. In school, I was too much of a goody-goody to cheat on homework or tests and in college, I was too invested in learning. Once I even thanked a professor for giving me a failing grade on a paper because I learned more from that than an A (I still got an A in the class). Do you still want to be my friend? 

I love the way personal trainer Jesse Barton phrased it - “You’re not ‘cheating.’ You’re just eating.” Or even better, the way that neuroscientist and author of Why Diets Make Us Fat , Susan Aamodt, puts it, “I define [mindful eating] as eating with attention and joy, and without judgment.” 

But. I did cheat on Tuesday. My Foodgawker post was a bit of a cop-out because I didn't really write anything, did I? To be perfectly honest, the cold I alluded to a few posts back has pretty much taken over my brain the past week and I haven't had too much energy. I even took a nap on Monday, which is tragic because I'm a truly awful napper. Naps make me so, so grumpy. 

I've baked a ton the past week too and done an awful job documenting it. On Friday, I baked a four tier cake, baked with tea flavoring, and baked bougatsa. This week I made a get-better-Kayla cocktail, cheesecake bars, macarons, and tomorrow I'm baking a pie. I have almost nothing to show for all of this baking, but I will try to shape it into something for you and for myself. I've cheated this week and hurt myself more than anyone else.

Lovely little cookies, maturing in the fridge as I write. 

Cheating in relation to food is probably more commonly associated with eating dessert rather than forgetting to document it. I googled "Cheating Diet Culture" just now and every result on the first page was a variation of "The Case for Cheating on Your Diet" or "How the Pros Cheat." It's interesting. We all set such unattainable eating goals for ourselves. It's such an ingrained part of our culture that we are all always on a diet, thinking we should be on a diet, and looking for reassurance when we "binge" or "cheat" rather than examining the diet itself as the problem. When I clicked through most of the links about cheating on your diet, most of them focused on losing weight rather than nutritional benefits. That's the dirty not-so-well-kept secret of dieting. It's not really about being healthier or about introducing new, exciting, tasty food into your life. It's about being thinner. It's tied to a culture of fat and body shaming. 

I love the way personal trainer Jesse Barton phrased it - "You're not 'cheating.' You're just eating." Or even better, the way that neuroscientist and author of Why Diets Make Us Fat, Susan Aamodt, puts it, "I define [mindful eating] as eating with attention and joy, and without judgment." Personally, I've found that 'eating mindfully,' or eating without beating myself up over calories, has helped me not only to enjoy food more, but it's made it easier to turn food down as well. If I'm full and there's a scrumptious dessert on the table, sometimes I might have a bite, but it's easy for me not to. This didn't used to be true. The temptation used to be pretty severe. But since I've changed my relationship with food and stopped dieting, I'm not afraid to skip on dessert because I'm not denying myself sugar or carbs or fat. I know if I don't have a cookie or piece of cake in that moment, I will later.

It took me a pretty long time to watch Eat, Pray, Love (I'm not going to lie, I literally always want to write it Eat, Prey, Love. Why isn't it actually called this?). I watched it for the first time on a plane and I picked that movie to watch because I thought it was a fine film to zone in and out of, and, for me, it mostly was. But there is a scene midway through when Julia Roberts is sitting with her friend at an Italian restaurant and they're just trying to enjoy pizza in ITALY and her friend can't eat it. She's trying and she's trying, she obviously WANTS to eat the pizza, but she just can't. So finally Julia Roberts is like, WTF? Why aren't you eating your pizza? We're in Italy. What's wrong with you? All very valid questions. And her friend tells her that she can't eat the pizza because she's gained ten pounds. So Julia Roberts has this amazing, and honestly for twenty-year-old me mindblowing, monologue about food. Let me give you a taste (and then after that I'll also tell you the thing I hate about this scene too):

"I'm so tired of saying no and waking up in the morning and recalling every single thing I ate the day before. Counting every calorie I consumed so I know exactly how much self-loathing to take into the shower." 

Hell yeah, Julia Roberts. You stop saying no to the food you want to eat and you stop feeling guilty about eating fucking delicious food and enjoying it. That's awesome. But wait a minute, Julia Roberts, let's talk about what you said right before that and right after that.

That one time Julia Roberts said an empowering thing, then fucked it up a few seconds later.
”I’m so tired of saying no and waking up in the morning and recalling every single thing I ate the day before. Counting every calorie I consumed so I know exactly how much self-loathing to take into the shower.” 
— Eat, Pray, Love

"Let me ask you a question. In all the years you've ever undressed in front of a gentleman...has he ever asked you to leave? Has he ever walked out? Left? Because he doesn't care. He's in the room with a naked girl. He's one the lottery."

So, even if you gain ten pounds, so long as a man still wants to sleep with you, you have nothing to be worried about? Because a woman's beauty and worth is determined by how fuckable she is to a man? Yeah, that's lame. If you undress in front of a person and he or she walks out, that person is an idiot and an asshole and doesn't deserve to sleep with you. To be fair, Julia Roberts is speaking to her heterosexual friend in this scene, so we can maybe give a little more of a pass to the heteronormativity. But we definitely can't and shouldn't give a pass to the fact that these lines directly give the power to the man. That's one of the problems with diet culture for women. We are continuously told - directly, indirectly, subliminally, subconsciously - that our bodies are for male consumption and what we consume should never alter our bodies in a way that men would not find desirable. 

"I'm going for it. I have no interest in being obese, I'm just through with the guilt."

Julia Roberts is like DON'T WORRY, I'M STILL GOING TO BE THIN AND SOCIETALLY ORDAINED BEAUTIFUL. Which really kicks the whole middle, empowering bit to shambles. We know that weight is not a good indicator of health and yet we continue to judge people's health (often people we don't even know) based on this single factor. It's not a secret anymore, but people keep walking around, pretending like we know strangers' medical history and health risks based on superficial factors. 

Eat what you want to eat. Eat a lot of different things. I swear, someday I'll talk about something different (I think).