The Fat Girl's Guide to Being a Foodie
Posted by Angela in Foodie Fridays,Fun Stuff,Getting Real
Lessons learned: You don't need to cook with edible flowers to call yourself a foodie

Fact: To be a fat girl of any shape or size, for any portion of your life, is to have some kind of a love/hate relationship with food. Sometimes the conflict is as benign as a lighthearted "Why can't french fries have the same nutritional value as spinach?" For many of us, the relationship with food (food as friend, food as love, food as boredom deterrent, food as source of guilt, etc.) is a complicated one that we're still seeking to unravel or make peace with. And yet. . . food is an undeniable, often enjoyable, part of our lives. We deserve the chance to embrace cooking, or fine dining, or trying new foods if that's our passion.

Fueled by this idea, as well my own recent stint playing foodie-for-a-day (truly a marvel when you understand I don't like foods that touch), I wanted to explore the concept of fat girl as foodie. With the shame that overweight women sometimes feel about food -- or a habit of eating repetitive meals, or eating in secret -- can the two coexist? Since I'm the farthest thing from an expert on the matter, I enlisted help from a source who knows her foodstuffs and the kind of tips our FGG readers want to hear -- our very own Foodie Friday blogger, Michelle Laffler! Michelle patiently addressed each of my neophyte questions, and the result is a must-read for any plus-sized girl who wants to relish her meals without guilt.

What does it mean to be a "foodie"?

Might as well start with the basics, right? I don't know about you, but when I hear the term "foodie," it calls to mind meals/foods/ingredients that are non-mainstream, indulgent, rich, expensive, exotic, complicated, or difficult to prepare/use. It also makes me assume a self-proclaimed foodie will judge me for occasionally loving the Olive Garden. So how about it, Michelle? Where am I right, where am I wrong, and what am I missing?

ML: I don't see the term "foodie" as being nearly so limited. Sure, there are people in the world who believe that unless you're cooking with exotic, high-priced ingredients and preparing them in unconventional ways you're not truly a "foodie," but I beg to differ. I think if you take joy in food -- whether by preparing it, eating it, or both -- you're at least a little bit of a foodie.  And don't worry -- most of us aren't judging you... we're wondering if we can grab a seat at your table! (P.S. We all have our food-related vices. You may remember that I wrote recently about my love for boneless wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, which are culinary brilliance to me but maybe not so much to someone else.)

Dealing with the stigma of overweight women and food

For some of us, the idea of openly embracing our desire to create, learn about and love food is deeply terrifying. As an example of how we sometimes internalize the stigma -- and how painful and challenging the subject of food can be -- one friend shared with me that she feels like "fat girls shouldn't talk about food -- because we shouldn't draw attention to ourselves in that way. We shouldn't love food because that's how we got fat."

So I asked Michelle, an overweight woman who's blogged about food for over two years, whether she's ever felt judged because of her weight. Did she feel the urge to "apologize" for her love of food, and how has she dealt with that, both in her own mind and through actions and attitude?

ML: I think I'm more prone to judge myself and worry what other people are thinking than to actually be judged. Coming to terms with that nagging little voice in our heads is often a big step for curvy girls, and no doubt many of us have wondered what the people around the table were thinking as we ordered that piece of chocolate cake for dessert. I'd be lying if I said I never gave it a second thought, even after many years of self-discovery and lots of work toward self-acceptance.

However, I also know that I love a great salad just as much as I love a good slice of pie and that food, just like so many other things in life, is about balance and moderation, not denial. Sure, the voice is still there at times, but when I look around the table at my dear friends or family, I realize they love me just the way I am and there's no need whatsoever for me to feel bad or apologize for a little bit of indulgence. If it happens that I feel like I've overdone it at some point during the day, I find that just a little bit of moderate or brisk activity (even if it's just cleaning the house at warp speed while dancing to 80's rock) goes a long way toward putting those feelings out of my head.

Can I be health-conscious AND be a foodie?

What are some good tips for for girls who want to be more adventurous food-wise, but also seek a balanced, healthy lifestyle? In discussing this Guide, another friend said, "I'd assume that weight loss and foodism are mutually exclusive." Is she wrong? Can we have both if we want them?

ML: Can we have it all? You bet! Like I said, balance and moderation is what makes it all work. There are so many great-tasting, fun foods to be experienced and there's absolutely no reason anyone should deprive themselves of that adventure. If closing your eyes and just pointing at something on the menu makes you too nervous or you're not sure whether you'll like something, seek out the advice of a friend with similar food tastes or from the wait staff at your favorite restaurant. Don't be afraid to try new things, but don't feel as though you have to go all out, either (I've been working on my taste for sushi for about five years now, but I started out with a California Roll - which isn't really acknowledged as "sushi" by sushi snobs). And if you choose to order something on the more indulgent side of things, don't think you have sabotage your waistline and eat it all in the same sitting. Split that chicken cordon bleu with a friend or take half home with you.

What are some good resources for a foodie newbie?

We've already established that I'm culinarily challenged. (And now we've established that I just made up the word "culinarily.") Despite my ability to get sucked into food-related reality programming like "Chopped" or "Ace of Cakes" (and let's not even discuss how happy a "Food Network Challenge" marathon makes me), I never find myself drawn to the kind of programs that would provide entry-level, real-world skills. (That would make too much sense, right?) In that spirit, I asked Michelle for some of her go-to resources -- blogs, books, television shows, magazines, people -- for solid, accessible culinary advice and trends for beginners.

ML: Here's my confession: I'm a Food Network junkie. There are so many styles and skill levels represented among the Food Network chefs that there's almost always something inspiring to be found there (I have personal soft spots for Rachael Ray and Paula Deen). The Food Network website includes difficulty levels and user reviews -- both of which I find really valuable -- and the Food Network Magazine brings that same great mix to print.

A few of my favorite food blogs from my overflowing blog reader are A Southern Grace (amazing recipes with fun, honest commentary), 101 Cookbooks (you've never seen natural, healthy food look so good), The Perfect Pantry (I've built a lot of knowledge about the items in my pantry thanks to Lydia), and Smitten Kitchen (danger: do not read while hungry!).

I'm a picky eater, but I want to learn about food

For some of us, trying new things doesn't come easy. I was nearly laughed off Facebook recently when I shared that I'd be writing a restaurant review ("Do they serve peanut butter sandwiches and plain pasta?"), but the experience helped me realize that I enjoy more foods than I'm usually willing to try. So, on behalf of the non-adventurous eaters -- and the currently hopeless cooks -- among us, I asked Michelle for a few ideas about taking baby steps to broaden our horizons and skills.

ML: If you're feeling skeptical about stretching your food boundaries, baby steps really can be huge. I think whether you're cooking or you're eating, if you choose a food or technique that has a similar element or ingredient to something you're already familiar with it's easier to make that leap of faith and begin gaining some foodie confidence.

When it's time to get into the kitchen, seek out recipes from trusted friends or family or on websites that feature user reviews so that you can see what other people are saying about the recipe and the techniques, etc. Read the recipe all the way through (twice) before you even enter the kitchen. Measure out and stage your ingredients ahead of time if you're not adept at doing all of that while also reading the next step in the cookbook and stirring something on the stove. Most importantly, though, go easy on yourself. Don't feel as though you're obligated to love (or to be good at) everything. Find your strengths and develop them into one or two "signature" dishes. . . once you're confident about those, you'll be much more inclined to keep pushing your food boundaries!

Stocking your kitchen: the basics

If you're looking to build your confidence in the kitchen, check out Michelle's list of five kitchen basics (tools or ingredients) she can't live without:

Three food basics:

1. good chicken stock -- Can be used to make a gravy, give extra flavor to veggies, and to make lower-cal but still wonderfully tasty mashed potatoes.
2. unsalted butter -- I much prefer baking with butter to baking with margarine.
3. boneless-skinless chicken breasts -- I keep about 6-10 pounds of diced, cooked chicken breast pieces which have been portioned out into four ounce servings in the freezer - perfect for grabbing for weekday lunches or for putting into pastas, salads, or stir-fry dishes after a quick trip through the microwave.

Two kitchen tool staples:

1. a good chef's knife -- Food prep is so much easier when you're working with a decent knife that feels good in your hand. [FGG note: Try Rachael Ray's versatile 6" Santoku knife, which has a good grip and is easy to use even for beginners.]
2. a decent-quality blender --- Crushes ice for slushy summer drinks, but also handy for blending soups, pasta sauces, etc.

One final thought from FGG: Whatever your current relationship with food, and whether you're a kitchen newbie or a plus-sized girl with the most refined palate in town, hold your head high the next time you order a meal or step into a grocery store. One of the most important steps toward leading a full, rich, unapologetic life is to be intentional and fully present in every decision -- including what we choose to eat. By giving real thought and consideration to the food we eat (be it healthy or indulgent), we prove that food doesn't define us or rule us. It's just one (delicious) part of our daily lives.

Huge, chocolate-covered thanks to Michelle for making this guide possible! For more of Michelle's foodie wisdom (plus gorgeous photos and a wealth of recipes you can actually complete!), follow her journey at Culinography. And don't forget to visit FGG each Friday for a brand new recipe from Michelle!

Readers, we'd love to hear your thoughts on curvy girls and food. How have you worked to reconcile food and weight? What challenges or questions do you still have? And what's YOUR best in-the-kitchen tip you want to shout about from the rooftops (or the blog comments)?