Full disclosure: I was once a foodie. I loved trying new and unusual foods; I looked forward to meals out at fancy restaurants and holes-in-the-wall; I looked for recipes that challenged my burgeoning cooking skills – all while maintaining my love for grilled cheese sandwiches made with Kraft Singles (because it’s just best that way).
I grew up in a small town without a lot of culinary diversity (although I did first try Tibetan food there thanks to my friend’s enthusiastic siblings screaming “Try the momos! Try the momos!” at me from their booth at our town’s ethnic food festival), so when I moved to the huge Canadian city of Toronto at age 24, one of the first things I set out to do was taste everything.
A friend and I took the ethnic food listings from the local free paper and decided to conquer every cuisine listed. We started with a Moroccan restaurant (“A” for Africa – we were going alphabetically, at least at first). We ate earthy, spiced couscous and tender meat encased in a phyllo pastry crust. I’d never had anything like it. From there we tried food from Bolivia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Peru, Portugal (and we abandoned alphabetical order). We brought friends with us and it was fun.
It wasn’t just ethnic cuisine I tackled; I also tried ostrich steak, boar, lamb, bison and sushi (“Raw fish?? EW!” and then found it immediately and completely addicting. Except for sea urchin. Still ew.) and more fusion combos than you can shake a ladle at. I found out what really amazing pizza tastes like. I was once on a date with a guy who didn’t know what avocado and sun-dried tomatoes were or what they were doing on his plate and I decided then and there it would probably be our last date. I was already in a committed and exciting relationship with food.
At home, I learned to cook fancy(ish) meals using exotic ingredients I could find in the various markets of Toronto: Chinatown, Kensington Market, St. Lawrence Market, Little India. My inner foodie flourished.
I was not dieting very restrictively at this time, despite having lost 30 pounds a few years earlier (perhaps I had just reached the lowest end of my natural weight range, as Traci Mann advocates but I’ll never know) although I do think that my lazy, halfhearted dieting left me hungry enough to crave very rich foods often and fueling my foodieness. It wasn’t until I began severely restricting my calories in the name of bodily perfection that my foodie self came into conflict with my dieting self.
To be thin, I simply could not afford the calories of a truly delicious meal – ever. I couldn’t even afford the calories of a very basic, average meal. By this time I was living in San Francisco, another great food town, but instead of enjoying it, I ate a half PBJ sandwich and fat free canned soup every day for lunch (I would have preferred the French cafe down the street) and hoovered bags of microwave popcorn to keep my stomach from growling. When I did eat out, I would starve myself all week and then binge till I was sick, followed up with a terrible guilt hangover. I don’t remember any of those meals fondly. Ironically, during this time I started telling people how much I lurved food, how obsessed I was by it. That obsession and preoccupation was even why I became a dietitian.
As you know, I eventually quit dieting because it was ruining my life. For a while, I ate everything again. I was in school and funds were limited but I still had fun not constantly worrying about what I was eating. I have since developed acid reflux which has recently limited my experimentation and even enjoyment of food. I know this is partly stress-related and I fully expect some improvement with upcoming life changes. But I’ve also likely inherited my mother’s delicate middle-aged stomach and will probably always have to be cautious around some foods (avoiding too much garlic, too much heat, too much fat or fried).
And part of me thinks I will never be quite that excited about food again because 1. I’ve tasted a LOT of foods, and the novelty of experimentation has worn off over the years and 2. I’m never starving enough to get into a food frenzy. Eating is generally pleasurable for me but I’ve got other things to do, and that’s a bit of a relief.
I still pine a bit for my former inner foodie, though. At the very least, I want to reclaim the joy I once had in cooking. I want to make bagels in my kitchen again because my bagels rock and it’s really fun. While writing this post, I slaved over an amazing pot of chicken posole. This weekend was jambalaya which I haven’t made in years. At the very least, I’m thrilled to be able to eat these foods without any diet anxiety. What I lost through dieting, I will reclaim through liberation.