Of the 5 senses, I cannot think of a receptor that I have underappreciated as much as taste even though it’s become one of my most developed. My relationship with food has long been a novice and dangerous one. I’ve never been a foodie. I was just fat. My struggles with maintaining a healthy diet really did come from my embarrassment to learn about food culture because I thought it would just make it more obvious that I ate a lot. But it wasn’t just that I was having a copious amount of calories, I was also eating all the wrong things.
During my childhood, my grandma did the cooking in the house. My mom worked with my dad running their business and so during the school day grandma was the matriarch of the house. After she picked us up from school, I vividly remember walking into our house and catching a whiff of her spices and caldos brewing. My entire family is Salvadoran so you would expect that pupusas and those gelatinous tamalaes wrapped in plantain leaves would adorn our plates. This was not the case. In general, my mom’s side of the family does not cook. Back in El Salvador, my mom’s family were vendors. Because their days were defined by hustling from before sunrise until twilight, my family found that buying food was a welcomed relief. This same attitude of finding cheap and ready-to-eat food carried on when my parents started their family.
My parents started their family young and they started it without a clear model of a stable family. I won’t get into the nitty gritty, but my mom was the only one to have two parents and grew up in a house. Part of this learning curve of being young adults is learning how to provide for these little human beings that you love so much you’d do anything for them. It was a treat when my dad would get a weekend off or have time before our bed time to see my sisters and I. We’d make it an event when our family could go eat out. My dad worked in fast food, he was a regional manager, and so with a hard schedule a trip to McDonalds was always welcomed. As mentioned, I knew my parents loved my sisters and I more than we deserved. This was evident when we wouldn’t split an apple pie, no, each kid got their own of those devilishly good sweets.
My relationship with food was that there was always food around, a sign of my parent’s prerogative to provide, but the problem was that I didn’t know that nutrition was part of this equation. So my grandma cooked, and she made this for the kids and for my parents when they got home from work. But around middle school, I developed a vice for fast food. I was tired, angsty from puberty, and I didn’t play sports, so going out to eat with my friends was my relief. McDonalds, Starbucks, Denny’s, you name it and it was in walking distance of my school. I found it to fill up my day and tummy to go eat. Paradoxically, my wallet was shrinking while my waist was growing. By the time I entered high school, I was obese and I had a bad habit for always wanting to go out and eat.
Pitching a movie and lunch was my weekend plan. Eating out all these fried and sugary foods was packing on the pounds. Along with damaging my health, my emotional health was suffering too. The older I got, the bigger I got too. It made me insecure, feel ugly, and almost unworthy to take up space. I couldn’t fit into the clothes I wanted to, my skin wasn’t silky rather it looked as greasy as the Asian Zing wings I always ordered. My problem wasn’t binge eating or purging or any other eating disorder, I just ate out all the time.
Fast forward a few years, and I swear I’ll get back to this journey soon so stay tuned, and I’ve learned that #CheatDay does me more harm than good. I’m proud to report that I weigh 170 pounds, a milestone considering how I’ve shed off 50 pounds since I started my wellness journey. I started to cut down sugar intake, carbs, and most things that fry. Again, as someone whose main issue was poor nutrition the switch was mostly easy. Of course, it was hard to skip burgers for salads. But, when I watched vids and read about other salads that weren’t just iceberg lettuce I saw that eating healthy could be tasty too.
With my diet changing came the grueling work of getting my body moving. I started a gym routine and taking workouts seriously. If I wasn’t dripping in sweat I knew I wasn’t giving it my all. And if I wanted to fit in my Gucci belt, which recently I had to add holes to make smaller, than I had to give this my all.
About a week ago, I finished a brutal leg day and joked to my trainer that I wanted In N Out as my cheat day treat. Her smile quickly turned into a set of straight lips and she sternly said, “Cool, make sure you get that protein style and eat half the fries.” I nodded, still panting, and thought But this is cheat day?! She noticed my quiet response and said, “Look you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but if you want to change your body and feel good you got to learn how to control your nutrition.”
That comment stuck, and when I get home I digested it while showering. My belly was empty so her food for thought was filling. She was right. The idea of cheat day, and one day where you binge all the sweet, savory, tart or bitter foods that you miss could easily curtail the work you did those 6 other days of the week. I was and am working out and watching my diet for a long term transformation. Doing this means that everything I put into my body is part of that journey. If I devoured Costco pizza I would be saving money, but I’d be pushing myself back more than if maybe I had 2 or 3 slices during a week.
I notice that #CheatDay contains all kinds of post like pizza, burgers, and donuts and such. My truth is that I shouldn’t fear food. Food is my friend. My fear of talking about food was from not wanting to look fat, yet I realize now that talking about food can be empowering. If I want pizza I should look into it, and that’s how I found cauliflower pizza! If cheat day is your 1 day to feel that goodness that comes from greasy food go for it. But if I really want a burger I can eat one, just control the rest of the meal as well. Do I want all the fries? Do I really want a shake? Maybe yes maybe no, but I can only know if I treat all food was pieces of my journey instead of an escape from this transformation.
Author William Samayoa
Marketer by profession and storyteller by passion. L.A. raised, proud Latino, and pop culture enthusiast.