Hi, I’m Michelle De La Cerda. Thank you for taking the time to come over to my About Me page. I tend to be a bit verbose, so bear with me as I share with you my story with food and cooking. I would love to hear your stories with food and cooking as well.
The majority of my early food memories take place in either of my grandmother’s kitchens. These ladies cook very differently. Not one is better than the other. It’s no wonder that food became a comfort to me because who in the life of a child (or an adult) is more comforting than a grandmother? My parents were young when I was born, so I spent a significant amount of time with my grandmothers. Watching them, being allowed to ‘taste-test’ or sample their food helped mold the cook I am today. One grandmother never used measuring cups or spoons. The other did meticulously. I have gravitated to the type of cook who rarely measures. When I step outside myself and “observe” myself, I can see one grandmother or another at work in the kitchen. This gives me great joy to see a small bit of them in me.
I started my first blog almost four years ago, but my life was messy at that time. My marriage was falling apart, I was in school full time, working, and raising a newborn. I gave up. Then I hit a cross roads in life recently and I had to make a choice. One choice was a safe path, with security, regular pay, benefits, and a predictable schedule. This path also caused me heartache, stress, emotional turmoil, and honestly, caused me to want to drink. The other path, the path I ultimately chose, is not safe. It does not have any of those benefits I just listed. Yet, I have found this gives me more happiness. I chose to write (for myself and others), to cook, to edit (for others), and to ultimately follow a passion in me that I have always chosen to ignore.
I started cooking at age 11. I use the term cooking loosely. It was open a can of this or a box of that served with a protein. I grew up with my mom and stepdad and honestly think vegetables made a debut on our weeknight dinner table when I was around 14. While I jest about the type of cooking I did, everyone has to start somewhere. Making a box of something still required following directions, learning to read recipes, etc. There were some “homemade” style foods, like making hamburger patties that were seasoned, or light frying then baking chicken. Additionally, Sunday dinners were almost always homemade and fresh. On Sundays there were vegetables of some kind. I am grateful for this experience because this is when my imagination in the kitchen began. I never was allowed to act on it, despite asking to make spaghetti sauce from scratch versus opening a jar, but it was this time that I did learn (often the hard way) some of the needed cooking basics.
While I loved cooking, food and I had a complicated relationship while living with my mom and stepdad. My food intake was monitored. I was always considered on the “heavy” side of normal. Unfortunately, because of the monitoring, I did not create good, healthy eating habits. When at school, I would eat anything anyone wanted to share with me. I was not starving at home by any means, but that strict control and scrutiny over what I put in my mouth led to a major distortion of what I should put in my mouth when I wasn’t being monitored.
Food was considerably different at my dad and stepmom’s (mom2) place. Food was available, as much as you want, no judgment. I was free to eat without feeling like I was being criticized by a judging eye with a stare I can still feel at times. Mom2 has always been an excellent cook. I did not spend a lot of time with her in the kitchen when I was in their home. I was only there every other weekend. Mom2 made almost every meal from scratch, serving copious amounts of vegetables―far too many for my young palate.
When I was 19, I moved in with my dad and mom2. My cooking experiences grew greatly. I now had regular kitchen tutelage and not just occasionally when near a grandmother. We were a family of seven, but food was made for a family of twelve. Mom2 gave directions or even allowed full creativity and free reign in the kitchen. She was a great hands-on source to help finally develop my passion in the kitchen.
However, when I moved in with them, my weight did not creep on, it flocked to me like candy sprinkles to wet icing. This was the first time in my life that I was free to eat without being watched.
This was also when I finally felt safe to feel some of the pain that came from childhood abuse. The food may have been available to me without prejudice, but I embraced food as a way to deal with the pain I was feeling. I began eating to comfort myself, to deal with my emotions. I went from a size 11 to a size 22 in one year. This should have alarmed everyone. It should have alarmed me. No one said anything but one person and did so in a very negative way. No one asked. I am certain I was being talked about behind my back, especially by members of my family, but this was seen as a girl with no self control, not a girl in pain. Food did a great job at numbing me. I buried my pain using food and went on with life.
My interest in cooking continued to increase in college, but so did my weight. I loved having dinner parties. I was the roommate that cooked. I tried using food to find a man as the adage said ‘the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ Coming directly from cooking for a family of seven, but really twelve, to attempting to cook for one was a nightmare. I fed everyone because I didn’t know how to cook on a small scale. I still don’t. It’s very difficult. In college was where my experimentation with food began. Trying to whip up meals with on-hand ingredients because I didn’t feel like running to the store for just one item. I would consult recipes, but rarely follow one. I learned a lot about food pairing.
Food was still my comfort though. Shortly after moving away from home to Utah, a clergy member I confided in saw my pain and encouraged therapy. In therapy, I started processing those childhood abuses I’d buried. Looking at them, confronting them, and letting them go. I can easily say now that I was sexually abused starting at age eight or that I was raped at age eighteen. Those things are part of my story, part of what has shaped me as a person but they are not WHO I AM. Unfortunately, I did eat my way through this journey. I didn’t eat to bury what I was reliving, but I ate to get through it. Food was that friend that never let me down.
I went through college, earned my degree with a high GPA. I met my now ex-husband my last semester of college. Life went on. My then-husband and I shared a passion for food. It was really something we enjoyed doing together. Finding great places to eat, whether hole-in-the-wall dives or star-rated restaurants. We bonded over this shared love. It is still something we share today.
By the time I was 32 years old, I was 310 pounds. It wasn’t that I was always eating through pain anymore, I just wasn’t being judicious in how much I ate or even what I ate. We had been married for 5 years and no children. I was too overweight to conceive. Weight-related infertility the doctor said. I really wanted to be a mother but kept failing at diet after diet. My then-husband has bipolar disorder and when he would go through a cycle, I admit I did turn to food to get through it. This was often the reason for the sabotage of any diet I was on. I do not blame him for this. I chose to emotionally eat instead of joining a support group for partners with bipolar.
After a lot of soul searching, I decided to have gastric bypass surgery. I did not come to this decision lightly, but have never regretted it for a moment. I mentally prepared myself for the changes that were going to take place after the surgery. I flew to California almost monthly for doctor appointments, nutrition classes, psychological evaluations, before I could go through with the surgery. I was only planning on having the Lapband procedure. It was two weeks before the scheduled surgery that I finally got to meet the surgeon. He looked at my chart, my history, looked at me and asked me why I was having the Lapband instead of gastric bypass. He was blunt with me. He told me it takes approximately three years to lose all the weight on Lapband. Then he said that there is an almost 75% failure rate in Lapband patients and he suspected I would fail as well based on my history. He continued saying that those “failed” patients choose to go through gastric bypass. GB has an eighteen month long recovery before childbearing clearance is given. Doing the math, he said since my driving force was to have a child, I could potentially be having my first child at almost 37 years old. Now maybe my surgeon just wanted to do a more fancy surgery. Maybe he exaggerated the statistics. Maybe he pegged me. But whatever it was, my then-husband and I talked, and I decided to have GBS instead of the Lapband. BEST. THING. EVER! I know it isn’t for everyone, but it was for me. January 2008 I had the procedure.
Change happened immediately after surgery. I couldn’t eat like I used to. I was okay with this. The one thing I did struggle with is the inability to drink water. For months post surgery I was drinking out of ounce cups. I couldn’t take more than one ounce of water at a time. I spoke with an old friend who had gone through the surgery himself and lamented how I just wanted to chug water again. He promised I could, in time. It took about a year to be able to do anything more than a sip at a time, but I can proudly say I can chug water again.
In eighteen months, I lost 150 pounds. I lost an entire person. During this time I had to relearn how to cook. I still had a husband (6’3″) with a normal stomach and hearty appetite to cook for and me, who now hen-pecked at food. I started reading more cookbooks, watching more cooking programs. I needed to develop a greater understanding of food. This education started broadening my palate. Slowly, I became more adventurous in trying new foods. Foods that I knew I didn’t like, I would try again. Sometimes I still hated them, but more often than not, they were not remotely as bad as I remember them being in the past.
I still wanted to enjoy soul-satisfying meals. You know, the type that just fills your body with warmth and love. But I needed to find a way to do it with fewer calories and fat. The side effects of eating improperly are horrendous. Image your worst stomach flu or bout of food poisoning, then multiply it by 100. That is what I would experience for hours if I stepped out of line with food. I literally prayed to die and recovering from this often took three days.
In time these side effects have lessened. I can eat more things now that I shouldn’t. I still have consequences, but not as frequently. The human body is resilient and adapts well.
After my eighteen month long rapid weight loss concluded, I was medically cleared to start trying for a child. We had no expectations of immediate success, but that is what we had. I was cleared for pregnancy July of 2009, conceived August of 2009, and our daughter was born May 2010. Pregnancy and GB was a tricky balance at first. My daughter took every little thing I ate, giving me nothing. I was frequently passing out. My doctor increased my daily caloric intake in order to alleviate the passing out. After that, pregnancy was a breeze. I was truly blessed with the easiest pregnancy possible. With the exception of craving Olive Garden’s spaghetti and meat sauce. I make a way better meat sauce, but yet, this is what I always wanted to eat. Oh and I did have to forsake Indian food. Every time I ate it, I would get ill. Ironically, Indian is one of my daughter’s favorite things to eat now.
Once I had my daughter, I continued to eat the increased amount of calories. I never went back to consuming the lower pre-pregnancy amount. Unfortunately at this time, the cracks in my marriage became gaping holes. Food returned as a comfort but I maintained my weight sufficiently―until my marriage concluded. When that happened, I was left angry. I turned to food the way I had in the past. Yes, I was now limited to how much I could eat. Instead of an entire box of chocolate donuts, I was eating a half a donut, then a whole. Chips replaced nuts as my snack. Soda slowly came back instead of water. I went from a size ten to a size sixteen.
I was mostly still cooking well for myself. I hadn’t gone completely back to the dark side, but I allowed myself more high calorie, high fat foods than I needed. I lived this way until my daughter’s third birthday. I looked at the pictures from the party and was not happy with what I was seeing. I was allowing my emotions to control to food intake. This had to stop. I had spent a lot of time and energy learning newer, better habits and a better way of life to undo it all. I have not had the rapid weight loss I did right after surgery. It has been very slow. The number on the scale does not indicate the size of my clothing. There is a huge disconnect. Before surgery, I was extremely muscular. But the rapid weight loss left me a puny weakling. However, since having a child I have significantly increased my muscle tone again and have to remind myself that muscle weighs more than fat. I am comfortably and at times loosely in size 12 jeans. I can’t fit in the 10’s yet, but I am slowly getting there. As a motivational tool, I have gone to a plastic surgeon for a consultation about skin removal. Talk about a humiliating and vulnerable experience.
My passion for cooking and for food has never waned. I want the food I eat to be full of flavor and nutrition, not just fat. This doesn’t mean I don’t cook with certain fats. I do. I’d rather eat a bit of natural butter than processed margarine. There are meals that I make that are loaded with fat and calories, I plan for them and portion control is crucial. I don’t believe in denying myself, just moderation. My recipes are often diabetic and gastric bypass friendly.
My best friend is diabetic and he eats dinner almost nightly with my daughter and me. We both still love our carbs. Need our carbs. Crave our carbs. We just limit the amount we consume. I’d rather have two or three satisfying bites of pasta, rice, or potatoes instead of walking around feeling incomplete. I know that sounds silly to say I feel incomplete because I don’t have carbs, but it’s true. I have adapted to eating a few bites and being happy instead of eating only carbs or worse, completely denying myself of their deliciousness altogether.
My struggles with weight and emotional eating have led greater appreciation for food and an understanding of the role it plays in our lives, also through these struggles, I have found a greater happiness in life. I have a passion in the kitchen. It’s therapeutic for me to go in there and create a meal. Feeding people is one of the most gratifying things I do in life. Watching a person take a bite of my food and see their enjoyment spread across their face is a wonderful experience. It gives me happiness.
Photos taken Aug of 2014 by my lovely sister Jennifer Edling of Jennifer Edling Photography