Friday, April 27, 2012
This is how I think “normal” (meaning not-fat) people order when they eat out:
“This looks tasty. I think I’ll have that.”
I recognize this is totally biased and unfair. Stereotypes hurt us all. Like most stereotypes, this one is born from ignorance and fear, experienced in a suburban chain-style restaurant.
I’ve never been a fan of going out to eat, even when I was “normal,” which I am not yet. I don’t like spending money on something I can make at home, and cooking is my hobby, so I’m super-picky about preparation. If you’re struck by the urge to have Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of July I can put that together for you in about three hours (yes, I’ve timed it, as honing my Type A personality is my second most favorite hobby).
What strikes me is eating out is so much a part of our social lives that to choose not to is seen as something wrong, something that needs to be treated, fixed, coped with or discussed in hushed tones like it is a disease, not a possible contributing factor:
“Have a small snack beforehand so you won’t overindulge.”
“Check out the menu online and plan your meal with the intensity of general strategizing a preemptive airstrike.”
“For god’s sake, have the waiter remove the bread basket from the table because otherwise you’ll have to be physically restrained from lunging for it, eating the little butter packets with the foil still on them and growling at anyone who tries to take a sesame seed roll for themselves.”
Restaurants are designed for you not to win. The odds of beating the house are better in a casino.
(I don’t gamble, either. I am a riot of fun.)
I’d just arrived home from the gym when I received the call that old friends were in town and I had to meet them at the bar. Now. Oh boy. Then we were going out to eat. OH BOY. On top of this, I was further informed I didn’t even have time to shower (NOW), instantly giving me something else to obsess over instead of frantically checking my SP app to see how many calories I had left for the day (about 600, right on track).
At the bar, I was greeted with compliments about how good I looked since I’d dropped 30lbs., and OK, true, but still awkward since I was sweaty and salty and had on no makeup. This was not how I’d planned my big reveal was going to go, but hey, what matters is that I got to see my old friends.
But happily, NOT that I have drinks with them. This is huge cultural progress because there was a time (not that long ago) when, if you didn’t drink, it was due to one of two reasons: pregnant or alcoholic (guys, I suppose you have other trials, but hey, I’m not a guy). Now, only idiots stand around trying to get you to drink against your will, and “designated driver” is so common that no needs the long, explanation "it's being the person who will ensure your drunken behind gets home safely.”
Not so much the case at the restaurant. We decided to keep the party going (and by party, I mean me, the only truly sober person there, surrounded by beloved but giggly, tipsy buddies) by going Out to Eat.
Once our party was seated, I tried to use my smartphone to find the restaurant’s nutritional menu. Interesting. Drilled down through 7 links and just kept getting rerouted. I excused myself and found the hostess.
“Do you have a menu with calorie-specific information on it?”
She looked at me like I’d asked for her bra size. Or like I’d just sauntered up and announced MY bra size. Shocked and panicked. Seriously, there are places where this is the law. Calorie information, I mean, not the sharing of… never mind. She said, “There are items on the menu designated…”
“Yes, ‘Under 750 calories.’ I saw that. All 5 delicious, broccoli-sided entrees. I was looking for something more detailed. “
She rifled through a stack of menus. She looked genuinely apologetic. “All we have is menus for allergies and stuff.”
Which is a relief if you suffer from food allergies and intolerance – and I am not making light of this in any way, as I know people who SUFFER with nut allergies, celiac disease, and lactose intolerance. Apparently though, one does not “suffer” from obesity. One enjoys it. Cultivates it. D-e-s-e-r-v-e-s it.
I understand this treads dangerously close to playing "victim." I am fully and absolutely responsible for the choices I make and I've chosen enough heavy cream in my life that I have probably used a responsible person's ration for the rest of my days. It would be a sad, sad world without the invention of alfredo sauce, and I have had some wonderful dating experiences in restaurants (granted, that had more to do with the company, usually). However, is it so much to ask that in a nation with diabetes rates tripling and obesity out of control and costing billions in health care dollars that we provide the same tools to “patients” who are trying to manage and cure this DISEASE? I’m not asking “normal” people to change a thing. They can still enjoy cream-drenched, deep-fried deliciousness willy-nilly. I won’t judge them. Envy them, maybe.
I returned to the table, jaw set. Already tired of counting calories. Already feeling my resolve wavering.
“I ordered you a glass of water,” said one friend. Bless him.
To my left, a rack of ribs.
To my right, a plate of creamy “Cajun” pasta with shrimp.
Across, a pecan-encrusted fried chicken salad.
I wound up with a chicken breast, rice and broccoli. I didn’t eat the rice (I suppose I could have asked for double steamed broccoli. I estimated that brought the dish in at around 630 calories.
We spent a good amount of time discussing diet, exercise, and health, particularly what I'd been doing for the past couple months (if you have not read my posts before, I am a recovering heart patient).
Several more rounds of drinks for all but me.
I thought I was doing pretty good just by not gritting my teeth and being able to carry on what (I think) was a normal conversation with the smell of this rich food all around me. I attribute this to M. (aka Pecan Salad), who is a gracious person and a gifted conversationalist.
(It was like being a dog with a biscuit balanced on the end of his nose. Do you teach your dog to do that? Stop it right now.)
Finally, the coffee was finished. Drinks downed. Plates cleared. Freedom! Success!
“Anyone up for dessert?”
Me: “Uh, no.”
“No, thank you.”
“Yes, let’s look at the dessert menu!”
[The sound you are hearing is that of my forehead thumping against the table-top.]
I am so glad our server already cleared the table. I was fully capable of stabbing this person with a fork not because....
…he proceeded to order some gooey, warm, chocolate and caramel obscenity –
- but because he ordered it with 4 spoons and insisted we split it.
Upon arrival, three spoons went up.
The dessert-person looked over at me (I swear to god, he had chocolate smeared on his NOSE) and said,
(all you dieters, you know the words, say them with me!)
“COME ON, A LITTLE BIT WON’T HURT, ENJOY YOURSELF.”
Let me clarify, this man is a generous, hard-working family man with a fantastic sense of humor who (based not only on his nose) was not only clearly enjoying every morsel of that dessert, he COULD enjoy it: he works out hard and can bench well over my body weight (a lot. trust me), though I think I could outrun him.
Still, I sipped my water and mentally downgraded this person’s next Christmas present.
And then, from across the table:
“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”
Only it wasn’t directed at ME. It was directed at Mr. Dessert.
“She’s eating healthy, she looks great, leave her alone.”
Told you she was a great conversationalist.
In the end, I suppose I could have ordered that double broccoli. I could keep practicing my skill-set and rehearsing what to do so I can eat out “like a normal person.” We are slowly getting things like calories put onto menus in big cities and that should continue. But, just as I don’t encourage my friends who are alcoholics to meet me at the bar or encourage them to have just one drink (what kind of person does this? we'll call that rhetorical), I don’t think being encouraged to pursue dining as a means of entertainment while I’m dealing with obesity is such a hot idea either. You can come to my house: I can whip up a great Buffalo Chicken Chili and top it off with homemade cheese - all under 225 calories - and have a couple light beers. Or a Thanksgiving dinner, if you have 3 hours. I'm acknowledging that for now, I don't like going to restaurants the way some people don't like public speaking: we can all do it, and eventually, with practice, you don't have to fear it more than death, but it's okay if you never love it.
At least not until all my “normal” friends are willing to start getting together at the gym from now on. Next 5K is on May 13th!