Damn… I really am shit at social media. A month and a half without a post? Oops.
In a nutshell, I’ve had a birthday, studied for and took a work required exam to see if I’m actually good enough at English to be teaching English too, went on day trips and weekends away in Indonesia and oh yes, flew to the big ol’ United States of America to see my family as well.
We’re not American, we incorporate ‘u’ too many times in our words and say ‘sweets’ instead of ‘candies,’ but instead of my family coming out to meet me in Jakarta (too hot), and my going back to London (too cold), they decided that a trip to the Sunshine State was in order for our annual holiday. Also, they wanted to go to Universal Studios whilst my brothers were still young enough to enjoy it, even though you’re never too old to enjoy a theme park, right?
So after a 40 hour trip which included a car ride, three planes and then a bus journey, I finally arrived at the townhouse in Florida. I’ll skip over the gushy stuff about how wonderful it was to see my family again, to have hot showers and to sleep in such soft, soft sheets (because my cheapskate ass still hasn’t bought decent bedding in Indonesia), to instead talk about what’s really on my mind:
You know, if I lived in America, I genuinely think I would be huge. Undoubtedly so. It’s a country known for its supersize meals and cheap fast-food eats, where fruits and vegetables are exceptionally expensive compared to the high fructose items in supermarkets and where big portions are expected so you can see yourself getting value for your buck. Each time I’ve gone to America I’ve known I was gonna eat, (although I’ve said that about everywhere I’ve gone, and to this day, India remains the country where I’ve eaten the most (six pounds gained in over six weeks)), but I knew how much I was gonna eat when the first thing I did upon arriving in Texas for my connecting flight to Orlando was to buy a vegan cream cheese bagel and a Starbucks coconut-milk-vanilla-syrup-latté-foam-thing, because although I wasn’t in New York City, I wanted the American aesthetic of my having a coffee and a bagel even without the taxi horns and people yelling. It was through the mouthfuls of delicious bagel, overlooking the runway and on the phone to my beau, that I told him I was going to eat as much stereotypical American food as I could, as many snacks that I could, because I hadn’t had this much easy access to fucking amazing, tasty western vegan food without the ridiculous import taxes in six months! And damn, there were so many chain restaurants I wanted to check out!
Guys, I did myself proud.
Over the course of the week I:
- ate hash browns at Denny’s
- ate specially made vegan biscuits at Red Lobster (because American customer service is second to none)
- ate bean burgers and sweet potato fries with copious amounts of BBQ sauce at Smokey Bones
- ate four vegan doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnuts
- ate jackfruit sliders and vegan mac-and-cheese from a beautiful place called Dixie Dharma, where I also had a gigantic slice of five layer vanilla cake just covered in icing
- ate huge portions of pasta marinara and bruschetta
- ate ten vegan sausages with breakfasts of vegan waffles and vegan pancakes
- ate hella cucumber and avocado sushi
- ate mouth-watering Ethiopean food with grand amounts of injera
- ate ‘chips’ (crisps) and salads only when no other food options were available to me (ahem, Universal Studios and NASA)
All of this (and more) washed down with plenty of coffees and cocktails.
Yep, you bet I definitely had a bloated stomach for the entire week.
But I also had one more issue, one that bothered me more than the bloat: the fucking calories on the damn menus!
I get it, like many other countries, the US has a growing weight problem, and they want people to have more of an idea of how much they’re consuming in order to be conscious and mindful in case they need to do something about it. As I said, if I lived in the States, I’d be huge. But actually… maybe I’d be thin? Like, really thin? Because no matter what size I’d be walking into a restaurant, you can bet I’d lose about three pounds worth of guilt by the time I left it.
For example, one of my brothers had a buttermilk pancake stack at Denny’s. Guess how many calories was in a portion.
On top of his main dinner and shared starter!? Now, my brother, who eats a balanced diet, plays sports everyday and is very much perfectly healthy and has absolutely no weight issue, started panicking, worrying over the many calories in this treat that he wanted (because it was a treat, we definitely don’t eat like this regularly), so much so that he started feeling guilty and he hadn’t even placed the order yet! He did eventually however, once we bullied him into it, citing, ‘you’re on holiday….’ But he wasn’t the only one to experience this guilt, nope. Throughout the week, as we ate in these restaurants which had the calorie counts on the menu, it felt hard for us to feel truly comfortable, to really enjoy the eating experience, because all we could think about was the guilt of wanting that calorific burger or pudding and not the damn ‘healthier’ option – the guilt which worsened when we ‘gave in’ instead of getting the lower-calorie-but-the-one-you-didn’t-actually-want option.
Most of the time, we (and many others) don’t go to restaurants to stress out, and the restaurants we went to without the calorie amounts on full display were some of the best dining experiences overall. That Ethiopian, for example, I had no idea of the nutritional content of my platter and cosmopolitan cocktail, and because of that, I enjoyed it all the more because my brain wasn’t picking at the fact I had eaten three biscuits at 150 calories each (ahem, Red Lobster) as a prelude to my main meal, making me feel I’d failed in some way because I couldn’t control my gluttony.
I know not everyone thinks this way; others can ignore the calorie counts easily, but some, like me, verge on obsession, where it constantly ticks over in your mind about how much you’ve had. As someone who lost weight from calorie counting I’m very aware of its uses, but I don’t miss the days where I used to log the two tablespoons of almond milk in my morning coffee or the three slices of tomato in my sandwich, freaking the fuck out if I went over my daily allotted calorie amount by something stupid like five calories. I still stand by the fact that successfully losing that weight is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and still is, because I’m still calorie counting.
Sure, I’m not logging everything into an app anymore (because I really was hooked on it, for years after I even lost the weight), but I’m still doing calculations in my head of everything… ‘oh, that chocolate is 200 calories, that chapatti has 60…’ etc. The obsessive behaviour continues to rear its head, and although it’s dulled I still find myself eating reduced amounts even if I’m still hungry or not having a dessert because I know ‘it’s bad for me.’
Maybe that’s normal though, because people do that a lot, but that’s personally why I DETEST when calorie counts are forced into my face. I’m just trying to enjoy a meal, as a lot of people are.
I’m also trying to practice more mindful eating, which some of my friends do naturally and whom I’ve taken inspiration from. It’s really the basics: stopping when full (even if there’s still some on the plate), eating what they want (whether that’s a chocolate bar or a salad, whatever they feel their body is craving), and eating when they want (as opposed to the ‘you must eat three/five/seven meals a day within this time-frame’ trope). I might not have eaten mindfully in Florida because my eyes were as big as dinner plates and leading my stomach into the same situation, but I’m definitely working on it more now that I’m back in Jakarta.
Don’t get me wrong, calorie information should always be there if someone wants it, either by looking for it online or because the restaurant has it tucked away in a little company book, but right there, right on that menu when we’re all out most likely trying to have a good time? Nah. Who wants that guilt if you’re not looking for it.