In the middle of a violent wind- and rainstorm last week, the power went out. This was around lunchtime. By evening, the juice still wasn’t back on, so I dialed my husband and asked him to bring home some takeout Chinese food.
“Sure,” he said. “What do you want?”
At this particular restaurant, I usually get steamed shrimp and broccoli, with the sauce on the side. Or if I’m feeling a little more self-indulgent, a dish called “Vegetarian’s Paradise,” which consists of mixed vegetables in a light sauce, green beans in a somewhat heavier sauce, and tofu in a sweet sesame glaze.
The other night I was feeling more self-indulgent than usual. I mean, I’d spent most of the afternoon sitting in the dark, reading by candlelight (around here, this time of year, it starts getting dark at 3 p.m.). So without thinking too hard about it, I asked for Lady Tso’s Shrimp -- “Fresh jumbo shrimps sauteed with mushroom, red pepper & broccoli in an exotic Hunan sauce,” said the menu.
I guess it’s been a while since I ordered General Tso’s Chicken, or maybe I’ve never ordered it, only eaten it from a communal serving platter, but I forgot -- and the menu didn’t mention -- that the meat is breaded and deep-fried before being submerged in that exotic Hunan sauce, which is pretty rich to begin with.
I knew as soon as I opened the container I’d made a mistake, but by then it was too late to make anything else, and I must admit, the food smelled wonderful. Tasted good, too. I ate all the vegetables and about a third of the shrimp, then I put the leftover shrimp in a container, planning to reheat it the next day along with some extra steamed vegetables.
In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling nauseated and still full. I don’t know if it was the grease or the breading, but my stomach was suffering Lady Tso’s revenge in a big way. The gross feeling persisted throughout the next day until evening.
Why am I telling you this? Well, because I’m bummed at myself, but not because I consumed too many calories or too many fat grams, or heaven help me, too many points on some arbitrary diet system . I have no idea how many grams of fat I ate, and I don’t care. I don’t feel guilty, either. I’m mainly annoyed because I spent 24 hours feeling lousy.
Speaking of guilt, I’ve noticed a pattern in so-called “healthy” food ads lately. “A slice of un-guilty pleasure,” proclaims an ad for Silk chocolate almond milk. “Isn’t it time you told your guilty conscience to go hassle someone else?” inquires an ad for Truvia alt-sweetener.
If I murdered someone, or embezzled from an investment fund that people were counting on to support their retirements, I’d feel terribly guilty. But for eating greasy Chinese food? Sorry, no.
In her wonderful and sane book, , author Annemarie Colbin suggests that if you’ve eaten something that doesn’t work for you, the physical consequences are punishment enough. Guilt is optional.
In the old days, after a meal of greasy takeout, my internal monologue would have gone something like this: “Man, I’ve just eaten something totally unhealthy. I’m a terrible person. Wonder if that vanilla ice cream in the freezer is still any good after the power’s been off all day? Probably ought to finish it.”
That’s not what I did the other night. Instead, I chose not to punish myself any further. I’d done the best I could do under the circumstances (after all, I was reading the menu by flashlight!), but it turned out to be a mistake. Oh, well, live and learn. Rather than compound my misery with more food, or at the other extreme, hop on the treadmill to atone for my transgressions, I decided to treat myself kindly until I felt better. I also made a mental note, in the future, to avoid dishes endorsed by any member of the Tso family.
Can you recall the last time you ate something that you wished you hadn’t? Which was worse: the physical consequences or the psychological remorse?