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Monday, April 28, 2014

Pro-cooking and Potbellies

This blog is going to be a bit different from my other posts, and yet will not be.

You guys know how much I love food, right? Of course you do! You follow me on Twitter, you see my Tumblr posts, and all of these ones here. But America's gone into kind of a weird place with body image and body positivity and fat-shaming and fat-cceptance, and the internet has come into an even weirder place with it.

Since my transition from savory to pastry chef, I've gained about 10 lbs in about 8 months. Apparently, that's great. The odd thing was that my clothes, which are often quite body-conscious, feel terribly different, nor did I feel any different. The only difference is that I can lift heavy objects(i.e. 50lb bags of sugar) with ease, now, and I can balance screaming-hot sheet trays with one hand and my weak little wrist with considerably less discomfort. But I stepped on the bathroom scale in my friend's apartment and saw it:

162 lbs.

I had always teetered between 145 and 155. When I started my pastry chef job, I was around 150-153 lbs. But 162? I had never seen a number that had introduced so many confusing feelings all at once.

A knock came on the bathroom door.

"You okay in there?"

"Yeah, sorry. Just washing my hands." I hadn't realized that I had been in there for a long enough time to be concerned. I went home that night and looked at myself in the mirror, naked.

Okay, so I was a little softer, kinda flabbier...but wow, was it fun to touch. I was so soft and pliable, and I could roll it in my hands. I took the sharpie from my chef bag and drew eyes above my navel, and breathed in and out, pretending it was talking to me. I looked at my thighs, my butt--I actually had one, now! I never had a butt! It always looked like a frog stood up straight and put on a pair of skinny jeans. And my thighs were rounder, sure, but when I flexed, I noticed how much of it was just...muscle. I was muscular. My  belly wasn't, necessarily, but my arms and legs were much stronger. It then occurred to me that muscle weighs more than fat.

This complete breakfast has been brought to you by Room 39
I've struggled with loving and loathing my body throughout  my life. I used to be a lithe twenty-something that never crossed over the 140 mark on the scale, and if I did, I'd starve myself for a week. I always looked so great in a bikini, and my legs were always long and perfect, and my belly often quite flat. Not toned, necessarily, just flat. My arms were slender, delicate--never strong. I stood in my tiny bathroom, looking in my tiny bathroom mirror, flexing my now-muscular arms. I was impressed. Turns out, a diet of eggs and cheese and whatnot really did turn out to be great for building muscle!

Oh, sure, there was a layer of subcutaneous fat under my skin, but the point is I'd never really ever had any kind of muscle before. When I practiced martial arts, I could never bulk up. I used my speed to take down opponents, and now I can use my strength, too. I'm strong. I liked my new body so much I had completely forgotten about the dreaded number, 162.

And then I stepped on the scale again.

Still 162.

I started jogging in the morning with my dog, instead of walking. My dog was being dragged, basically, and it made me realize that my dog was out of shape, too. I figured then that it's good to do cardio...and if we ever need to outrun a zombie, we're maybe going to be picked off, first, unless we can improve.

I realized, throughout the week, that I wasn't really wanting to lose weight. I just wanted to be able to outrun zombies without dropping a lung. And I didn't want to look better in a dress, because I decided that my broad shoulders are more meant for punching out my enemies versus looking good in a tank top. I don't want to be a supermodel anymore. I want to be a superhero. And that was a pretty weird concept for me. For the first time in my life, I cared about and respected my body because it's not meant to look good. It's meant to move, and lift, and cook the ever-living-shit out of a pie crust or a panna cotta. My arms are meant to carry sheet trays of cookies, and legs are meant to help me lift three or four fifty-pound bags of flour and sugar on a daily basis.
Lifting a case of these is kind of like weight training!

I jog in the mornings with my dog, now, and I do yoga when I can, but I don't watch what I eat. Know why? I don't eat fast food, ever. And I always eat at work. It's not always pastries, sometimes it's some nice fresh pizza, or a salad that I can throw together quickly from the pantry station. I taste as I go, but I noticed that I just lightly snack throughout the day, and seldom eat actual meals, until it's after I've gotten home. And whenever I do eat, it's almost always something I cook. I know I eat well because quality is so much important than quantity. I never eat a lot all at once, mostly because good food will satisfy after only a few bites.

I was at the ACF meeting last month and a very esteemed French Chef I was acquainted with had a nice conversation that was all about how Americans didn't know how to eat. See, I agree with him. Your average American diner doesn't care about quality, not really--they care about convenience more often than not. It's definitely great that we have more and more awareness of Monsanto and GMOs and whatnot, but we--as a culture--really don't care as much as we should.

We're also ridiculously fat. Like. Oh my God. So fat.

And while I think accepting 'fat' as a valid body type without shaming them is all great, we still have to look at the greater issues here. We are destroying our bodies. I don't mind being a little soft and squishy. It's actually really nice to not have that feeling of pressure; I just decided I'd rather have my body be useful rather than pretty. I think obesity is a huge issue(no pun intended, I swear) not because we are 'ugly' as a society, but because we are killing ourselves, and nobody cares.

Okay, so, maybe eating caramel corn isn't the healthiest thing...but it's homemade, man!
I think, as Chefs, we accept that everyone's body is not as simple as "food goes in, energy comes out, you eat too much, you get fat," because it's really not. To tell you the truth, a lot of it is genetics. Sure, if you eat a ton of processed junk and you do it every day with no exercise, don't be shocked that you got fat. I know exactly what I put into my  body  because I eat what I want, and I make it myself. But if you just eat like a normal, healthy human being, and you're gaining/losing significant amounts weight, you should see a doctor.

And please, for the love of all that is holy, don't start a new fad diet because it's trendy. Not only will the people in the restaurants you frequent probably roll their eyes a little at you for taking us through every single stitch of how many calories are in a spoonful of peanut butter, but fad diets don't work. Sure, they'll help you look good for swimsuit season, but you'll probably gain all of that weight back within the next year or so. Don't look to your local Barnes & Noble for your latest. See your Doctor. That is literally what she's for--answering your questions about your body.

Too long, didn't read? You only get one body. Just take care of it. I like my pot belly. I like the body that cooking and food gave me. I accept that if I never exercise, I'll get fat. I can probably do things to improve my diet and body and lose a bunch of weight, but I choose to be passive about it because it's no longer on my priority list to be a supermodel.

Like I said, I don't want to be built like a supermodel. I'd rather be strong than skin and bones.