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Got religion?

I was reading one of the bazillion articles about how fat kids are these days, when I read this sentence: “Zeitler says when children slim down, it’s because ‘their families get religion about this and figure out what needs to happen.'” Immediately this made me giggle because the phrase “get religion” elicited imagery of a congregation baptizing members in a tub of fat-free yogurt. Yet that phrase perfectly evokes how I feel about how I’ve changed my life. Which is funny, because I haven’t gone to church in years, yet when it comes to snack foods I have become a slight zucchini zealot.

I once watched a “Where Are They Now?” special on VH1 which was a much more polite title than the equally appropriate “Washed-Up Pop Stars.” One of the people they interviewed was a protégé of Prince who used to slink around in lingerie and do drugs, but had now become a complete Jesus freak. They interviewed her in a church and every other word out of her mouth was about the Lord and God. While I have nothing against Godly devotion or God himself (anyone claming responsibility for creating the duck-billed platypus obviously has a great sense of humor), it did seem a bit extreme. I was happy that she seemed happy, but she also seemed a bit off her head. Sometimes I wonder if people think I am equally wacky when it comes to health and fitness.

For instance, when I made baked goods for my friend back in February, I made whole-wheat muffins instead of a more-likely popular item, like chocolate frosted cupcakes. I did this because I wanted to cook her something but I knew I could not be trusted around frosting and cupcake batter. I could see how that would go clearly. Not only would I lick the beaters, I’d lick the spoon, then I’d dip the spoon in again and lick that, then I’d stick my finger in and lick my knuckle to my fingernail, and then I’d run my finger around the edge of the bowl to get all that stray sugar and flour sprayed at the top edges. I’d probably eat half the batter and frosting before I could seal a finished batch away from my mouth in a Tupperware container. So whole-wheat muffins it was.

When I presented my muffins, everyone was complimentary and polite and I think they genuinely like them. But I’m sure cupcakes would have been more popular. And I think if I started bringing “healthy” foods to potlucks and pitch-ins it’s just as likely my foodstuffs would be pitched in the trash afterwards than eaten. The sugar-filled, fat-stuffed, calorie-dense foods are usually more popular. It’s weird to think I could get a reputation for bringing the granola-crunching, hippie who brings unusual, health foods to get-togethers that people eyeball strangely before dipping into the potato salad. I think people just like to stick to what’s familiar, and the goat-cheese salad, while tasty, is definitely not familiar in a state that has almost no goatherds.

Similarly, I feel a bit weird whenever I go out to eat with people. Over the years I’ve gotten much better about resisting peer pressure. I don’t dive into the bread bowl as much. I can ID the most healthy items on the menu. I stick to water. While this leaves me feeling much less guilty than the days when I stuffed three rolls in my face and sucked down four refills of cola, I also hope no one feels like I am judging them or acting morally superior with my food choices. I’m just ordering what I feel comfortable ordering and if everyone else wants to fill up on bread and drench their fettuccini in cream sauce, more power to them. Yet I do feel like I might be making people feel uncomfortable, like they’re discussing birth control options next to their hard-core Catholic aunt who only endorses the rhythm method. I used to feel very insecure about this and would purposely order “normal” foods that did not have the word “salad” in them just to show that I could eat regular food like them. Now I’ve reached a point where I don’t care that much what other people think of my food choices and just order what I want even if it’s 50% lettuce. It’s not a political statement, it’s just lunch.

Some of my friends who know about my healthy lifestyle will sometimes apologize to me if we go to a place with lots of fried food or will double-check to make sure there is appropriate food for my in their fridges. This is very considerate and thoughtful of them, but again it makes me feel odd. It’s undeniable that my healthy eating and fitness lifestyle sets me apart in unexpected ways from many of my friends and acquaintances. I just try to keep it myself and not get preachy about it. When I was walking on the trail with my mom a month ago a family handed us pamphlets asking us, “Have you been saved?” which we promptly threw out because it’s really no one else’s business whether we have been saved or whether we care to be saved. It’s not my business what other people choose to eat and I’m not going to start lecturing people on the proper amount of vegetable servings they should have in a day. But I have to admit when it comes to healthy living, just like the article said I have “got religion” and strangely enough I like it.

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29 Comments

Lise in NJ • July 5, 2007 at 11:04 am

My circle of friends includes many vegetarians, and our potlucks will thus have tons of vegetarian options. My husband is a serious carnivore, so I typically bring a meat dish to make sure he has an option too. Nobody has ever commented negatively, though I have gotten serious thanks from a couple of other meat-eaters :).

If you’re taking care of yourself and eating what you like, you’re just part of the party. Most likely, nobody has time to worry about what you’re eating — it’s only that when we have food issues, we’re usually watching ourselves so hard we expect others to watch us too. Especially if they’re trying to stick to their food plan at a party.

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Greta • July 5, 2007 at 11:27 am

I bring cut fresh fruit to potlucks and every scrap is always eaten. Healthy food IS popular if you view healthy food as ripe, lucious, fresh fruit instad of goat cheese. Anyway, if you look up the nutritional value for goat cheese and compare it to fresh (not dried) fruits and vegetables, I don’t think you’d view goat cheese as a health food.

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Barbara • July 5, 2007 at 11:57 am

I have to agree with the two comments before mine; I find that many people appreciate having healthy options at potlucks, parties, etc. I know I do. I think it’s interesting that you say most of your peers/friends would find lower-calorie, more healthy options unappetizing; are you sure? I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve been in my 20s and nobody thinks about health and weight (yet — just wait!). Anyway, I say, order what you want, bring what you want, cook for friends what you want – they probably won’t notice, and if they do, they may even be happy you brought something other than cupcakes!

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PastaQueen • July 5, 2007 at 12:11 pm

It’s possible it’s a regional thing. Potato salad and fried chicken wings seem to be very popular in Indiana. Also, I would guess you guys as an audience are the kind of people who prefer healthy options anyway since you’re also the kind of people who read weight loss blogs.

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bazu • July 5, 2007 at 1:45 pm

Well, I’m no more religious than you, but both of us have been “converted” to a healthier diet. Well, I’m probably perceived as much “weirder” than you, being a vegan and all, but I perfectly understand the angst of- will people eat my dish at the potluck? Will people leave my house secretly hungry and pissed off? But the fact is that good food is good food. I’m sure people will appreciate (or come to appreciate) what you cook- this has been the effect around me. I now have so many friends and family who come to me for veg. recipes or healthy tips. I’m sure that soon, people will be asking you to bring your fantastic dish to the potluck, or to give them your recipes. Trust me, healthy eating and thinking trickles down, even if it seems awkward at first. And, you’re always invited to potlucks at my house! Hallelujah!

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Debbie • July 5, 2007 at 1:49 pm

When you go out to lunch or dinner, I don’t think most people care what you eat unless you get preachy about it.

But at home, it can be a lot different if you come from a culture that emphasizes food. Try bringing “healthy” foods to an old-style Italian dinner. They’ll get lost – if not tossed – among all the high-cal dishes. Plus everyone, especially the older women, will be trying to force you to eat non-stop.

If you don’t, they take it as an insult.

So I really think it depends on your circumstances as to how people react to your eating habits.

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JEM • July 5, 2007 at 1:51 pm

I do notice that other people try and eat healthier around me when I am eating healthier, which is nice for both of us but people can eat whatever they want. I have been on both sides of this (where I am the bad eater and where I am the healthy eater) everyone must must the choice that is right for them. No apologies. However I do a a group of people I am around ALOT (they shall remain nameless) That always made me feel bad if I don’t eat what they cook and they hardly ever have healthy options. For instance last night we were invited to dinner and all that was served was Steak, Corn, Potato Salad, Mac n Cheese, Bacon Baked Beans, and garlic cheese toast. When I grabbed a small piece of steak and just the corn I was bombarded with comments like this: Come on its a holiday you can eat! or I made the mac n cheese just for you, you love it, you should have some. or Don’t you like me cooking? or You are always on a stupid diet….ect ect ect.

I hate that!

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AKS • July 5, 2007 at 2:18 pm

PastaQueen, potato salad and fried chicken wings are popular everywhere.

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shelly • July 5, 2007 at 2:47 pm

I had a friend who lost weight and was CONSTANTLY talking about her workouts….my other friend and I started calling her “born-again”. Unfortunatly she fell back into the arms of the chocolate devil and gained her wieght back….now I feel bad for calling her “born-again” We should ALL be Born Again!

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Cindy • July 5, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Lise in NJ seems to have it right, from my experience. For a while, I was very self-conscious, thinking everyone was watching what I did or didn’t eat. I now see it that it was mostly ME that was watching that hard. With my attention that focused, it was natural to think that the world was that interested in me, too. I’ve said it before—doing this weight loss thing has made me incredibly self-centered. But I am okay with that—as long as it keeps working, I’ll continue like this. But, it can be over done…so I am careful about that, too. But taking care of myself…making MY choices for ME? That is the best lesson I’ve learned from all this work. And if everyone did more of that, the world would be a happier, healthier place. I won’t care what you eat if you don’t care what I eat…OK?!

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marygrace • July 5, 2007 at 3:12 pm

i definitely know what you mean regarding the idea of fearing people will think you feel morally superior because of your food choices. as a vegan, people are often apologizing to me for ordering a dish with meat in it, or trying to justify the healthfulness of their fod compared to mine. (while trying to order a vegan meal at a restaurant doesn’t necessarily equal healthy, it certainly is often the case.) anyway, the funny/awkward thing is that i of course don’t feel morally superior, after all, these people are my friends, and if i thought they were bad people, i wouldn’t be hanging out with them! i find the best way to make people feel at ease is to make a non-issue out of the food i am ordering, or if people ask about it, give positive, enthusiastic responses and offer a taste.

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Kimberly • July 5, 2007 at 3:24 pm

I think whenever we’re doing what’s considered “right” and those around us are doing what they fear to be “wrong”, there’ll be that initial feeling of awkwardness. It’s just human nature, but thankfully, friendship can overcome it. Especially friendships that are open and honest, you know?

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melsky • July 5, 2007 at 3:48 pm

I think healthier foods are more popular in different areas – I used to live in Cincinnati and people didn’t think you were really eating unless it was meat, potatoes and desert. But in the other places I’ve lived, California and Toronto, the goat cheese salad and whole wheat muffins would get snapped up right away (possibly by me!)

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laurie • July 5, 2007 at 5:40 pm

I love that phrase, got religion about a thing! I use the more southern, “Come to Jesus moment” but they have the same ring ;)

Yes back where I’m from everything is fried, rolled in bacon or covered in cheese at a potluck. Out here in Los Angeles folks seem to exist on air and diet coke, it’s amazing. Regional attitudes about food are incredibly varied.

And I think you do have to get a bit of zealot in you to change your life. Good on you for picking something like say, nutrition, rather than Xtreme Shopping Addiction or something.

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JanB • July 5, 2007 at 7:24 pm

This really strikes me hard because it has been a weight on my shoulders for a long time. Every time I would try to change my eating habits my family and my husband (not that he’s not part of my family!) would rebel. I wasn’t forcing it on them, they didn’t even want to see me eating it though.

My husband has bellyached for months now how my eating habits are affecting him. I think he is finally getting it now that I am really changing more in body size, but still my family sabotages me.

It’s my body. No one is going to hold me down and stuff a cheese cake down my throat, but I am also not letting other people dictate what I eat. If I want fish five times a week then back off hubby. I am eating fish.

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Kel • July 5, 2007 at 7:46 pm

Pasta Queen, you just explained why you are having such success at the weight loss experience! Keep up the religion!!

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Sam • July 5, 2007 at 8:30 pm

PQ- I loved your post!!! People can get religion (religious) about lots of things. Your post made me laugh, and I agree with Kel, you’re religious about your changed lifestyle and this makes you successful. You go girl, and don’t give up!!

Sam

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starbird • July 5, 2007 at 10:43 pm

So much to comment on regarding this post and the wonderful responses.

Yes, sabotage by friends and family can be very hard on you. Food is a both a reward and a weapon and sometimes the sabotagers don’t even know what they are doing. I do believe they fear they will lose the person changing his/her life.

Also, food is very regional. When my husband and I quit smoking and drinking – finally! – my cousin and her husband were afraid to have us visit them at their Colorado home. They thought we had ‘gotten religion!” The husband said, “You’re not one of those tofu and granola-heads, are you?” Such is the reputation of the Pacific Northwest! I told him we never ate either of those awful foods (true) and we all relaxed and had a great visit.

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Sara • July 5, 2007 at 11:21 pm

I know what you mean about trying not to be preachy. I don’t judge the way my friends choose to eat, that is up to them. But I just can’t always bite my tongue when I see my family routinely eating a horrible diet. I care too much about their health not to say something. Still, I don’t think anything I’ve said has resulted in my family members eating any healthier, so maybe it really is best just to keep my mouth shut.

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Dreamboat • July 5, 2007 at 11:55 pm

I’m self-conscious about my eating habits, too. I REALLY do not want anyone commenting on what I eat or don’t eat.

But, I have to make my own choices, and be responsible for them. Something I’m still learning to do. Yesterday, I went to a barbeque. Often I will bring dessert to dinners that these friends have. I wasn’t really in the mood to do some big low-carb dessert, so I just stopped at the store and bought a bunch of strawberries. People loved them. I didn’t quite have as much strength about refusing the hamburger bun in front of the six people that were standing around while someone was dishing them up.

Everytime I took a bite of the burger I was hearing echos of a post you made about not eating things that aren’t “worth it.” This was not even a good hamburger bun. Next time, I’m just going to say I can’t eat the buns — it’s against my religion.

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lovelines • July 6, 2007 at 8:50 am

I always avoided ordering salads too, for that same reason. I didn’t want to be “that girl on a diet,” but now I really don’t care either. It’s not like it’s anyone’s business what anyone else decides to eat anyway. Props to you!

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MIzAngie • July 6, 2007 at 12:14 pm

I start a diet everyday. I prefer not to announce it to the people around me because I have no faith that I’ll still be on the diet by dinnertime. Anyway, if I order something “healthy” or get the salad bar I’m bombarded with “Are you on a DIET?” Being self-conscious anyway, this really doesn’t help my resolve. I’m not blaming them, I’m acknowledging that I have issues with this sort of setting. I want to be around my friends but feel I’m sabotaging myself with my attitude! Issues, issues, issues…

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MIzAngie • July 6, 2007 at 12:15 pm

I start a diet everyday. I prefer not to announce it to the people around me because I have no faith that I’ll still be on the diet by dinnertime. Anyway, if I order something “healthy” or get the salad bar I’m bombarded with “Are you on a DIET?” Being self-conscious anyway, this really doesn’t help my resolve. I’m not blaming them, I’m acknowledging that I have issues with this sort of setting. I want to be around my friends but feel I’m sabotaging myself with my attitude! Issues, issues, issues…

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psychsarah • July 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Two comments…

1) I attended an ER a few years ago after a (relatively minor) injury. While I was being checked in, the intake clerk asked me a series of questions, one being “Do you have religion?” I giggled, because the question was not “Do you have a religious preference” or something like that… My response (being a strong atheist and a bit of a smart ass) was “Is it required?” to which I received a blank stare. Totally unrelated, but your post made me think of it.

2) I think a lot people appreciate it when there are healthy choices available. I had a huge Canada Day bbq this weekend. We had hamburgers and turkey burgers as meat, so I bought a lot of buns. Since I always buy whole wheat for my house, the majority were whole wheat, but in order to try to be considerate (and because there were a few kids coming, and you never know what kids will eat!) I bought a couple of packages of white buns. Only one white bun was eaten all night! My husband says it goes to prove my theory that if there are healthy options available, people will, in fact, take advantage of them. (Same goes for the veggies I put out for appetizers and cut up fruit for dessert!)

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RG • July 6, 2007 at 4:49 pm

Since when is goat cheese (feta usually is?) exotic? Oh, yeah, I guess I hang out with liberal arts hippies. And in that crowd, familiar is not in. Bringing something unusual, ethnic, etc. is definitely a plus.

Eating is part of culture, and culture is important during socializing and family gatherings. It helps to pretend that nothing is changing but, really – everything already has.

I’m from a culture of immigrants – mostly my parent’s generation, but also some in the 20’s and 30’s. The homeland was predominantly vegetarian, and the emphasis has been on learning to ea non-veg to fit in. And it’s often a slippery slope – to eating other ethnic foods, to being more open to other aspects of American culture, from consumerism to other religions. Of course in this case, the vegetarianism is directly linked to religion. But food remains both a way to prove roots in the homeland and a litmus test of their acceptance of the US. The broader ranging the person’s food tastes, the more they will have assimilated into American melting pot culture.

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Susan • July 6, 2007 at 6:04 pm

“I also hope no one feels like I am judging them or acting morally superior with my food choices. ”

I totally relate. I think it’s because I have an accommodating personality – I just don’t want to cause pain to anyone or make them uncomfortable. But when you stop and think about that, if eating fried food in front of me makes them uncomfortable, that’s not really my problem, is it? The flip side of that coin is that I’ve found that I have friends who are happy to have someone to order healthy food with, too.

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Natalie • July 6, 2007 at 8:06 pm

Different from being religiously zealous, you are just extremely highly educated and are making choices that reflect that. Not everyone who has a lot of education makes good choices. I think your success is a combination of educating yourself (you yourself said you could have an associate’s degree by now, with how much time you’ve spent on weight loss), and making good choices (most people are smart enough to know twinkies are bad for you, but they make bad choices!!!) I still have somewhat of a disconnect between the edcuation & choices, but I’ll get there someday.

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K • July 7, 2007 at 5:17 pm

I like goats’ cheese, which is just as well because it’s incredibly popular here as a vegetarian option at restaurants. Though there are probably as few goats in Britain…

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Anna • July 8, 2007 at 9:48 pm

So great – as always! I’ve been reading your blog for ages now (although just as a lurker, I guess!) and it’s really helped me out – your posts are always so REAL

by the way – check out this goat farm in Indiana:

http://www.capriolegoatcheese.com/default.aspx

I live in South Bend, so it’s a little far for me, but how great would it be to take a day trip to meet some goats and get some really fresh and delicious cheeses? You should go! Indiana is more diverse & interesting than you might think – and I say this as a former East Coast-er!

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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