The topics of diet and weight loss are tough for food-lovers; if you just eat good food you shouldn't ever feel like your weight is a problem, right? Wrong, for many of us. Talk of weight and food is also fraught with a hundred things we try to banish here at The Kitchn: a misplaced sense of guilt, fear of eating the wrong thing, comparisons with other people, dubious science and awkward diets.
And yet food and body are inextricably linked. Is there a way to talk about them together in a healthy, thoughtful way? We think so, and we're presenting a monthlong column exploring one food-lover and food writer's journey towards finding her own personal balance. Meet Joy Manning — she'll be joining us this month with her own stories, practical tips, recipes, and perspective on the real-life struggle between loving food and loving your body.
As we launch into Joy's story, we acknowledge that this isn't good territory for everyone. Maybe you've struggled with an eating disorder or prefer to avoid any talk of diet. That's A-OK, and we get it. As usual on The Kitchn, 99% of what we publish this month will have zero mention of weight, diet, or other health-related topics. There will be plenty of winter comfort food and soups in particular, given our Soup It Up! theme this month.
But for those of you who are eager for fresh tips and stories in the balance between food and health, we hope you enjoy Joy's voice on the site this month.
— Faith & The Kitchn Team
For the past 10 years, I’ve been a full time food writer and editor. I even spent several years as a restaurant critic, with a substantial dining budget and dinner reservations most nights of the week. These days, I edit Edible Philly magazine, work on cookbooks, and write culinary stories for a wide array of publications. It’s really a lot of fun.
People frequently tell me, “I wish I had your job!” I love my work and understand the envy, but there’s a dark side to the business of cooking and eating for a living that people don’t immediately grasp. With all of those chef interviews, tasting events, reporting obligations, and recipe tests come extra calories.
So I’m the most conflicted kind of food writer there is—the kind who wants to lose 15 pounds. That’s what needs to go if I’m ever again to find myself in the “normal weight range” on the BMI chart, which is something I very much want. (I know that the BMI chart is not especially meaningful, but it affects me.) My job certainly complicates these issues, but I can’t blame my weight problems entirely on my work. For decades before I scribbled my first tasting note, I struggled with my body image and the scale.
I probably started creeping into overweight territory around age 8. I didn’t have the best diet as a kid. I was extremely picky back then and my parents weren’t big on home cooking. My meals and snacks were made up of mostly processed, frozen, fatty, and floury foods—pretty typical in the 1980s and 90s.
By the time I was 10, I was conspicuously bigger than other kids at school and feeling terrible about it. I was sensitive and getting teased a lot. My parents hated seeing me suffer. Though they had good intentions, they had very little nutrition know-how. They put me on a diet to try to deal with the problem. We swapped out my usual Breyer’s Ice cream for Weight Watchers frozen desserts and Chips Ahoy! for Snackwells. We stocked up on Lean Cuisines, fake butter spray, and any other low cal/low fat substitute we could find.
The Diet Roller Coaster
For the first of many times in my life, I lost weight. I didn’t love what I was eating but I did love not being fat, so I persisted for a time. Soon, though, I was back on the Breyer’s (mint chocolate chip, please), fatter than before, and strapped into a dieting roller coaster I never really got off. Since then, I’ve lost at least 10% of my body weight at least a half dozen times. There have been many eras when my closet was fully stocked in clothes sizes 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12.
The last time I got “skinny” was in 2010. It was my third go-round on Weight Watchers. Then, I actually bolted from a food media job that I loved to one that focused on health and nutrition. (I was also wooed by the presence of an on-site fitness center and an organic cafeteria. I thought I’d be skinny for life!) The last time I got “fat” was 2014, thanks to a combination of especially caloric work assignments and some stressful events in my family.
A Fresh Start
A few months ago, at my highest weight ever, I decided to try to do something about it. Again. Weight Watchers, Paleo, South Beach, veganism, and part-time veganism were all out—I had tried all of them before without lasting success. I needed something that combined my decades of weight loss skills with all the nutrition research I’ve ever done and every self-help book I’ve ever read.
What I settled on doing is a DIY program that focuses just as much on self-care and self-acceptance as it does on food. I’m weighing myself daily, tracking my calories (without restricting them), eating out once a week or less, and blogging about my experience. I’ve resolved not to do anything I’m not willing to implement over the long haul. And of course, I have to love what I eat. For me, that’s nonnegotiable.
I am simultaneously cultivating a more positive body image by doing things like investing in nice clothes that fit me right now, quitting mean self-talk, and doing exercise that makes me feel good (not as a punishment for eating). Hating myself does nothing to motivate me to make health-focused behavior changes and meet my weight loss goals.
After a predictable holiday season setback, I’m down about six pounds from where I started back in September. Little by little, I’m figuring out what works for me not just for the next few months, but hopefully for the rest of my life. I’m creating a food life that balances everything I love (and won’t give up) about the pleasures of cooking and sharing meals with realities of health and weight management.
Coming up this month!
I'll be sharing more of my own personal journey as someone who loves food and also wants to feel great. Just my own perspective — there's no one-size diet or plan for everyone! We'll dig into some of the questions I've had, like is it OK to be a feminist and want to lose weight? Is Michael Pollan correct at all when it comes to eating and weight? And I'll share some of my own home cooking strategies and tips for food that makes me feel good and build good habits. I hope you'll come along!