Salad September

Or: What Darren Did When Sweetless September Went South

I’m a goal-oriented person. I love nothing more than the sweet satisfaction of striking an item off my to-do list. I keep spreadsheets of daily goals to fill in and monitor my daily responsibilities–study for all seven classes, make progress in leadership and immigration paperwork, stop that annoying scalp scratching and relax for ten minutes each day–and filling in the boxes makes my day feel complete. All that time? It accomplished something.

So, fond of alliteration as I am, I’ve imagining Sweetless September since March.

Except it didn’t turn out like I intended.

My intent was simple: For the month of September, cut out sweets. I already can’t eat most candies (due to nut allergy warnings and my fondness for breathing), but when I’m on campus, at the all-you-can-eat dining halls, my temptation gets the better of me and–taking after Hobbits–I have not one dessert, but two.

It’s also stress eating, but if I can’t cut the stress, I might as well cut the eating.

Except even before I started, I knew I had failed: on numerous occasions both past and future this month, I’m making desserts to bring to pot lucks and whatnots and, clearly, how can a host not eat his own concoction?

So, there I was, it didn’t work.

I had hoped staving off those sundaes and ice cream cones and too-dry but still sweet pieces of assorted cakes and pastries would allow me to lose cravings for such sugary treats. After all, within a few weeks of cold turkey peanut butter cups and other candy bars, my desire for them dissipated. In fact, I even forgot how they taste. But repeated trips to the dessert stand keep my taste buds dancing, and when that bowl of community candy is placed before me, my hand double dips until the sugar dribbles past my lips and cavities magically appear in my teeth.

And then, the fatigue sets in. The sugar highs turn into “why did I eat so much?” lows and I’m clutching my stomach, wondering why I took that eighth Gobstopper or that eleventh Sweet Tart, repeating in front of the mirror as I change into my pajamas, this is why I can’t look good in a bathing suit.

So the answer was simple, eh? No sweets in September–then no more sweets forever!

Cue the maniacal laughter. It seems appropriate at a time like this.

But that devil wore a Snickers on his face and clung to me like the gooey marshmallow entrails of a torched cadaver drawn up in a chocolate and graham cracker casket.

But lo, I can resist the devil!

Okay, not really, but I did decide to invite some angels along for the ride.

I soon discovered, if my sweet tooth could not be tamed, it could at least be supplemented with nutrition. Recall that I mentioned the dining halls are buffet-style, all you can eat. This is a great privilege–no matter my mood, I can find something for my palette, and there’s always an assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables that is a garden of delights for so many people who do not have access to nutrient-rich foods like these.

And normally when I go, I eat a plate. Or two. Or three.

(And walk all the way home wondering, why did I eat so much, and wallowing in the fact that this is why I’ll never look good in a bathing suit.)

So, I said to myself, “Self, if I’m looking for alliteration, why not start with a salad?”

So every time I’ve gone to the dining hall, I’ve started with a salad. Now it’s a tricksy little thing, these dining halls: They shuffle you straight to the high-carb, highly-processed main entrees as soon as you’ve got your plate, and sometimes the salad sections are so hidden, you can’t see them until you turn around. Thus, salads tend to be the last thing I go for–and so the first thing that’s left off my plate. (Even if there’s still room for dessert.)

But lately, starting with a salad first, I’ve noticed two things: First, I remember how much I enjoy the crisp crunch of lettuce, the soft pop of chickpeas between my teeth, the burst of flavor as a tomato explodes in my mouth, the soft earthiness of mushrooms, the bitter but brilliant bite of broccoli–and the flavors go on and on, and I remember that I love eating salads, and I remember what a delight it is to eat vegetables and fruit.

And then, well, after a full plate of salads, I rarely want more than a single plate of protein or carbs or whatever food groups are represented on the buffet that day. My hunger, very nearly sated, leads me to taking smaller portions where before I’d pile it all high and then shovel it all in. Afterwards, my stomach doesn’t feel so heavy or tight, and I’m not hungry again any sooner than I was beforehand.

I can’t say yet if this new habit will help me shave off the few pounds I’d like to lose or build the few pounds of muscles I’d like to gain, but no matter the physical affects it has on my body, I do know it’s healthier eating, and healthy eating will help me stay fit and strong and sometimes impervious to all the stress in my life.

So when I need it (and I need it often), I won’t feel so bad when I go back for dessert.

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