In Fine Fettle: Is it better to eat or have the cake?

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Health Columnist

I never understood the saying, “You cannot have your cake and eat it.” If your cake is big enough, you can. And if you eat it slowly enough, you can just bake another one while you’re finishing that last piece. Eventually, you’ll be tired of cake and neither want to have nor eat any. Problem solved.

Ammi Midstokke.

The etymology of the old proverb dates back to the 1500s and is supposedly a way of explaining that some things are mutually exclusive of each other. I am reminded of this in my life on a daily basis when I want the cake, but I also want my pants to fit. Sometimes one is more important than the other. I’m not sure exactly what the compromise is, but I’m pretty sure it involves lycra and something called “jeggings.”

It is often that patients are sitting in my office explaining their goals and desired outcomes. This time of year, as water-ski season and the feared bikini-clad beach hours approach, the outcome is often related to how we appear while wearing the equivalent of a hair net around our private parts. Aside from all the cultural hoohah that has us defining our worth by our lack of visible cellulite, I sympathize with the struggle.

What strikes me as surprising, however, is our chronic unwillingness to change. We want the outcome: It would be nice to weigh 10 pounds less or look leaner or, in my case, not be confused with a bag of drowning kittens when I put a swimsuit on. But what do you mean I can’t eat bagels?

Sometimes people are clear from the moment I meet them: I want to be healthier, but don’t ask me to give up wine, chocolate, coffee, or for the love of God, make myself breakfast. Or be responsible to buy groceries and cook them. (I keep thinking I need to purchase a magic wand or something and just start waving it around at these appointments. I, too, could have my own private jet in no time.)

Thankfully, we now have the option of having prepared ingredients sent to our doorstep in cute little baskets of perfectly-portioned meals so we don’t actually have to think for ourselves. As far as I’m concerned, this is a far better investment than saving for our children’s college funds. And while it does serve a purpose and beats McDonald’s by far, it is also woefully lacking.

The tragedy in all of these blessings of convenience (at a cost) is that it all involves us thinking less about ourselves, spending less time on ourselves. We want the appearance and physical health of a well-cared-for body, but we don’t actually want to care well for our bodies. Not surprisingly, this is not limited to our kitchen habits.

The reality is if we want to have health and vitality in most aspects of our lives, from our mental and emotional well-being to our physical health and longevity, we must actively invest in the changes necessary to achieve and maintain them. Bodies are dynamic, their needs are changing as our lives change around them. What worked for us before menopause, children, college, real jobs, divorce, injury doesn’t necessarily work best for us now.

We don’t have to be drastic. Maybe we cook one meal from scratch each week. Maybe we just pick a single thing that is inhibiting us from making a change or reaching that goal, and prioritize it until we’re ready for the next step. The proverb remains true: We cannot expect change without making it. We cannot continue with our old ways and have new outcomes. Sometimes that change is just accepting things the way they are and being content. There’s a lot to be said for cake, after all.

Ammi Midstokke can be reached at [email protected]

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