Heartbreak in the grocery aisle.

Dear friends,

I think it’s obvious that food has been on my mind lately. A lot.

Clearly, food being on my mind is what led to the cleanse. And now that I’m a full five weeks into the cleanse, food is on my mind for a different set of reasons. Some of the conclusions I’ve drawn are what I expected; others have surprised me. I thought I would share these thoughts with you — and the easiest way to do so is with a list. Er, two lists actually.

What I miss:

  1. Cheese: Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese! I miss cheese so much I can’t describe the feeling. I knew I would, and I was right. And the craving for cheese and the enjoyment of cheese hasn’t diminished one bite. Er, bit. I haven’t cut cheese out entirely, but I estimate I’m eating about 20% of the volume of cheese I used to eat. I no longer eat cheese every day. And a typical serving is now 1 oz. In case I haven’t said it, I love cheese. I miss cheese. Cheese broke my heart. And is there anything more tragic than heartbreak in the grocery aisle?
  2. Wine: I haven’t given up wine entirely, but I’ve really limited my intake. As much as I enjoy it, I remind myself it’s liquid (empty) calories. And it’s hard to drink wine without craving cheese. They’re the devil’s duo in my life.
  3. Crunchy, packaged snack foods: Cheetos, Doritos, Pita Chips, Pretzels, Fritos, Triscuits, Pork Rinds, Saltines . . . you name it, if it crunches and comes in a package, I miss it. I crave it. Whereas I have managed to moderate my cheese intake, I can’t be trusted around the salty, crunchy stuff. I don’t go near it. Can’t. I know you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy comfort and it comes in a Pringles can.

What I don’t miss:

  1. Butter: I can’t believe I’m saying this. I love butter, always have. But giving it up has been one of the easiest transitions to healthier eating I’ve ever made. Haven’t missed it for a single second.
  2. Sugar and sweets: Just like butter. I simply don’t need sugar and never find myself craving it. Once you give it up, you realize how naturally sweet many vegetables and legumes are. Or, maybe I was born with a cheese tooth instead of a sweet tooth. Whatever it is, I’m doing fine without sugar. I miss baking. Actually, I miss baking a lot. But sugar? Not at all.
  3. Salad dressings: There are so many hidden calories and weird ingredients in most commercial salad dressings. I gave it up immediately in favor of a teaspoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Now, I don’t even need the oil. A sprinkle of vinegar allows the texture and flavor of salad greens to really shine and it’s amazing how much flavor exists in a salad if it’s not drowning in dressing. I’ll never go back.
  4. White rice and bread and pasta: This one really surprised me. I thought I would die without bread. And pasta. Guess what . . . I’m doing just fine. In five weeks, I’ve eaten one slice of bread and two small servings of pasta. And there have been no nervous breakdowns. Who knew?
  5. Huge portions of meat: I like to call myself a “flexitarian” because although I enjoy meat, I’ve never been a devoted carnivore. Four ounces a day has been easy breezy. And surprisingly, on the two occasions I’ve exceeded my daily limit, my gut has made sure I realized the error of my ways. Earlier this week I ate lunch at a nice cafe, where pan fried chicken livers were the daily special. In spite of the fact I knew they’d be breaded in white flour, I ordered them. And I really enjoyed every single bite. But you know what? Two ounces were all I needed to feel entirely satisfied.
  6. Huge portions of anything: I’ve been weighing all my food at home even though I’ve gotten really good at judging by eye. I’m truly surprised how satisfied I can be with four ounces of just about everything.
  7. 13 pounds: I can’t believe I’ve lost 13 pounds in five weeks. I’m astounded. And now I realize how much crap I was eating and what it does to my body.

I’m wondering if you find it interesting that there’s only three things I miss and seven things I don’t miss. I never made it past Algebra II, but I think the math is working in my favor on this one. Although, have I mentioned I miss cheese?

I’m also not missing a rigid adherence to arbitrary rules. I told you I’ve always had trouble with moderation. So I’m trying to do better about not sweating the small stuff. Last night, Mr. Mom and I went out for dinner at a very nice restaurant. I had salmon and risotto. The risotto was loaded with cheese and butter, but instead of fastidiously avoiding it, I ate a few bites. It was pretty good, I have to say. And since the salmon filet was huge — probably a good eight ounces — Mr. Mom got a second entrée with half of my salmon and most of my risotto. He thoroughly enjoyed it (in addition to his Italian sampler). By the way, I took two bites of his stuffed veal Florentine. It was oh-my-god good and I didn’t feel guilty for one second. That’s real progress, folks.

Today’s big meal is also about progress. I’m just betting you I can be happy with one small piece of fried chicken and no cake. Not that long ago, I wouldn’t have cooked such a meal in the midst of a cleanse mindset. Feast or famine, you know. But I enjoy cooking so very much (and my family enjoys my cooking so very much) that it seemed ridiculous not to do something we all love. And like I said, boiling brown rice and making vegetable soup just isn’t all that interesting.

So today I shall cook. And I shall eat. With joy and without guilt.

With gratitude {for moderation, blessed moderation},

Joan, who wants to make certain you know she misses cheese and always will

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We’re all going to hell. Unless Parker saves us.

Dear Friends,

Like every child I know, my daughter Kate developed her own vocabulary as a toddler.  Her name for our cat “Rudy” was “Heidi.” Her word for “swimsuit” was “suitcase.” And her word for “ice cream” was “hamma.” (I know, not even close.) It was a little odd, but we quickly adapted to her dialect and played along.

The one word she never had difficulty with, interestingly, was Wal-Mart. She uttered her first sentence shortly after turning two. We were driving by Wal-Mart and she excitedly exclaimed: “Wal-Mart. Go in. Pay for. Have it!” (By the way, I tried to get Sam Walton’s marketing folks to buy the phrase as their new tagline, but they didn’t love the spare beauty of it nearly as much as I did.)

And since that day more than 16 years ago, Kate has been an intrepid shopper, accompanying me on nearly every trip I’ve ever made to a retail establishment. When she started driving, I gave her an American Express card with her name on it. I did it mostly out of convenience. I didn’t want to scramble for cash every time she needed gas or school supplies. But what I immediately discovered was that it allowed me to send her to the grocery store on a whim.  Need a gallon of milk? Send Kate. Out of bread? Send Kate. Have a grocery list of 32 items from allspice to yams? Hey, grocery girl! Hit the road, stat!

She is such an enthusiastic grocery shopper that Mr. Mom and I rarely go any more. Of course, the Devil’s Bargain (and there’s always a Devil’s Bargain with your children) is that Kate buys whatever else she wants, parents be damned.

After all those years that Mr. Mom and I fed our kids bean sprouts and whole-grain bread and played Scrooge about soda pop and junk food, our pantry now overflows with every snack food known to the commercial food industry. We’ve stopped asking in an accusatory tone, “Hey! Who bought all these potato chips?!” Instead, we’ve been known to exclaim, “Cool! Fruit Gushers!”

Take a peek at our pantry:

I know. It’s a teenager’s dream. Which probably explains why so many other teenagers hang out at our house. (It could be the ping-pong table, the X-Box Live, the dirt bikes and/or the dirt bike trail out back, but I’m guessing the pantry and the spare refrigerator in the garage stocked with soda pop are the biggest lures.)

And I’m sad to report that Mr. Mom and I have become hearty consumers of Kate’s shopping largesse. I saw him walking around last week carrying a box of donut holes as if he feared setting it down might mean sharing. Last night, he ate the very last Pita Chip not 48 hours after the bag entered our house, and I hadn’t yet tasted a single Parmesan-y flavored morsel. As I type this, I am eating Pringles Dill Pickle Extreme chips.

(They are totally addictive. Do not try them! Unless you’ve just consumed a bag of Fruit Gushers and need a salt chaser. Then totally try them!)

I do feel kinda bad about what this says about us. I mean, Mr. Mom and I both read Fast Food Nation more than a decade ago and became converts. We read Sugar Busters almost 20 years ago and bought our own grain mill so we could bake whole grain bread. We went to the movie theater to see Super Size Me and made Kate go along and endure a lesson on the evil that is McDonald’s. I was Macrobiotic for a year and vegetarian for several long stretches. And we own, yes we own, a copy of the documentary Food, Inc.

(Haven’t heard of it? Good lord, click here. Then prepare to lose your appetite.)

We have been walking-talking nutrition proselytizers, now shamed by the seduction of an accommodating teenager and the lure of packaged food.

The only upside is that Kate goes to college in a few months and we’ll be back to fending for ourselves, grocery wise.  I can only pray we lose a few pounds and save a few dollars. (Note to self: revoke American Express card before she leaves town.)

By the way, I have no fear that Parker will pick up where Kate leaves off. His ability to side-step anything resembling effort is legendary. He wouldn’t walk across the room to hand us a donut, much less drive to the store to buy us one.

With gratitude {for my son’s tough love in the face of so much temptation},

Joan, who once convinced her small children to eat tofu by calling it “cheese” but now hides the Cheese-Its under her bed as an act of conservation