Let Them Eat Cake

No, this is not another musing on Marie Antoinette – nor her fashion footwear or comely comestibles.

No, this is not another musing on fun with food and our national preoccupation with the Almighty Slender Ideal.

But this is a set of disconcerting observations and possibly helpful ones – drawn from a recent report in Time Healthland that suggests the value of cake for breakfast. Well, in certain circumstances, anyway.

And I might add, there’s another Healthland article this week that explores the dilemma of eating disorders in women over 50.

Yes, you heard that right. Eating disorders in middle-aged and older women.

According to the data, these are not solely women who suffered variations on a food obsession theme in their 20s or 30s, but for some, a brand new preoccupation with every bite they put in their mouths – as part of our cultural context that lauds the young and thin, and marginalizes everyone else – at least, in some circles.

Cake and Cookies, Carrots and Cabbage

It took me more than 30 years, but eventually I understood that I couldn’t live on carrots and cabbage any more than I could cake and cookies.

Don’t get me wrong – I love fruits and vegetables and eat them regularly, but I also want (need?) the occasional bite of dark chocolate, a great scone, or dessert – in any number of delectable forms.

And since making the discovery that I could indulge in something sweet as long as I didn’t overindulge – Hello, Apple Sharlotka?my weight has been more or less stable, with fluctuations that any of us might expect, for example when:

  • the flare-up of an injury makes exercise problematic
  • long periods of sleep deprivation require more food to compensate
  • stress of certain types packs on pounds, i.e. emotional eating (and yes, some stress may make us lose).

While I don’t step onto the scale obsessively as I did for years, that doesn’t mean I don’t bemoan the clothes that will not fit, and feel less than great when I’m five pounds “up.”

Mirror, Mirror (Body Image and Self-Esteem)

And there’s that old problem again – women and self-esteem – which seems to persist across the generations and remain dependent on our physical appearance. That feeling of “not so great” when we’re up five pounds or ten – or whatever that amount of excess that triggers the desire to withdraw, to cover up, to disconnect our minds from our bodies. And sometimes, to turn to more emotional eating – to combat the creeping depression.

It’s bad enough when we’re young and feel less than worthy due to (real or perceived) weight issues. But when we hit midlife, and find the problems recurring and compounded by signs of aging?

We feel less than confident. less than ourselves, and some of us – rather than accepting or seeking moderate ways to maintain or lose – well, we fall back on old patterns including depriving ourselves of certain foods, only to make things worse. And as the Healthland article states, as we age, these detrimental patterns can be more damaging:

Disordered eating can lead to other systemic health problems affecting the heart, bones, gastrointestinal tract and mental health.

Beyond being concerned with what we’re doing to our health (dieting up, dieting down, dieting, dieting, all around), what about all the time we’re wasting obsessing over food because we’re hungry?

Why Diets Don’t Work

Been on a diet lately? Had success? For two weeks, two months, maybe two years? Did you abuse exercise or other legal substances during that time? Were you perpetually cranky?

Most diets don’t work in the long run – because we aren’t reshaping eating habits (much less body image), we set unrealistic expectations, and we aren’t allowing ourselves any pleasure in the process of consuming food.

Fine French cuisine or bacon burger – isn’t taste one of our five senses for a reason?

As Healthland points out in its report on dieting among two groups of obese patients – one allowed to “eat cake” with breakfast, and another on the same restrictions with the exception of that morning dessert:

After 16 weeks on the diet, both groups had lost weight — about 33 lbs. on average — suggesting that both diets worked about the same. But in the final 16 weeks of the study, the follow-up period, those in the low-carb group had regained an average of 22 lbs., while those indulging in dessert in the morning went on to lose another 15 lbs.

The dessert group also reported feeling less hunger and fewer cravings than the other participants…

When it comes to most weight loss regimens, we’re too extreme in our approach. We deprive our bodies of necessary nutrition, we’re more tired, we’re often glum, and we can’t keep it up in the long run. After a certain period of time, we do worse than return to former habits – we overeat, regain, or gain more.

Why diets fail isn’t surprising. Why we continue to put ourselves through diets that fail is. 

Ah, the promise of perpetual youth, beauty, and naturally… happiness that will result. When will we wise up – even if it means a sliver of cheesecake with our morning coffee?


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  1. Northmoon says

    As a woman in this age group, I don’t call it ‘dieting’ I call it ‘watching what I eat’. A subtle difference perhaps, but life is too short to be beating myself up all the time. I suffered from anorexia around the time my marriage broke up in my 40’s so I don’t want to fall back into that pattern.

    I’ve noticed that if I eat a sugary something in the morning it triggers cravings for sweets for the rest of the day. It’s better for me to eat a croissant or a scone in the morning – fills me up, has energy to start my day and goes well with a coffee.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Lovely to have you join the conversation, Northmoon. Ah yes, the “Divorce Diet.” Dreadful. I’m sorry you went through this.

      I like the way you position this – “watching what I eat.” That’s so much more reasonable than dieting, isn’t it?

      I hope you’ll stop by again soon.

  2. Robert says

    Of course you can’t go approach this subject without thinking of Bill Cosby and his routine about feeding the kids chocolate cake for breakfast while his wife was away. He looked at the package and the first three ingredients were milk, eggs and wheat. ….

  3. says

    What great news to wake up to in the morning. Right before slogging myself to the kitchen. Really? Those who had cake for breakfast lost 15 more pounds after reaching their goal?
    I’ve long felt that we can eat anything, if in moderation. A sliver of cake, a pat of butter, a reasonable sized portion of meat, etc. And yes, we waste SO much of life worrying about our weight and beating our physical selves up in the process.
    I was sorry to hear of the new diet drug being approved by the FDA yesterday. Isn’t there any way American adults can figure out the discipline to just eat less of a lot of things and move? Isn’t there any way to convince them that the answer isn’t in a pill? Isn’t there any way to wake them up to all the adverse results that jagged little pill will wreak on their body’s systems? Yikes. It’s pretty simple, really.
    Okay, coffee is brewing and I’ve got a sliver of an almond cake covered in an ever so thin layer of chocolate ganache with my name on it….

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Yet another diet drug? (How did I miss that?) Worrisome, Barb. Very worrisome. (May I stop by for coffee and cake?) 😉

  4. says

    Fine French cuisine or bacon burger – isn’t taste one of our five senses for a reason? This is a fabulous line! I totally agree that, many times, we’re too extreme when addressing weight loss. Any diet that completely eliminates an entire food group except for medical reasons should be questioned. In the end, it’s calories in/calories out. No weight loss program is going to work if there’s not a balance between food intake and energy output. And I laughed at the thought of cake for breakfast! It made me remember Bill Cosby’s routine about feeding the children breakfast. Check it out here: http://bit.ly/AzetQl …It makes me LOL to this day!

  5. pia louise says

    what we put our attention on grows……..so if you watch what you eat….catch my drift. ironically i was eating a delish what i call “italian grandmother cake” i made with a topping of my homemade blueberry sauce…..for breakfast while reading this. i did comment on fb already – we spend too much time on the physical. as older aka wiser women we know we are moving living spirit. my 20 y.o. said it best – she works in a retail shop in the changing room and hears more women ask her about how they look. and you know what? most of them have a tiny voice in their head saying “don’t wear this or that” and it’s someone else’s like they’ll say to my daughter “oh if my mother saw me now fill in the blank” and my daughter says: if you like it you should get it. she thinks it’s shallow to concern yourself with how you look vs how you feel about you not based on anyone else. so come on now life is short – have a bit of cake especially if it’s made with your own loving hands there ‘s nothing better! love to all my spirit sisters when you look in the mirror focus on your eyes and smile…..you are more than your dress size!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I love your daughter’s attitude, pia – and yours! Yes, we are so much more than our dress size!

  6. says

    This is not going to make me popular, but…

    Diet, weight, etc…such a recurring topic for discussion.

    Where is your action plan?

    A suggestion that works for me and others: Get physical friends who are very physically active and challenge you physically. Engage with their behavior and their diet, within reason.

    This morning Fran and I hiked 5.2 miles with a couple of my good friends. One hour and twenty-two minutes (they told me this), and we probably held them back two minutes, plus it was warm. One is 71, the other 76. Just now I congratulated a friend who is doing the entire Appalachian Trail this year (Fran and I hiked to the White House with her this fall). She took the four-state challenge (VA, WV, MD, PA), a distance of about sixty miles, straight through in two days. She is in her mid-fifties – probably the age of many BLW readers.

    These folks are WAY ahead of me, but they are important for me. They challenge me, as does Fran, to do better, by being with them in the outdoors. They are also a model for diet, and eat adequately and healthily. It also helps that they are bright, happy, and interesting, to get me out with them. Look around, and choose wisely.

    p.s. I understand that some people have a physical disability and have to choose their physical activities accordingly, and I’ve seen some super wheelchair racers and swimmers with walking limitations.

  7. says

    I was listening to a re-broadcast of an interview On Point with Tom Ashbrook had with the late Nora Ephron. In it she mentioned a life lesson she learned about splurging every once in a while and eating two desserts if you can’t decide between two delicious looking ones. (You can listen to the interview at this link – http://onpoint.wbur.org/2006/08/14/nora-ephron-on-aging – because I am sure I just provided a horrible summary.)

    Obviously a problem with obesity is present in the US, but I think that it is easy to focus on that and obsess with how much you are eating, thus creating a perfect environment for eating disorders in all age groups.

    As for me, I will enjoy my two desserts – occasionally (OK nightly) – while still enjoying the rest of my healthy lifestyle.

  8. says

    I have been so out of touch this week, but I am back here catching up! I saw this study on the news. It seems that people who were allowed to indulge their sweet tooth didn’t yo-yo back up the scale. Interestingly, they continued to lose weight.

    I have only dieted once in my life, about two years after my second child was born. I took Jazzercise once (in my mid-40’s), and lost weight while getting fabulously toned. I am more of a believer in everything in moderation – food and exercise.

    My family has spent some time in Italy over the years, and they say the Italians eat sweets for breakfast regularly – with a good strong espresso.

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