I very much enjoy bagels. In fact, I’ve been known to write whole blog posts dedicated to why I eat them- Why I Eat Bagels.
At first mention, Bagel Thins seemed contradictory to me. If I’m to understand them correctly, you’re wanting a bagel- known because of its fullness, its thick doughy center, but you’re being mindful about calories and carbohydrates and weight so you’re opting for a faux-bagel- essentially the shell of a traditional bagel with the same central hole but without the doughiness.
OK. Fair enough.
I knew immediately that Bagel Thins would appeal to the folks who like to scoop out the fleshy middles of their bagels. They tell me they like to toast the now-hollow bagel and that what they love most about bagels is the crispness of the outside after a run through the toaster. They could do without the fluff.
I get that. Trust me when I say that no part of me mocks this scooping. To each her own.
I, however, love bagels for their complete package. I like the way the outside crisps in the toaster oven while the middle stays soft. I like the way cream cheese melts into the bread. I like chewing.
I also like to treat bagels as a neutral food. I like to ‘own’ what I’m eating. Meaning- If I’m truly jonesing for a bagel, a piece of cake, a donut, you name it- I need to eat one of that deliciousness and then hold myself accountable for the calories, the carbs, the cream cheese under my fingernails.
After years of dieting, something about sitting down on a Saturday morning to nosh on a stacked bagel feels special. It feels like I’m an adult rather than a monster who eats three bagels rather than one and then binges on carbs for the remainder of the day, swearing them off the next. I feel proud for being able to trust myself, to enjoy myself without going overboard.
But still, there exist things like Bagel Thins. And from the way I’ve lustily described full bagels above, the way I urge everyone to eat the real thing rather than the fake one, you might imagine that I’d turn my healthy nose up at them. But really,
I appreciate them for what they are.
Or at least- I’m not going to hate on them. Not them or Diet Coke or fat free froyo for that matter.
when I was in the process of losing weight, I found one perk: finding new foods, new products. Grocery shopping and examining labels was all of a sudden fun. And what I discovered years later, was that with calorie counting or Weight Watchers- any plan that gives all foods a green light- it’s all about making the things you love to eat work for you. It means slimming recipes by subbing in lower calorie/lower fat ingredients for their full fat sisters. It means figuring out exactly how many Reese’s Pieces you can eat for 150 calories. It’s a game of sorts.
You can have it all if you shift a few things around and account for them. Your eating can be a Tetris game- everything fitting- if you play it right.
Bagel Thins and the like- they make that Tetris game easier. You get the illusion of enjoying something we all love but for a fraction of what the original would have cost calorically.
But when I think about the way others perceive Bagel Thins, the lovers and the haters, I find three groups of people:
1. Food Purists/Whole Foodies
This group is where I place myself most often. It’s the camp of people that prefer everything to be minimally processed. We’re keen on eating whole, real foods without additives, without a lot of chemistry lab trickery to the senses to make a food light, lighter, and lightest.
2. Peeps who applaud anything that makes it easier for Americans to lose weight and eat less fat, less sugar. The folks who run The Biggest Loser fall into this group. They like alternative versions of high fat, high calorie products because they know that the masses aren’t going to want to stop eating bagels, they aren’t going to stop craving cookies – so why not embrace Bagel Thins and 100 Calorie Packs instead? This group appreciates portion control by food manufacturers even if it costs more. Like the food purists in the first group (above), they care about health and they read nutrition labels, but they’re perhaps more lax about what they put into their bodies in terms of chemicals, dyes, and preservatives.
3. The folks just trying their damndest to lose weight.
I spent five years in this camp and I have to say- I get it. Today I find myself in the group who pushes real food up the wazoo, but still, I see the appeal of the light stuff.
Back when I was losing 135lbs, I would have eaten anything light, anything diet or sugar-free. I figured- I have a calorie budget and all that matters is- can I afford this? How much does this cost me nutritionally?
Generally, the cheaper the better.
Always a volume eater, I wanted more of something- no matter how fake- rather than less of something the size of an inch squared. Yes, I’d like 6 sugar free fudge popsicles in place of 1 Klondike Bar. Yes, I’d like a barrel of baked chips in place of 14 Doritos. Yes, I want 3 cups of nonfat frozen yogurt more than I wanted a half cup of Haagen Dazs.
I feel differently now. I‘ve changed along the way. But back then
I thought- hey, I’m just getting accustomed to this eating less business. I’m trying to straddle the line between binge and diet. I missed quantity. Now I see that there was something good in the diet foods I ate while losing weight. Something helpful for those of us who want to feel normal before we actually get there.
When you’re working with 1400 calories a day to lose weight, it hardly seems doable to spend 500 of those on a bagel with cream cheese. Especially when you’re not sure the bagel will even hold you over til lunchtime. It’ll be nothing compared to oatmeal, you think silently.
What I liked then- in the losing time- was finding a middle ground between discipline and dessert every day. Those light versions- the ones with several dozen calories less than their real food ancestors- they kept me from feeling entirely deprived of treats.
Lightened foods are training wheels on the weight loss bike. No, you don’t need them forever. One day you’ll realize that you’re just fine without them- better off, even, in the long run. But for now, while you’re getting your bearings, they’re helpful. Comforting, somehow.
All this to say- one day you’ll choose the decked out bagel over its Thin cousin. You’ll make it work. But don’t judge yourself for choosing the lighter one now.