I recently posted about how we ate as I was growing up in the 1960s. Now, I want to talk about how things evolved over the years.
Certainly by the early 1980s things with food were changing a lot. More processed food was available. More fast food restaurants were out there. I went away to school in the mid-1970s and I certainly wasn’t a model for healthy eating. I was busy and went for convenience and didn’t really think about whether food was healthy. I remember that, every day going to class, I would go to the vending machine I get a Coke and a Snickers bar. During my last year of school, I went to a grocery store that had a bakery and I started buying cinnamon sugar doughnuts every day. I would eat at least half a dozen. That year, I gained about 10 pounds. By the time I graduated I was at about 155 pounds which seemed enormous to me then (now, that I am just under 155 pounds, I am feeling pretty thin. Just goes to show how some things are a matter of perspective).
When I got my first job after school, I was living in a small town. There weren’t a lot of places to eat and the one fast food place was a Dairy Queen. Every day I had a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. I knew that Coke was high calorie and tried to learn how to drink Tab (Diet Coke didn’t yet exist) and I just couldn’t stand it.
Living in that small town, I mostly cooked frozen dinners. The old-style frozen dinners had to be heated in the oven and took almost as long to cook as an actual meal. Once microwaves were commonly available and I had one I started eating a lot more frozen dinners as they began to be made so that you could put them in the microwave. Also, Lean Cuisine and other “diet” type frozen meals came out and I started eating lots of them.
In the pre-Weight Watchers years (I joined in 1988), I would mostly eat Lean Cuisine type meals for dinner or would eat out, often at fast food. Once Diet Coke came out, I switched to it so at least I wasn’t drinking brown sugar water.
That brings up something else. So often, I see people debating whether certain foods they think of as unhealthy should be banished entirely from the diet or whether they can sometimes eat them. I generally say on this that – for me – I usually don’t ban foods entirely. It isn’t exactly moderation (which implies being in the middle to me), but more rarely eating them. Rarely meaning a few times a year in most cases. Other people, though, advocate entirely eliminating certain foods. And, to be sure, some people find that they do better just eliminating the food.
Anyway, while I do think of myself as more of the type to eat certain foods rarely rather than eliminating them entirely, I realized while working on this post that there are a few areas where I’ve gone the elimination route. One of them is sugary soft drinks. I switched to Diet Coke soon after it was released and I’ve only deviated a few times. About 15 years ago, I switched back to regular Coke for a week or so. I had read an article that advocated doing this, arguing that Coke with calories in it would be more satiating and so you would eat less. I thought it was worth trying (there wasn’t specific concern about sugar at the time on my part). I quickly realized that sugary drinks were not satiating to me, so I quickly went back to diet drinks. There have also been a few times in the last 30 years when I’ve had lemonade at a restaurant. Other than those episodes, I just don’t drink sugary soft drinks (I also don’t drink fruit juice either).
Also, I made one other change sometimes in the early 1980s. I was finally out of school and was suddenly in a situation where I could often eat at nice restaurants. I discovered eating veal. And, I loved veal. Growing up eating broiled steak 5 or 6 days a week, I really wasn’t all that enthused with most beef. It was OK, but old hat to me. Veal, on the other hand, was something that I had never eaten before. And, I really enjoyed it. But, then I came across an article about conditions under which calves were raised for veal, including the use of veal crates. I had not before that ever really thought much about the ethics of what I ate. But, I read enough about veal to know that I wasn’t going to eat it any more. And, I never have from then until now.
Somewhere along the lines, the anti-fat dogma began to come out. Snackwells cookies were the rage. And, I bought them. I never really thought you could eat anything that was non-fat. I knew calories still counted. But, I did believe that fat was “bad” for you so I would get reduced fat when I could. I didn’t really think about what the fat was being replaced with (often sugar).
When I joined Weight Watchers in 1988, the program was an exchange program. You got a certain number of different kinds of exchanges each day: fat, fruit, vegetables, bread, protein and milk. You also got one floating exchange (or was it two?) each day that you could use on anything (maybe not fat). I always used mine on an extra bread exchange. I still struggled to eat fruit and vegetables. By then I had discovered salads and would often eat a caesar salad if I went out to eat, but I mostly ate a high carb diet with a lot of bread. At some point, I began to hear about whole wheat bread and I would buy that instead of white bread. Still, I ate a lot of refined carbs.
One good thing about being in Weight Watchers at this time was that I started cooking. And, I did learn more about how to cook food from scratch that wasn’t processed and tasted great. Then, I got married and had kids. And, a lot of the cooking from scratch just went by the wayside due to lack of time. We ate out a lot and I went back to eating more frozen foods.
By then I was eating more healthy in some ways. When I joined Weight Watchers, I basically gave up on the large candy bars (I would occasionally have a small snack size bar). And, overall, I did start eating in a more healthy manner. But, I still had difficulty with eating most fruits and vegetables. I would make salads at times, but didn’t like most fruits or most other vegetables (I still remembered the overcooked canned vegetables that I ate as a child).
And, then I became a vegetarian. I didn’t start out to be a vegetarian. I started out giving up beef. At the time, it was basically for reasons similar to why I gave up veal. I read about the factory farming of beef and how beef cattle are treated in terms of being fed grain and I just couldn’t stand the thought of eating beef. In addition to the ethical objection to beef, I didn’t feel that I really needed beef and, truthfully, it wasn’t much of a hardship to give it up since I didn’t love beef anyway. So, 14 years ago I gave up beef. This is another example of something that I gave up entirely. Since then I’ve only eaten beef a few times (mostly by accident, only two times can I remember deliberately eating beef and those episodes were early on). From an ethical standpoint, I currently could be comfortable eating pastured, 100% grass fed beef, but since I don’t really feel that I specifically need to eat beef, I’m comfortable just not eating beef.
After I had quit eating beef for awhile, I decided to try being a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I probably did this for a couple of years. I had some idea I would magically lose weight doing this. In some ways it was fairly easy to do. Almost all restaurants have some vegetarian options, particularly for someone who will eat eggs and cheese. But, in my case, I found that I didn’t do very well on the vegetarian diet. Remember, I still didn’t really like fruit or vegetables. By vegetables, I mean non-legumes, non-starchy vegetables. I did eat some salads and expanded to eating broccoli and asparagus, but that was about it. I would sometimes eat some berries (I actually found that I like most berries). But, I ate a lot of grains and still ate a lot of junk food. Therefore, I gained weight. I also felt that I really wasn’t getting enough protein.
I want to be clear here that this was my failure. I have no doubt that there are many very healthy vegetarians out there who get enough protein and who do well with their weight. I just wasn’t one of them in part because I wasn’t eating enough non-starchy vegetables and I ate too many foods that weren’t the best for me. So, after awhile, I decided to add back in chicken and fish. Over the years, I’ve sometimes had pork although it isn’t a major part of my diet.
Since then I’ve actually gotten a bit better on vegetables (although still not where I want to be) and I enjoy eating berries. I mostly eat chicken and fish for animal protein, although occasionally I eat pork. Fairly often, I have meals with no animal protein in them at all. During the past several years, though, my main focus has been on weight loss. I do endeavor to eat whole grains when I eat grain (so I buy whole wheat tortillas, or whole wheat bread, and brown rice). But, for a lot of the time I was still eating a lot of frozen dinners that had refined grains. The last couple of years though, I’ve mostly eaten the frozen dinners that use whole grains. Oh, I did try going grain free a few times just to see if I felt differently and, for me, I really didn’t. I also did a 30 day gluten free trial and didn’t find any sensitivity to gluten. So, I still eat some grains. Still, I’m not a big grain eater at this point.
Also, I’ve not been much of a cook for years so I eat out a lot and eat a lot of processed foods. That is part of what I want to change going forward. More about that later….