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I Think Wheat Bellies Are Sexy

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First Appeared on Food Riot, by Colleen Shea

First the Atkins Diet, then the Paleo Diet, now the Wheat Belly Diet. Diets which, whether or not the books actually suggest this, everyone (by which I mean, my friends' dads and all the ladies in the change room at my gym) understands as being, essentially, this: "Eat carbs and die, you damned fatties. Don't eat carbs, and you'll lose buckets of weight and then you'll be happy. Because that's what happiness is."

There are probably many ways to attack the validity of these programs. I've heard things about your body going into starvation mode if you don't eat carbs. I've heard of people's cholesterol spiking because all the meat and cheese and no fiber. I've heard of it being unsustainable because variety in eating = both necessary and awesome. But I want to approach it from another angle, in part because I don't want to read any of these books or the studies refuting them. I have some fat Victorian novels to get through; no nutritional pseudo-science is welcome here. Two questions:

Question the first: Bread makes you fat, does it? Please explain ALL THOSE GORGEOUS FRENCH WOMEN. Please explain how all our grandparents weren't unhealthily overweight, AND THEY ATE ALL THE DAMNED BREAD AND PASTA. Please explain to me myself, for according to the hysteria in my gym, I should have one foot in the grave. In fact, I've never been healthier in my life, and I eat peanut butter toast and oatmeal every day, and often have pasta as part of dinner. If it's not pasta at dinner, it's something on top of a grain (which, hey, if you're confused: grains have carbs in them).

Certainly, I'm burning some calories simply by being enraged by all the stupid bombarding me, but I suspect it's just this: I try to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible. I try to not over-eat. I don't eat dessert every day. I exercise regularly. I try to avoid the processed stuff. I try to be sensible with a goal in mind that isn't losing weight. The important thing is not "Will this make me fat or help me lose weight?" The thing of importance, and it's very important, is: "Will this help or hinder me from doing the stuff I like?" I like doing stuff. Eleven peanut butter cookies for dinner (2010 wasn't my best year) is probably going to make a zesty bicycle ride the next day a leetle harder to manage than one cookie for dessert will.

Question the second: Who cares? WHO. CARES. Who cares if you or I or he or she or they have wheat bellies? When did bellies become, in and of themselves, so terrible? Why? Who did this? Because I would like to punch that jackass in the neck. Hating the belly isn't about getting healthier, it's about feeling bad about how we look. I think there's more than enough of that sort of mush going around. I reject the belly-shame. Wanting to lose weight to be healthier or have more energy? Sure, if that's what will work. Wanting to lose weight because it'll make everything better and life will have meaning and blah blah blah? Shut it down now!

Life is short and bread is crazy delicious. (Actually, I haven't met a carb I haven't liked.) The point is, we have maybe 85 years, if we're lucky, before we shuffle off the mortal coil. We're all going to end up somewhere that probably doesn't have peanut butter toast as one of its primary attractions. We have many failings as humans, but I think we're capable of enjoying -- really, really enjoying -- food without automatically harming ourselves. How to do that is what that brain-thing is for. So let's use ours and stop believing the kind of shysters who would tell us that this ONE THING will cure/ruin everything about our bodies, health, job, worth in life, and marriage prospects, forever. And let's also drop some vicious metaphorical elbows on all the evil bastards who insist that being super-skinny is the key to everything good.

A toast to toast (and all its carby cousins), my darlings! You won't catch me laying on my deathbed regretting how I got all caught up in worrying about gaining weight and not having a flat stomach. On my deathbed, I plan to be demanding that someone make me a goddamned sammich so I'll have the energy to run that final race.

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