Some people live to eat, others eat to live. Unfortunately for my waistline, I fall into the former group. So you can imagine how I reacted when a tall, handsome man walked up to me a few weeks ago, gazed deeply into my eyes, and uttered the three little words guaranteed to make any woman's heart beat faster:
"Your cholesterol's up."
I stared at my doctor in horror. My mind whirled. My stomach churned (but that might have been the burrito I had had for lunch). What would I do? Visions of white rice and salad greens danced through my head. How would I live? How could I hope to survive? A moan of distress escaped me.
"Oh, calm down," he said. "It's not that bad. You just have to watch yourself for a little while. Stay away from red meat, fried foods, and high sugars. You'll be fine."
"It's a good thing a hurricane just hit down south," I said.
My doctor frowned. "Why's that?"
"Now I have someplace to send the contents of my kitchen cabinets."
Armed with a list of do's and don'ts, I set off for the supermarket, determined to look on the brighter side of things. I was going to get healthy, wasn't I? I was going to start taking better care of myself, right? I'd dust off my membership card for the health club, I vowed. I was going to take charge of my life! I lit a cigarette and perused my list. Besides, I'd never pass up an excuse to go shopping.
Once inside the grocery store, I headed for the bakery aisle, my usual first stop. My eyes lit up. A sale on Entenmann's! I took off like a shot, double-clutching into fourth gear. Salvation!
I turned and bit back a groan. My friend Karen, the health-food nut, was headed straight for me.
"What are you, my conscience?" I said sourly. Ignoring her look of outrage, I defiantly grabbed three boxes of chocolate chip cookies off the shelf. "See?" I gloated. "Fat free and cholesterol free."
Karen shook her head and took the box from my protesting hands, examining it. "Lies," she pronounced. "See this?" She pointed to the table of nutritional information. "It says 0 grams of fat. But look here," she said grimly. "Calories from fat...353. You can't eat this stuff. It'll kill you."
"353 calories doesn't sound so bad," I said hopefully. "There's a lot of cookies in that box. Besides, I'm allowed around 2000 a day, right? And it's not like I eat breakfast or anything. So I've got a surplus."
"Oh," I said, momentarily deflated. Then I brightened. "How many cookies in a serving?"
She consulted the box. "Two."
I grabbed the box and tossed them into the cart. "So I'll live on them," I retorted. "It's cheaper, anyway." I wheeled the cart around and headed for the junk food aisle.
Doggedly, she followed, muttering something under her breath about trans fat and protein ratios. Her jaw dropped open in shock and horror as I reached for a can of Pringles. "You can't!" she yelped, diving for me. A brief wrestling match ensued, which, much to my chagrin, ended with Karen holding the chips high out of my reach, a smug smile on her face. "You should be going to the gym more often," she said, grinning. The can went back on the shelf.
"Shut up or I'll sit on you," I growled, turning back to my shopping cart in a huff.
"It's not really that hard. Do you want my help or not?" Ignoring my muttered "not" she forged ahead. "Well, I'm going to help you anyway. All you have to do is pay the bill."
"I still think liposuction would be easier."
"Now, now, don't sulk." Karen proceeded to whip through the store as a woman demented, filling my cart with fat free yogurt, lean chicken, fish, rice, fresh produce and bottled water. Standing back, she surveyed her efforts with satisfaction. "Tell you what," she said, obviously feeling expansive. "Let's get you something for a treat." To my surprise, she headed back to the junk food aisle.
"Pringles?" I whispered, almost afraid to hope.
She snorted. "Not likely. Those things have enough fat in them for the entire month." Her eyes scanned the shelf quickly. "Ah, here we are." My eyebrows arched in surprise as she dropped a bag of what appeared to be corn chips into the cart. "Blue corn chips."
I studied the bag and shook my head. "Nope. I won't eat anything blue. Reminds me of the stuff in the bowl in my fridge that I can't recognize anymore."
"That's green, not blue. Besides, this stuff is good. You won't even be able to tell the difference from the stuff you usually eat. They're versatile; they have a million uses. And they're good for you."
"I thought you said they taste good. How is that possible?"
"No fat. Look, they're baked, not fried. And they have no cholesterol."
"No fat and no cholesterol?"
"And no salt."
I put them back. "So what's the point?"
It's been an uphill battle.
I'm sure we all remember the days when we were so poor that we lived on macaroni and cheese. For me, those days aren't that far in the past, but I remember thinking that nothing could be worse than going into the kitchen and finding the shelves empty. How horrifying to realize that I was experiencing that same feeling all over again, only this time, it was on purpose. I had stocked my cabinets, all right...with food only a guinea pig could love.
So in the spirit of giving, I have generously decided to let you, dear reader, learn from my mistakes. If you think you can't possibly reform, if merely looking in your refrigerator is enough to make your arteries harden, I offer the following helpful hints:
1. DO eat plenty of salad. DO NOT put Creamy Italian dressing with bacon bits on it.
2. DO try to satisfy cravings (within reason) rather than ignoring them. DO NOT assume that this means you can have an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's Extra Evil New York Style Chocolate Chocolate Chip Crunch Brownie Chunk with Hot Fudge Swirl in one sitting.
3. DO try to eat portions from each of the four food groups. DO NOT assume that you can have pizza with sausage and broccoli on it and call it a day.
4. DO try to purchase things that say "fat free." DO NOT try to purchase things that say "reduced fat." I've got news for you, folks: 500 grams of fat is reduced when compared with the usual 1500 grams found in your typical potato chip.
5. DO NOT, under any circumstances, eat an Oreo cookie. You'll never stop. (Besides, the nifty white stuff inside an Oreo used to be made out of lard and sugar. I understand this isn't the case anymore, but just thinking about it makes me want to sign up for a triple bypass now and avoid the rush later.)
6. DO eat hard pretzels to satisfy your salt cravings. DO NOT eat three pounds of them.
7. DO try to eat more chicken or fish and less red meat. DO NOT think that this means partaking of the Colonel's special recipe is not a mortal sin.
7A. Corollary: DO NOT use "But I'm eating chicken!" as an excuse to engage in All You Can Eat Buffalo Wing Night at the local sports bar. This is not a fat/cholesterol issue. This is a "do I really want to live in my bathroom for the next four days" issue. Trust me. I've been to that sports bar on All You Can Eat Wing Night.
8. DO soundly thrash anyone who asks you if you want to go out for ice cream. DO NOT get caught hiding the person's body.
9. DO build a network of people who can support you in your healthy endeavors. DO NOT diet with your best friend. Nothing will bond faster than two women in search of chocolate. (If you don't believe that chocolate is a bonding agent, just try to get a Hershey bar off your hips after you've eaten it.)
10. DO measure the food you eat. DO NOT assume that this is how much weight you will be putting on. Four ounces of cheeseburger will transmute within the body to approximately 6.6 pounds.
And lastly, a word about exercise.
Exercise is great, but for those people who try to go to a gym, it can be a daunting experience. One look at all the blonde hard bodies in their thong leotards or the muscle-bound Adonis in the next room sweating and bulging at the bench press can be pretty depressing for normal folk like us. Then again, let me take another look at that Adonis...
And as for the blonde in the leotard? Well, I look at it this way. I might be smart but pudgy now, but in ten years, she'll have skin like leather from the tanning machines, hair like a haystack from all the sprays, perms and dyes, and a face like a Pennsylvania highway from all the makeup. Not to mention the fact that you can only fight gravity for so long.
But in ten years, I'll still be smart.
So what's the moral of the story? Don't despair. Realize there's something loveable about you, no matter what your body type. Maximize your assets. If all else fails, go shopping. And most important of all: blue corn chips really are versatile. They make great Frisbees.