I own a restaurant. I would prefer if you didn’t come in. I hate being here. I hate everything about this place. And I’m killing you.
Even though I hate you, I feel guilty about killing you. The food is crap. The decor is crap. The location is crap. Worse yet, I can’t even make a living on the place.
…How did I get here?
I became a chef because I love creating food. I’ve worked in food service most of my life. Sadly, I never really spent a lot of time thinking about nutrition.
Growing up, mom fed me PB&J sandwiches, cereal, toast, pasta, etc. However, I never really thought about what I was eating. She gave it to me, so it must be what I’m supposed to be eating. TV ads show their cereals next to fruit and milk and toast and the connotation is that it’s healthy. Who am I to argue with Toucan Sam?
As I got older (and fatter) and became more aware of nutrition and tried to eat healthier, I applied the same logic: if it’s on TV it must be okay. They can’t lie in a TV ad! I had that same thought process for the last 40+ years. “Want to eat healthy and lose weight? Buy ‘Lean Nutri Healthy!’ It has no calories, no fat, & no cholesterol! And still tastes great! Plus, Oprah loves it!” Of course they don’t tell you about all the chemicals in their food, but they are nice enough to list them on the box—in really, really tiny print.
Like most people, I didn’t have much luck in my fitness and weight loss and would eventually give up. I thought this was all my fault.
Some of it was.
About a year ago, my wife came across something called The Whole 30. Essentially, spend 30 days consuming nothing but lean meats and fresh vegetables & fruits. That’s it. No breads. No pasta. No Sugar. No beans. No dairy. No starches. Nothing processed or with any chemicals. And no alcohol.
No bread and no alcohol was a huge mental obstacle for me. By day three, I felt like I was going through the D.T.’s: massive headaches and lethargy…just miserable (maybe I drank more than I thought?). By day five, I felt better.
Evenings were the toughest part. After the kids were in bed, we would usually settle down with our glass of wine (or three) and eventually the snack attack would come—popcorn, crackers, pretzels (all low-cal and non-fat by the way). Sweets were never a big thing for me, so no chocolate cravings (unlike my wife who was drooling over a six-month-old chocolate easter bunny I found in the cupboard). I read instead of watching TV hoping the association of TV and wine would be broken by reading instead. It certainly helped. And I was sleeping better than I had in years; soundly and through the whole night without waking up.
By day 30, I felt great—and had lost 20 lbs. Having accomplished that goal of not only the Whole 30 but not drinking for 30 days was such a sense of accomplishment. It gave me a feeling of control over my life that I hadn’t felt in years…or maybe ever.
This then led to a whole lifestyle change for both of us—eating primal/paleo and changing the way we exercise and relate with each other and our world. I would love to go into all the gory details of this, but Mark at MarksDailyApple.com has already done that and done it extremely well. And read the goddamn labels on the food you buy! If you don’t recognize it or can’t pronounce it, put it back! Stay to the outer part of the grocery store for 90% of what you get. (Off the soapbox now…)
So what does this revelation about nutrition have to do with my crappy restaurant and the customers that I hated?
First, it’s not just about nutrition. I knew, deep down hidden in my DNA, that my food and lifestyle choices weren’t what they were supposed to be. But the onslaught of “conventional wisdom” hammered into me was blocking the truth, and it would always bother me. “Why is this so hard? Why are we so much fatter than 100 years ago?”
I understand that our ancestors had to be more physical in their day-to-day lives than we do now, but that doesn’t explain the food. Why have we accepted manufactured/processed/fake instead of fresh/whole/real? Because it’s cheaper? More convenient? I’m ashamed to admit that I actually would scold myself for asking these questions (go ahead, try scolding yourself. It’s a hoot!).
I truly believed that, for the most part, the media, advertisers, and government had our best interests at heart. However, these entities act in their own self-interests. If it’s cheaper to produce with hydrobetacarabenzotine #12 and if “Keeping People Sick, Incorporated” has bottomless pockets to pay for 100 ads a day aimed at our kids and if Senator “I Want To Be Re-Elected” helps push through legislation to subsidize corn and wheat production because the agriculture lobby is so powerful, then that is what is going to happen—all the time, every time.
Our society’s approach to health and fitness is flawed and just too complicated. What makes more sense: having to spend hours and hours at the gym, eating protein bars and microwave “healthy” meals and counting calories and points, or simply eating lean meats, fresh veggies and fruit and getting out and walking everyday mixed with occasional sprints and a few essential body strength movements?
With all due respect to Bob and Jillian, it’s not that hard.
Second, I realized that the hate I was feeling towards my more rotund customers was actually aimed at myself. I felt I was failing as a man, as a husband and as a father. I was always too tired to play with my kids and was always struggling to find energy. I knew why, but I didn’t have the courage to stop it.
I had to change the only thing I could change—my own little part of the world. I closed the restaurant (don’t go thinking that I’m so noble and high-minded; I closed the joint cause it failed and was in a terrible location, location, location). I just couldn’t bring myself to being part of the problem anymore. Watching people eat food that wasn’t good for them, food that I was serving—it robbed me of a little bit of my soul every day. I know nobody put a gun to their head and made them come in, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I felt like the guy with the ice cream truck who parks outside a Weight Watchers meeting.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for this type of food. I love pizza. I love beer. I love cookies. My wife and I set aside special nights to go out to a favorite restaurant and throw caution to the wind, but that’s not how we live the majority of our life anymore. The choices that I’ve made work for me and my family and that’s the important thing. Everyone needs to find their own path, but if it’s not making you feel good, maybe the path you’re on isn’t the right one. I can tell you my suggestions, but they are only suggestions. Be primal. Do Atkins. South Beach, Mediterranean, join a gym, go swimming, eat fat free, low cal, low carb…it doesn’t matter! Find what works for you, and do it for yourself.
So I’m done killing you. I’m taking a break from the business until I can open the place that will truly be good for my soul—a place I can be proud of. Will the whole menu be primal? Of course not! I’m trying to live my life 80/20—allow for mistakes or special occasions or those times I just really want a Guinness! And I like making breads, pastries, and fried foods, so a nice, warm homemade dinner roll or sweet slice of apple pie in a flaky pastry or perfectly crispy fried chicken is a great treat from time to time.
And I won’t feel guilty about that.