It’s Called The Pleasure Principle: Look Into It! Or…There’s No Place Like Hattie’s

* All photos by Joan K. Lentini of Forward Vision Photography

Anyone who’s known me for two weeks or more knows the basic nuts and bolts of my bio. Details large and small like I’m:

A writer
Permanently fixated on the color pink
A former 345-pound woman maintaining a 180 pound weight-loss
A fanatic about weight-lifting (What can I say…I saw “Pumping Iron” an an influential age)
In love with fried chicken and always will be. 

I’m also a recovering American. Lured at childhood into addictive cycles that involved fast and processed food, I’ve spent the majority of my life either over-indulging in food (the more caloric, the better) or trying fruitlessly to kill off once and for all, my love of it. 

Fast food was gloriously perfect for an affliction that demanded both self-loathing and isolation.  Thanks to a brilliant insight from my friend Esmond Lyons, I’ve realized that fast food is the pornography of the culinary world. It’s cheap, slapped together in a hurry, and satisfies only for a few seconds.  And it’s usually partaken with at least a few grams of shame. 

Immediately after earning my driver’s license at age 17, I discovered the magic of drive-thrus because they upped the isolation ante. And they delivered the goods quicker: a bucket of chicken or a combination meal that centered around the largest cheeseburger on the menu shoved through my car window and I was in heaven. The second I found a free parking space I could turn the engine off and shoot up…with no one to watch me. Once I got a taste of the drive-thru lifestyle, actually entering a fast-food establishment through the front door was unthinkable.   In my Heart I knew the reasons I was eating. And they had nothing to do with appreciation of the food. What I appreciated was the way it drugged me.  How it hurled me instantly into the Twilight Zone of Numbness.  Why would I want to do that in a crowded room full of strangers?

I get a lot of questions now from fellow recovering Americans seeking a similar path of transformation. They want the details of food groups, quantities and, what I’ve eliminated completely. I’m open about my current ways with food, even though I know and they know that a recitation of what I eat isn’t going to truly fix what’s ailing them. It’s a potential starting point though, and what always gets included in the schpiel is this:  the only thing I’ve eliminated completely is self-loathing. 

When Dallas Page (fitness guru and inventor of YRG) and Terri Lange (The Godmother of YRG) helped walk me through the early stages of withdrawals to the foods I was addicted to, I knew that in addition to taking guidance from them, I needed to tap into my own well of inner wisdom. It would be the only way to make this a long-term contract I could live with. 

The art of self-acceptance has many facets to it and one thing I realized, after years of fighting it is, there are certain things about me that just are, like my ardor for fried chicken. As with the color of my eyes and the need to be carried out of the movie “Bambi” on a stretcher, it’s not going anywhere.

Here’s the main reason I stopped fighting the reality that fried chicken is a very important part of my life:  It’s pleasure.  Looking back over all my past ‘failures’ where weight-release and balance were concerned, the largest mistake I made was eliminating pleasure from my life.  Who can live with that?  I’m just not equipped to treat food as fuel, though I’m mindful that fuel is one of food’s intrinsic qualities. As I told a Team YRG member who recently sought my advice about eating, it’s not about eliminating pleasure, but managing my addiction to it.   Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain is what we’re programmed to do…the trick for me is not letting it get out of hand. Fighting the fact that I sometimes desire to eat something purely for the pleasure of it only led to unnecessary conflict, self-recrimination, and more elaborate entrapment in the cycle.

Now, when I really want fried chicken, I have it.  And I listen very very closely to make sure it’s not a call to fill an emotional hole.  They can only be filled with liberal amounts of inwardly directed compassion. 

Since I live near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., when I do hear the fried chicken siren going off, I have Hattie’s to fall back on.  SO much better than fast food, for a number of reasons, like, visiting with owners Beth and Jasper Alexander face to face and knowing they actually care about the food they serve customers. Much of the vegetables (especially during summer) are locally sourced and many of the recipes (fried chicken, cucumber salad, pecan pie) are from Hattie Moseley Austin (the restaurant’s late founder) herself. 

With the always-vivacious Beth Alexander, and my secret weapon: a mug of hot water…

…and her genius husband, Jasper.  Enjoying face-time, fried chicken, and Hattie’s signature cucumber salad.

Hattie’s flagship restaurant in downtown Saratoga Springs has been in operation since 1938. Last year, the Alexander’s opened a satellite restaurant outside of town, smack in the middle of a sea of chain restaurants and fast food joints.

Hattie’s second location may be surrounded by drive-thru’s, but there’s only one way to get your hands on a box of their crispy, fragrant fried chicken:  walk through the front door.  Speeding away with the goods to eat in private isn’t on the radar anymore. And neither is the ‘never again’ mandate regarding foods I truly love.  Think there’s a connection?
Sometimes I pop into Hattie’s with friends and enjoy a meal with conversation. If I’m doing errands on the fly, I go solo and have no trepidation about sitting at the counter on my own, moaning with joy as I eat (really…just ask the regulars). They key in all this, of course, is balance.  I knew when I began this new way of living that I’d have to change some things, or I’d still be 345 pounds.  My favorite chicken part by far:  thighs. I usually have three. It’s just simply what I require to make it worth my time.  However, they’re accompanied by a vegetable and not biscuits or fries, and I wash it all down with herbal tea or hot water (my secret weapon) and not a sweetened cold drink.  It works. I leave the meal ecstatic and satisfied, and I continue to release weight.  

If you’ve read this far, I hope there’s no one still wondering why I don’t just give the low fat oven-baked version of fried chicken a try. I’ve tried concocting every version of it in an effort to whittle my waistline and banish the real stuff for good.  Every attempt resulted in uniform awfulness.  

And I simply don’t have time for uniform awfulness in my life anymore. Not when there’s so much pleasure to enjoy.