Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Problem With Cheese

I have been seriously considering cutting cheese out of my diet completely, or at least setting some kind of limits or ground rules on it. I've made so much progress removing the trigger foods from my intake that the few that remain *really* stand out to me. There are so few things now that flip the switch to overeat. Cheese is the big one.

Oh, I can eat a low fat string cheese here and there for a snack and be fine. I can make my cauliflower pizza and be satisfied. Caprese salad never sends me running for more cheese. Trying to put a finger on it has taken a little thought. What is it, exactly, that triggers me?

Cheddar. Cheddar and heaven help me, my favorite cheese of all, Havarti. Havarti is rarely a problem, though, because I buy it so infrequently and when I do, I go to the deli and buy a slice, two slices. That's not an issue, although if I had a block of Havarti in my fridge all bets would be off. So yeah, it's cheddar, basically. A little grated on a salad? No problem. But if I start eating it in slices or melted, something seriously trips in my head.

Let me give you a little background. When I was a kid, my mom didn't know how to cook. I mean she really didn't, and so all my weekend and summer lunches were full of easy foods: hot dogs, mostly. Fried bologna sandwiches with ketchup. And a whole lot of Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese. But I'd guess at least half of those lunches were cheese. Sliced cheese and crackers, or grated cheese melted on Wonder bread. Sometimes she would go all out and I'd get an actual grilled cheese sandwich. But if you want to know what one food represents my childhood, it would be grated cheese melted on bread in the broiler. I ate that all the time. Oh, and bagels smeared with tons of cream cheese... that too. And yes, cream cheese is another trigger.

I "failed" Atkins and South Beach mainly because I was eating bricks of cheddar and 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese for snacks. There is never enough cheese for me to want to stop eating it. I *still* have to really watch myself or I will be in there grabbing spoonfuls of cream cheese to eat, or slicing up cheddar because it is low carb. Easy to justify, as the cheeses I get are gluten free, sugar free, low carb, grain free. Feels like a freebie, but it's not. It's caloric, and aside from that, I don't like the feeling that a food might trip me into a state of mind I don't want to be in. I got rid of the sugar and grains and sodas and fast food because they made me want to binge on them, and they are bad for me. And for a long time, the cheese thing has been nagging at me, too.

Funny, earlier today I recounted how impossible and awful it seemed to me some weeks ago to contemplate a life without cake. I feel the same about cheese. I cannot comprehend "no cheese, ever again." So I am not going there, at least not now. But I need to set some rules, here. When I am not counting calories I am very tempted to keep on eating cheese... 2, 3 servings worth. When I *am* counting calories, I don't want them all sucked up by caloric cheese. Nutritious veggies would be a better choice for those calories.

So, I am putting a limit on the cheese. If I want to cook with it, or have a cheese-based meal like Caprese salad or cauliflower pizza, I'll limit that to once a week. But you know, I think I just want to try and not eat any Cheddar at all for awhile. I think it is fine to have fancy cheeses on special occasions, or when you're at a party and want to pick something low carb from the platters. But there's no reason for me to keep eating it at home.

Sure, it would be easier to just not have cheese in the house. But the kids all like cheese and eat it without a problem, and two of my kids especially need calorie-dense, fat-rich food like cheese, so I will just learn to let it be, just like I have learned to leave their cereal and wheat bread and crackers alone.

So that's what I'm going to do to improve my intake, and I feel very positive about it.


Anonymous said...

I mostly gave up cheese when I started losing my weight (220-ish pounds gone, took two years to lose, maintaining for 2.5 years now, to give you some idea of the time scale) mainly because I've found avoiding ALL calorie-dense foods to be the most effective way for me. It was pretty hard at first, because I really like cheese, but within a couple of weeks, cheese just mostly fell off my radar, and now, it's like it almost never occurs to me to eat cheese, and I really don't miss it. It was kind of a big deal for me to make a frittata last night, and to grate about 2 tbsp of fresh parmesan into it, when huge, cheesy omelettes used to be a routine part of my diet.

It really was a good move for me, so I'm hopeful it'll work for you. The more calorie-dense things I jettisoned, the easier losing/maintaining has been. I'm not specifically low-carb but avoiding caloric density has pretty well put the kibosh on high carb stuff like grains and starchy vegetables by default.

Anyway, good luck! Sorry for the overly-long comment, but I thought it might help to get a supporting opinion for your plan. :)

Diandra said...

How much longer will you try to limit the kinds of food you let yoruself eeat? It's a good thing to remove the most frequent triggers, but before you know it, you will bel iving on chicken and Brussel sprouts, and that is not a healthy thing to do. Have you considered seeing a good nutritionist to help you figur out a plan that leaves out your triggers and still lets you eat in a healthy way?

(I am going to bet that your body will find other trigger foods, just because it "needs" to.)

Deniz said...

I can really relate to this. I find it all too easy to overeat cheese too, because something about it hits all the right buttons on my 'mmmm, satisfying' machine.

Since we've recently gone low-carb, I'm having to watch myself like a hawk to make sure I don't get into a cheesy free-for-all.

The other thing that has the potential to trip me is peanut butter. Funny how it's the savoury thing, rather than the sugary ones, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lyn:
I lost 40 lbs 2 years ago with the help of a nutritionist and cheese was one of my issues. She told me cheese (for me) was "nice to visit, but not something for everyday." In other words enjoy a cheese tray at a party, or, as you do with Havarti, go and buy a slice or two once in a while. Just don't keep blocks of it in the house. Sadly, that's what I had to do and recently I just had a cheese binge. Why? Because I brought some cheese and bread to eat in anticipation of losing power due to the Hurricane. Some triggers never lose their power and testing yourself isn't a good idea.

Tiffany Campiotti said...

I think that's a great plan!

lisa~sunshine said...

I just wanted to say.. I think your doing great..

Learning to moderate foods is a hard one.. I know that others are quick to say.. get it out of your house.. BUT that doesn't always work for us.. and honestly.. it's not how your going to be able to live forever either.. Those foods will never disappear..
I too LOVE cheese.. My favorite are VERY sharp cheeses.. cheddar or white cheddar.. I found for me.. buying them in pre done sizes.. helps.. Like I buy the ones precut which cost a bit more.. but serving size it works better for me.. or shredded... I do the same with almond butter.. I use the Jusin pre-packed almond butters..

Crabby McSlacker said...

Trail mix is my Cheddar Cheese; can not seem to restrain myself.

Seems like you've done a great detective job in figuring out the precise trigger, which will let you still enjoy some cheese without going on a cheddar rampage!

Note to self: do NOT restock trail mix next grocery store run!

Lyn said...


as long as it takes, I think. I would actually LOVE it if I got to a point of Paleo-style eating, with mainly lean meats and veggies and healthy fats as my intake. Not just chicken and Brussel sprouts (although I love those) but all the variety of meats, fish, poultry, and dozens of vegetables there are. And some fruit, too... more when the weight is off. I have seen a nutritionist several times... funny thing, they always say to eat lots of whole grain bread, oatmeal, rice, whole grain pasta and to stay low fat. That way of eating if like a minefield of triggers for me!

I hope my body's next trigger food is broccoli :)

Anonymous said...

I can see both sides to the eliminate/ moderate debate. I don't find cheese to be a trigger food per se, but when it was one of the only calorie dense foods in the house at midnight, I inhaled an 8 oz bag. the 2% cheese tastes pretty good though, and with 10g protein/ 100 calories, reasonably satiating. no worse than an egg, burger, salmon...

personally, I find it easier to get rid of a craving by giving in to it. I have some leeway for junk, and I use that for one thing for a week or two. I don't stop enjoying, say, french fries, but they lose the wow appeal once I've had a serving with lunch every day for 2 weeks. I get used to eating a small serving, get used to the idea that there will be more tomorrow. its best to keep the pattern long enough to be really bored with the food- I bought a ten pound bag of potatoes and made home fries until it was gone.

Anonymous said...

Do you believe that one can never learn a new response to food cues? I ask out of curiosity, to understand what overweight or weight-conscious people and chronic dieters (especially those with strong conditioned responses to food cues) believe about their own behavior.

Right now the taste of cheese (or the availability of a large amount of cheese) is a trigger for you, but do you feel there is no way to change your response ("response" being broadly defined here to include your emotional response and thought processes, not just your external behavior)? Is the response immutable (i.e., will cheese always have this effect on you, regardless of any interventions you may try to change that)?

Lyn said...


What a great question! I absolutely believe we can change our responses to food cues. For example, I used to feel a "pull" and start dreaming of Big Macs every time I drove past McDonalds. Now, I see it and have zero desire to go there. When I used to see and smell a cake or cookies, I would salivate and want them and dream of ways to get them. Now I can be in the presence of cake and my response is neutral. It doesn't affect me. But, what would happen if I ate a slice of cake? Would it send me spiraling back to old behaviors? I'm not sure, and don't want to find out!

So with the cheese, for me the first step to learning new responses is to change my behavior and stop indulging in cheese and figuring out ways to fit more of it into my plan. In time I think I will learn to be reflexively moderate with cheese instead of always wanting more.

Suzy said...

I think moderating your cheese intake for now, even forever is fine (afterall, vegans do it). And paleo eating seems to be vey healthy too. I agree that the nutritionist's are always recommending wheat, etc. I cant eat that stuff either - it causes illness and weird cravings and side effects. I just wish they would be more flexible and see there are a lot of other ways to eat that are healthy. Good luck with your moderation, I think you will be able to get to a place where you see cheese as an occasional treat and not a necessity for living.

Mary said...

Have you heard of Whole30? No dairy of any kind on that. I started it yesterday and so far so good. I think it is a good choice to get your body and systems to "ground zero". Worth checking out anyway.

Fair Enough said...

I love and I mean LOVE cheese. So as far as ever leading a normal "eating life" and buying cheese-Nope, can't do it.

I don't think everyone is as an extreme as a case as me, seeing as how I'm recovering from an ED-but some people really have to be careful with the foods they buy for LIFE, and I am one of them. Cheese and most grain products are two biggies for me (bread, cereal, rice, etc)

Karen said...

It's amazing how much better I feel without food triggers. Totally sustainable ,too, in my experience. Good luck with your elimination trials. Just being able to say " cheese is a trigger" is a step to wellness.

Foods either make us well or make us sick -IMO. Building your own template is key. Onward! Karen P