Battling the bulge

May 31, 1995

Frequenting the YMCA with my wife has been but one step on our path to healthier lives. Another step is actually working out while at the Y. The most important element, though, has been eliminating as much fat as possible from our diet, a task which has fallen mostly upon Diane, as she provides us with a good share of our meals. (By a good share, I mean all of them.)

It all started with milk, which neither of us adds to our cereal (a bizarre shared trait that helped draw us together). I used to drink whole milk, although if I were to try it now, after acclimating my system to skim, it would probably taste like wallpaper paste. We – I mean, she – uses skim milk for making chocolate pudding and, uhhh…ummm, all right, enough about milk.

Speaking of chocolate pudding, the nest topping for it is Cool Whip, which has a significant amount of fat. (By significant, I mean that a dollop of the stuff floating in a basin of water will create an oil slick.) Most food companies, cashing in on the country’s healthful trends, are wisely offering non-fat and low-fat versions of their products. We buy Cool Whip Lite, which has half the fat of the original. Thankfully, they haven’t skimped on the sorbitan monostearate.

We use Cain’s fat-free mayonnaise sporadically, when we want to lead a taste-optional lifestyle. Even after looking at the ingredients on the label, I couldn’t tell you what mayonnaise is, except that it serves as a fine adhesive in potato salad.

Back when my wife and I were unaware of how insidious and evil a substance butter is, we would slather it on our vegetables, toast, and pancakes. For a while, we used a butter-margarine blend, which we thought was better for us than pure butter – a joke, since both are pure fat.

So, Diane recently picked up a tub of Promise Fat-Free spread. Not butter, not margarine. Spread. I wasn’t aware that spread fell into any of the known food groups, and I’m still not sure that it does.

We christened the spread on steaming ears of corn. Defying the laws of physics, the mater didn’t melt, and we had to forcibly smear it between the kernels. Our efforts met with disaster – the laminating qualities of the spread dulled the flavor of the corn beyond recognition.

Diane dunked the poisoned ears back into the pot of water, washed off the offending substance, and we enjoyed our corn with the evil, yet yummy, butter. I’ve kept the Promise spread, just in case I ever take up spot-welding as a hobby.

We’ve had good luck with Kraft cheeses, which come in handy with homemade pizzas. The one that puzzles me, though, is the “non-fat pasteurized process cheese product.” While I’m grateful the word “cheese” is mentioned on the package, I know that this stuff ain’t cheese.

Has real cheese been added to this product? Did it start out as real cheese before scientists were allowed to run amok in the lab? Was this product formally introduced to real cheese at any point during its processing? Did cows contribute in a meaningful way during the manufacturing of this food or did they simply hold supervisory positions?

There are three fat-free foods that we have incorporated into our diets successfully. (By successfully, I mean we haven’t led a boycott against them yet.) The first is Sorrell Ridge spreadable fruit. I was going to try assorted jams and jellies, but opted for a euphemism. This breakfast condiment, of which strawberry and raspberry have become favorites, has more than a handful of calories, but no fat.

I initially approached Breakstone’s fat-free sour cream with some trepidation. Surely, my baked potato would reject a weak substitute and spit it out all over the dining room table. It did not. Neither did I, which may explain why people still accept dinner invitations from us.

The sweetest surprise has come with Boston’s caramel popcorn. Granted, the first ingredient is (no, not popcorn) brown sugar, but lookee here – no fat. I can snorfle down an entire bag of the stuff while watching The X-Files and not feel a twinge of guilt.

The nadir of our Healthy New Lifestyle was hit when we tried Louise’s fat-free potato chips. Keep in mind that regular chips (by regular, I mean the ones that taste good) are fried up in a pool of grease. Now, if I had to say one good thing about Louise’s chips, I’d say that when bitten into, they sound just like potato chips. However, Christians may find an eerie taste and texture parallel with communion wafers, as well as a tendency to stick to the roof of the mouth. Those of different beliefs will simply be disappointed with the flavorless disks.

My wife and I have been exercising, weight-training, and reducing fat from our diets for more than four months – a radical change for a couple of former Olympic couch potatoes. Fortunately, some health expert (by expert, I mean a breathing human being who has plugged a book on Oprah) has recommended an occasional deviation from one’s regimen in order to release pressure that might otherwise build up and burst, manifesting itself in the hijacking of a Drakes Cakes delivery truck.

So, on one of those gorgeous days last week, when the grill cried out to be used, we made burgers. For good measure, I added bacon, cheese, and barbecue sauce. Washed it down with ale, followed by a slab of lemon meringue pie. There may also have been one or two Ring Dings afterward, but it’s all so hazy now. I’m certain that the calories I ingested would have been sufficient to sustain a small Pakistani village for a week.

That temporary break from our Healthy New Lifestyle was valuable in that it reminded me how decadent we used to be and how wise we are to be taking better care of our bodies. I really believe that. The mind-body connection is essential to a more fulfilling life. Seriously. A also love experiencing heart palpitations on the Stairmaster. I love Brussels sprouts.

I need a Ring Ding.

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