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How My New Kitchen Made Me Fat

Only a self-deluding, seriously misguided individual would blame her weight gain on a recent home renovation. Only someone afraid to accept the consequences for her own actions would attempt to shift the responsibility for her misdeeds to her new granite countertops and flat-screen television. Only a cowardly weasel would suggest that her excitement at having a spacious kitchen, not her appalling lack of self-control, led to her abuse of chardonnay and salty snacks.

Once upon a time, my kitchen was a long, narrow space. There was nowhere for anyone to sit, other than on top of the washer or dryer. If more than one or two people were in there, the area was noticeably crowded. I would stand at the stove and cook, day after day, listening to the laughter of my husband and two daughters as they sat in the small den next to the kitchen, watching television or telling jokes.

I was lonely in that kitchen. It was a kind of Siberia, only with modern appliances and somewhat better food (and climate). After several years of living in our house and countless discussions
about its design problems, we decided to do a renovation, primarily to remove the wall between our narrow kitchen and our breakfast nook. We wanted a large, open area where we could cook and eat without feeling cramped or isolated.

The renovation took several months. There were times when we wondered what prompted us to undertake such a project (a topic for another column), but when all the work was completed, we had what we wanted… a spacious, family-friendly kitchen. We also had what I refer to as our very own sports bar—an island with a raised flat-screen television on the column at the end. Here we could sit on our barstools, sip wine and watch our favorite shows while enjoying a snack or a meal. My older daughter jokingly referred to the island as “the trough.”

We laughed at her choice of words, not realizing how right she was. Soon, the trouble began.
Eating while seated at a dining-room table and having no distraction other than an occasional telephone call is one thing. Eating while perched on a barstool watching the ACC basketball
tournament or the latest episode of Game of Thrones is quite an-other. Something about the informality of in-kitchen dining lowers a person’s inhibitions, or even worse, eliminates them altogether.

Throwing alcoholic libations into the mix doesn’t help either. Perhaps I was operating on the premise that any calories consumed while standing up or leaning against the counter didn’t count. If I was perfectly upright while polishing off a platter of nachos and a second margarita, then I was okay. The fat, sodium and alcohol would simply vanish through the soles of my feet, much like lightning travels all the way through a lightning rod and into the ground.

Here’s where it gets tricky: I’m a human being, not a lightning rod. The calories that I put into my body do not travel downward to the soles of my feet and out into the ground. They usually stop somewhere around my tummy or hips, where they make themselves at home. After a few months of this kind of noshing, the expression “bellying up to the bar” had a whole new meaning for me.

The small kitchen that had once isolated me from my family and guests had now become a large and menacing theme park, a dangerous world where time and calories have no meaning: “So
what if our dinner won’t be ready for another hour? Let’s watch Jeopardy while we finish the cheese dip. My all-time favorite episode of Seinfeld will be on in thirty minutes. Let’s chill another bottle of wine!”

Eventually, the novelty of this new room faded. It has become just another part of our house, albeit our favorite one and the one in which we spend the most time. We still gather around the island to eat, but we also spend a lot of our time there just talking and laughing. The kitchen has become what I hoped it would become—the heart of our home. I have finally figured out that I can sit on a barstool without holding a glass of wine in my hand. These two activities are not necessarily wedded to one another. I have learned that watching Jeopardy does not require a bowl of guacamole and a bag of chips. I am, however, still working on getting through an episode of Game of Thrones without some ice cream. CV

Mary Zahran, who still stops to admire her new kitchen from time to time, can be reached at maryzahran@gmail.com.