Food Guilt, [Mis]conceptions, and Kale Casserole!

Is it possible for our bodies to just…be?  It seems like we tend to think of our bodies in terms of how they look or what they should be or aren’t doing.  Losing  or gaining weight.  Not losing or not  gaining weight.  Too short, too tall.  Too big, too small.  We tend to think of our bodies as vessels that must be forced into cooperation, beaten into submission, and occasionally over-indulged for a job well done.

This carries over into our [mis]conceptions of food.  We see food as a means to an end—“bad” food makes us fat and guilty, “good” food makes us lose weight and feel good.  But why can’t a cookie just be a cookie sometimes?  Why eat it if you’re going to complain about how guilty you feel afterward?  I have been there, but I’m happy to report that I no longer am.  This is one thing that bodybuilding both complicated and cured for me. 

During a contest prep diet, I allowed myself a Saturday cheat meal; the idea was that I’d eat a “clean” (read: strict!!!!!) diet all week, and then enjoy a meal that did not fit the diet plan.  What I took from this strategy, and what I was able to teach my daughter, is that no food is truly off-limits, if eaten in moderation.  (Oddly, however, I find that I naturally draw the line at some things.) However, my food guilt kicked in on my off-season when I wasn’t dieting, and I soon found myself in an all-or-nothing mode.  The only time I didn’t feel food guilt was when I was dieting.  The rest of the time, even when I knew I was absolutely not supposed to be dieting, I hated myself for all of my “not-clean” foods.  And how healthy is that?  So for me, the goal has been to move beyond that to reach a point where food is just food.

 I have dieted down to single digit body fat.  Twice.   And I will always be comfortable with the knowledge that I completely own my ability to lose weight if I want to.  I have survived the post-contest rebound.  I have lived through periods of bulking (in which I deliberately attempted to gain weight by eating a LOT).  But the true challenge is to do neither.  To simply live—with no food anxieties.  To eat when I’m hungry, and not eat when I’m not hungry.  To enjoy a cupcake from time to time, but to remain conscious of macronutrients when making meal choices.

Some of you may be wondering what this looks like.  For starters, I have rejected the notion that the healthy body can be measured aesthetically.  Perhaps I am perceived to be healthier at 10% bodyfat than I do at 18%, but in truth I’m much healthier when I am not dieting.  This goes a long way to help me make decisions about food.  Instead of choking down mass-produced chicken in the name of protein, and pumping myself full of caffeine to get through the day after rigorous workouts, I am listening to my body and realizing that my adrenal glands are pissed at me and my digestive system prefers to be meat-free.

Not single digit body fat, but soooo much healthier!

On an everyday level, I know how to balance meals.  Even without meat, I still can’t ignore the importance of balancing macronutrients—this means making sure that I am getting a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.  Granted, my macronutrient balance looks a little bit different than it used to, but I am still making sure to get enough protein throughout my day.  And I really don’t have to think about it very hard—it’s become second nature.  So at the end of the week, when I have maintained a balance all week, if I want a cookie I will enjoy one without a second thought and certainly without guilt.  Not because “I’ve been good all week and am now entitled,” which is what I hear people say far too often, but because I feel like having a damn cookie.

Today’s recipe was born out of necessity—upon searching my kitchen for ingredients, I realized that the only local produce I was able to purchase this week was a basket of sweet potatoes, several peppers, and a lot of kale.  So I decided to experiment with a casserole, and it actually went REALLY well!  With one leftover white potato and a few other ingredients I had laying around, I found a great use for kale!

Kale (several bunches)
One sweet potato (mandolin sliced thinly)
One white potato (mandolin sliced thinly)
4tbsp Olive oil
2 tbsp flour
½ cup Vegetable broth
¾ cup Milk
1 tsp tarragon
½ cup cheddar cheese

In large pot, heat broth and 2tbsp of the oil; add kale and sautee until kale cooks down.  Reduce heat to low and cover for 10 minutes.  Drain kale in colander; while kale drains, heat remaining oil in the pot the kale was in.  Sprinkle in the flour while whisking to form a roux; slowly whisk in milk and bring to a boil.  Add tarragon, salt, and pepper.  Reduce heat and add kale; stir to coat, remove from heat.

In large greased casserole dish, form a layer of potatoes using roughly half of them.  Spread kale mixture over the layer of potatoes and top with half of the cheese.  Form another layer using the remainder of the potatoes and top with remaining cheese.

Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes, or when potatoes are soft.  The time will vary depending on the thickness of the potato slices.


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