It’s no secret I love cake. Especially the birthday kind, which is usually in layers, with lots of decorative frosting. You know, like the swirls on the edges, and the “Happy Birthday” whoever written on top. If I’m really lucky, it’s a kid’s birthday and the cake has frosting fish, dinosaurs, princesses, or something. On a great day the cake is white with vanilla buttercream frosting.
Knowing my love of cake, you can understand why I was horrified to read this quote by a woman named Susan Estes in yesterday’s Denver Post:
All four of us on our team have had birthdays during this time, and none of us got to have cake.
Was this woman describing her time being held captive by a little-known tribe on a deserted island? Perhaps she was detailing her experience in some bizarre Olympic team training ritual. Surely it must be something dramatic and extreme. There is no other reason to forgo cake on your very own birthday.
Actually, Estes was talking about her involvement in a weight-loss challenge, put on by the town of Leadville, CO. Estes lost about 34 pounds during the 16-week competition in which Leadville residents shed a combined 2,400 pounds. Estes’ husband, Gary Estes, was the biggest individual male loser with a total of 75 pounds lost.
“It wasn’t easy,” Gary said of swapping his pizza and spaghetti favorites for “nothing that gave us real joy.”
Geesh. That’s depressing.
I think the article was meant to celebrate the town’s great achievement (and it is a great achievement), but it ended with those two thoughts from the Estes couple, and left me with mixed feelings about the contest. To be fair, Susan Estes also explained that her sacrifice was worth it when she said, “But it feels awesome now! I haven’t been this low in 22 years!”
Even that quote, excited though she is, leaves me with a sense of foreboding. I wonder; will her weight-loss last?
I’m not knocking team weight-loss challenges, especially when combined with nutrition education and knowledgeable exercise support, as the Leadville challenge was. Sometimes a little healthy competition, and the encouragement of friends and colleagues is the nudge it takes for someone to achieve lasting weight-loss.
I also don’t want to pick on Gary and Susan Estes. I’ve never met them, and they’re likely lovely people. I wish them continued success. But their words raise some red flags for me. I think food can be joyful. Would I look forward to years and years (I hope) of birthdays with no cake to make it worth my trouble? I think not. If every meal were a drudgery of plain, unsatisfying food? It’s hard enough to gear up for cooking dinner every night, but if I hated eating it too, I doubt I could go on.
Obviously food should not be the only source of joy in life. If you are hoping food will fill some emotional hole, you’re going to struggle. But we need to eat to live, so why not let that food give us pleasure? The tricky part is that when you are used to eating junk, you don’t know how good real food can taste. How, given time, your body learns to crave healthy stuff, and rebel against crap. Plus, so many of us are strapped for time or money or desire to change, it’s just really hard to break out of a convenience food rut. And when you strictly limit the type and amount of food you allow yourself– for a finite period of time–you are highly likely to fall back on old habits once you reach your goal weight, and consider yourself “done.”
I certainly don’t have all the answers. I’m on my own journey here, and sometimes I take one step forward, and two steps back. But I can envision my destination, and let me tell you, there WILL be cake.