“Mommy, why is that man so fat?”: Nourished, Episode 4 feat. John Lehndorff

A series of photos John Lehndorff’s brother shot of him in the early 1980s. Photo Courtesy of John Lehndorff.

This is Episode 4 of Jackie Sedley’s limited series, Nourished. Sedley has spent weeks discussing the wild world of eating disorders, exposing and unpacking the biases we hold against food and bodies. A couple weeks ago, they asked John if he had any perspective, personally or professionally, on eating disorders. He looked them straight in the eyes and said, “Nobody’s really ever asked me that before.” And so, Sedley and Lehndorff sat down in a studio at KGNU last week and he answered some tough questions.

Listen:

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    Untitled Jackie Sedley

 

***

You know his voice, you’ve probably taken on some of his restaurant recommendations and cooking tips – I’m talking about the one and only John Lehndorff. John has lived in Boulder for decades now, and has become a resident food critic and expert not just for KGNU but for many local publications, including Boulder Weekly. He has a segment on the Morning Magazine – Radio Nibbles – that airs every Thursday. He also has a show once a month on Thursdays called Kitchen Table Talk. John’s commentary on all things food and drink is characterized by humor and wit.

But, food is complicated. Relationships with food are complicated. The way we view our bodies based on the food we eat is complicated. And, even renowned experts like Lehndorff are not immune to the good, bad, and ugly of it all.

Lehndorff grew up in Massachusetts in the 1950s. His mother held a post-Depression-era mentality around food: “Let’s feed everybody.” There was always good food around his house, but paired with contradictory diet talk. Diet pamphlets advertising ways to slim down your waist and cut calories existed in abundance around the home. From a young age, Lehndorff’s weight was a considerable part of his identity.

John Lehndorff as “a slightly pained youngster,” in his words. Taken in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Photo Courtesy of John Lehndorff.

“Doctors and everybody else blamed kids who were overweight or they blamed their parents. So, I grew up and my nickname until I got bigger and stronger than everybody else was ‘Fatso.’ And, um, that pissed me off and depressed me. And at one point when I was in high school, I rebelled against the whole thing. And I started referring to myself as ‘Fitchburg Fats’ and wrote [for my high school newspaper] about essentially large people liberation, saying, ‘Well, the hell with you!'” explained Lehndorff. “But I, I, I wasn’t really…that, that wasn’t necessarily true.

This perception of self, largely influenced by others’ perceptions of him, led Lehndorff to develop disordered eating patterns and body dysmorphia.

“Recently…I found some photos of myself as a boy, as a tween, as a teen, and older, and I was not fat. But inside my head I was, and remain,… I’ll look in the mirror now even, and I’ll go, ‘Well, you’re not so fat,'” Lehndorff said. “And that went on to impact relationships. It especially impacted my ability, willingness, understanding around dating, uh, because of how I felt I was perceived and feelings of unattractiveness and stuff.”

Lehndorff started engaging in yo-yo dieting, also known as weight cycling. This type of dieting creates an illusion of “success” when it comes to weight loss, but the loss is not possible to sustain.

“I didn’t think women would be attracted to me because I was overweight or whatever I was,. And…we could spend an hour talking about the diverse and varied diets and diet approaches and the drugs and things that I utilized over the years to go, ‘Alright, I’m finally going to get, I’m going to get skinny and get rid of this thing and then I can live my life as a, as a thin, attractive, successful guy.’ But of course, inside, I was still a fat boy…When I wasn’t happy with my romantic life at all, and I was the features editor at The Camera, I went on a public diet, and I was brutally honest about how I looked. I talked what I weighed, and I chronicled my progress. I formed a club for other people who were struggling with weight, and people joined, people lost weight, I lost weight, we finished the series, and uh, over time I gained it all back.”

A diet pamphlet John Lehndorff inherited from his parents.

Lehndorff has found people to be extraordinarily judgmental over the years, in his own words. He’s very aware of his tendency to cover up self-insecurity with humor, but that mechanism can only do so much to shield from judgment.

“I can see people looking at me. And adults are prone to say, “God, John, you’re looking good.” But every once in a while I’ll be walking down the street or I’ll be at the store or something, and there’s a four or five-year-old kid, and they look at me and they go, ‘Mommy, why is that man so fat?'”

Lehndorff eventually moved to Boulder, which he says is one of the “most thin, skinny-focused, fitness-obsessed” places on the planet. There, he started to get more involved with the food scene. He started hosting a segment on KGNU’s airwaves about food, and writing a column for the Boulder Weekly, among other projects.

“I didn’t want to really be a reporter. I wanted people to notice me. You know? So at the same time that I had these body problems, I said, ‘Here, look at me, look at me, read me, love me.'”

He developed a following in the community, continuing to gain admiration for the personal touches in his column.

“I meet people all the time who have really appreciated what I did and loved what I wrote about. in part, especially around family. Because I’ve written extensively about family. My family and their relationship to food. And, you know, when my son was growing up, I wrote about him and food because I believe…other than sex, food is the central act of community in our world. And it’s something that’s sorely missing. You know, if we’re looking at solutions to some of this food disorder, eating together, turning off devices, actually paying attention to people, listening to them over the table, is, is absolutely vital. Also, I think it’s the way that you turn children into human beings.”

Eating disorder recovery is often compared to addiction, as both can be characterized by a need for control and a hyperfixation/overreliance on unhealthy and unsustainable behaviors. However, unlike with drug or alcohol dependence, those with eating disorders have to interact with their trigger – food – every day.

“You have to make your peace…It’s this constant dance with this thing you, you love and hate. So, you know, and every time I open the refrigerator, I have to refocus. I have to think about, “Well, what did you eat today, John? Did you actually get any activity in?” And then I go out to eat, because I write about it. So, I, I’m, I’m the first to admit I have a, I have a complicated situation.”

Lehndorff says this “dance” is particularly complicated because he knows “too much” about food.

“Some people, they really don’t know their bodies, and they really don’t know food or nutrition. And I, I, I do know it, so I, I have to make – right now, I’m making a very conscious, choice to eat right, and to not eat too much or too late, and I have to cut certain things out of my diet in order to lose weight. And now I’m driven by the fact that I have, well, I had back surgery a year ago. I have foot problems, knee problem. I’m trying to get healthy…Will it last? Boy, I don’t know.”

Health is an extremely complicated word. Enshrouded in diet culture, it’s hard to acknowledge and believe that health looks different on everybody. In addition to fad diets, people have misused drugs to try and lose weight. The latest example of this is the misuse of Ozempic – a drug created to treat diabetes.

“Having used various things over the years, including amphetamines, to fight appetite, to lose weight, I don’t think it’s going to work unless you continue to shoot yourself in the stomach once a week for the rest of your life, because as soon as you stop, your body is going to go back to its comfortable place. So…I still think you…you still have to do all the all the recovery work and make peace with the parts of your life that make things harder.”

Lehndorff says there’s a pattern in food culture of granting “permission” to eat to thinner people, while judging those in bigger bodies for making the same food choices.

“When you are a large person and you’re eating and really enjoying yourself, I think that there’s still a high level of judgment. Whether it’s in restaurants or in other situations. I think it’s ingrained in people. So, you know, in larger scope of things, it would be nice if we could have a societal shift that changes this attitude. But at a certain point in your life, and I don’t know what age it is that you come to this, but you go, “This is who I am. These are the things I’m going to have to struggle with.” And it’s so hardwired in, that it’s not going away. It’s going to be part of who you are. And you, you, you have to make some kind of peace with it so you can be happy and have dinner with friends.”

Historically, cisgendered men have been left out of eating disorder recovery spaces. But, needless to say, that by no means men are any less affected.

“Whatever it is I say to myself, how I treat myself internally, is so much worse, so much more brutally critical than anything that anyone ever actually says. Part of the problem is your projection…Men are idiots. Thick-headed, strong-willed, testosterone-driven idiots. You know, “I’m gonna do it by myself and I don’t want to, you know, seem weak.” So it’s not easy…Boulder is full of people who would be obese if they weren’t obsessive runners or triathletes or whatever. And those people are, you know, beating themselves into oblivion, trying to fend off that part of themselves. So it’s like all these 70-year-olds getting knee replacements and hip replacements and back replacements in my case.”

For all of the bad and ugly that comes out in our relationships with food, there is also so much good. For as much trouble as it’s caused him, food is essential to fulfillment for Lehndorff.

“As difficult a job as it was, that’s why I enjoyed being a dining critic, because every time I went out to eat, I would collect a group of friends or family or other people who would come with me. And in the end, it’s, it’s about the getting together…It’s a wonderful lubricant. It’s also a way to find out about people. I mean, sometimes, I ask people, ‘What’s the first thing you remember loving that you put in your mouth? You know, other than mom.’ ‘What’s the first thing you remember cooking or tasting?’ In those moments, you see people become children, especially when I talk to them about pie, you know.”

Children are the best examples of what it means to be an intuitive eater, and Lehndorff agrees. He saw it firsthand while raising his son Hans, who is now 30 years old.

“The first time we let him have peanut butter, it was, it was an extraordinary, it was explosive, it was blissful. You could see it in his face. You wish you, uh, have that ecstatic experience.”

Lehndorff says the key to healing your relationship with food is to find connection through it. Elevate your experience by eating with community.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Lehndorff how it felt to know his relationship with food would be elevated on KGNU’s airwaves.

“Well, I’ve always been interested and people with disordered eating are always horrified, terribly afraid and yet strangely attracted to what people think. So  I’m looking forward to to hearing how [listeners] are dealing with it in their own lives.”

Lehndorff’s anxiety didn’t stop him from letting me air the episode. He joined me in the studio at the end of our conversation, to take listener calls. You can hear that, as well as our entire conversation, above.

John Lehndorff’s birthday at Farow restaurant in 2023. Photo Courtesy of John Lehndorff.

Resources:

Project HEAL

Eating Disorder Hotlines

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)

Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders

UC San Diego Eating Disorders Center for Treatment and Research

There are many types of eating disorders. The most commonly diagnosed are:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Orthorexia
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

I gave the timeline of my own eating disorder recovery in episode 1 of this series. You can listen to that here.

 

Transcript:

Jackie Sedley: This is A Public Affair.

You know his voice. You’ve probably taken on some of his restaurant recommendations and cooking tips. I’m talking about the one and only John Lehndorff. John has lived in Boulder for decades now and has become a resident food critic and expert, not just for KGNU, but for many local publications, including Boulder Weekly.

He has a segment on the Morning Magazine, Radio Nibbles, that airs every Thursday. He also hosts a show once a month on Thursdays called Kitchen Table Talk. John’s commentary on all things food and drink is characterized by humor and wit.

But, food is complicated. Relationships with food are complicated. The way we view our bodies based on the food we eat is complicated.

I’m Jackie Sedley, and this is Episode 4 of my limited series, Nourished. I’ve spent weeks discussing the wild world of eating disorders on the airwaves, exposing and unpacking the biases we hold against food and bodies. A couple weeks ago, I asked John if he had any perspective, personally or professionally, on eating disorders.

He looked straight in my eyes and said, “Nobody’s really ever asked me that before.”

And so we sat down in a studio at KGNU last week and he let me ask those hard questions. You’ll hear our 40-minute or so conversation right now. After that ends, John will join me in the studio and we’ll have about 15 minutes or so to take listener calls related to what you’ve heard about your favorite local food fanatic. Stay tuned and be ready with those calls afterward.

***

Jackie Sedley: John, we have so much to dive into. As someone who is been featured on our airwaves for decades talking about food, the joy around food, the joy around dining, the good, bad, and ugly of the industry, the quality of the food that we eat, and all of these concepts around it. But something that I think our listeners haven’t really heard from you a lot is your journey and relationship with food. And so I, I really wanted to invite you into this, this series, my series, Nourished, to talk about that. I think that listeners have the potential to be very, very enlightened from hearing from someone that is in that world. So I already very much just want to thank you for your vulnerability and willingness to chat with me about something that you don’t necessarily always get into on radio.

John Lehndorff: Yes, I’m feeling quite vulnerable at the moment, but that’s kind of how I’ve felt all my life.

Sedley: Yeah. You said, “Vulnerable all your life.” Let’s start from the beginning. What kind of upbringing did you have with food in your in your home? What was the relationship that was around food from a young age?

Lehndorff: So I was born in 1954, Massachusetts. So my parents were from a very different generation. My mother was Sicilian-American. Um, she came out of a Depression-era philosophy of, “Let’s-let’s feed everybody.” And so we ate. And there was always, you know, a lot of good food around the house. At the same time, my parents were in a constant struggle with their own weight. Or at least their, their perception of it. My father was a doctor, but he also had, uh, arthritis in both hips. And so, he was constantly dealing with, uh, pain of that, and trying to lighten the load, and at that point, essentially, doctors and everybody else blamed kids who were overweight or they blamed their parents. So, I mean, I, I grew up and my nickname until I got bigger and stronger than everybody else was “Fatso.” And, um, that, you know, pissed me off and depressed me. And at one point when I was in high school, I, I, I rebelled against the whole thing. And I started referring to myself as “Fitchburg Fats” and wrote about essentially large people liberation, saying, “Well, the hell with you!” You know, but I, I, I wasn’t really, that, that wasn’t necessarily true.

Sedley: Where did you write about that for? Was that for a campus publication?

Lehndorff: That was for my high school newspaper.

Sedley: And was that, was that anonymous?

Lehndorff: No, it was not. Okay. Because I also wanted to write for publication and, you know, I liked the, the notoriety and the, that, so I, I was willing and I, I’ve always been willing to kind of expose myself that way.

Sedley: How was it received by your peers?

Lehndorff: Well, you know, they knew I was fat. The interesting thing, though, is recently I was going through a big you know, people used to actually have printed out photos and so I have a bin of them that I inherited that I’ve been scanning and stuff, but I found some photos of myself as a boy, as a tween, as a teen, and older, and I was not fat. But inside my head I was, and remain, you know … I’ll look in the mirror now even, and I’ll go, “Well, you’re not so fat.” You know, I mean, they talk about “fat eye syndrome,” that you’re looking through disordered eyes, in essence, you know.

Sedley: Body dysmorphia large term for that.

Lehndorff: Yeah, yeah, I’m the classic example of that. And that went on to impact relationships. It especially impacted my ability, willingness, understanding around dating, uh, because of how I felt I was perceived and feelings of unattractiveness and stuff, so.

Sedley: Right, right. So, say a bit more if you’re comfortable about how it impacted relationships, especially, I’m assuming you’re still kind of referring to high school, college, still growing up?

Lehndorff: Well, and even, even beyond … Well, I didn’t think women would be attracted to me because I was overweight or whatever I was, you know, and I, um, we could spend an hour talking about the diverse and varied diets and diet approaches and the drugs and things that I utilized over the years to go, “Alright, I’m finally going to get, I’m going to get skinny and get rid of this thing and then I can live my life as a, as a thin, attractive, successful guy.”

But of course, inside, I was still a fat boy.

Sedley: So, it sounds like you participated in some yo-yo dieting, kind of the back and forth. Can you speak a little bit on that?

Lehndorff: Oh yeah, I would lose, you know, especially, you know, like for special occasions or going back to school or, I don’t know, weddings or whatever, I would, uh, “pull it together” and lose 20, 30, 50 pounds at times, you know. But, eventually, I didn’t feel it anymore, or I got depressed, and I would eat, and comfort myself with food, which of course is, you know, a wonderful thing about food and drink. But I can tell, you know, when I’m, when I’m using food as a, as a drug, you know, usually involves ice cream, you know, or, you know, rich creamy things.

Sedley: How can you, how can you tell what is your-What, what is the difference? How does it feel or what are you thinking when you’re reaching toward food for connection and fulfillment versus for a drug, as you called it, or, or numbing?

Lehndorff: Well, I guess when I’m reaching for it as a comfort, as something to soothe me, usually it’s because my mood has sunk. And I’m like, you know, “I just want some macaroni and cheese. I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna have a salad.” And, you know … I think about food all day long. I write for five or six different publications and do this radio show. So I’m constantly looking at food and going, “Oh, look at that, look at that.” You know, some people at various points have said, “Perhaps you should not focus your life on food.” But that’s what I do, you know.

Sedley: When they say that, what are they alluding to?

Lehndorff: That perhaps if I didn’t write about food, talk about food, think about food, that perhaps I would, uh, uh, focus my life in other ways, you know? Or, or something, that it would take my mind out of that world. At various points I’ve done other things, but, uh, you know, you take you with you, uh, wherever you go.

And, back to the yo-yo dieting thing, some listeners may, may remember this, but sometime in the early 1990s, when I wasn’t happy with my, my romantic life at all, and I was the features editor at The Camera, I went on a public diet, and I was brutally honest about how I looked. I talked what I weighed, and I chronicled my progress. I formed a club for other people who were struggling with weight, and people joined, people lost weight, I lost weight, we finished the series, and uh, over time I gained it all back.

Sedley: I, I want to go back to that comment you made about people kind of voicing what they think about the career path that you chose. Do you feel like those comments are, are from people that are understanding of your complicated relationship with food? Or are they comments that are more, more judgmental?

Lehndorff: Well, I think they’re trying to be helpful.

Sedley: Okay.

Lehndorff: In general, over the years, I have found people to be extraordinarily judgmental. I’ve had to develop what they call the nice guy syndrome, fat guy syndrome. It perhaps is part of why I use humor. Because I can see people looking at me. And adults are prone to say, “God, John, you’re looking good.”

But every once in a while I’ll be walking down the street or I’ll be at the store or something, and there’s a four or five-year-old kid, and they look at me and they go, “Mommy, why is that man so fat?”

And, uh, I could, you know, reel off a snappy comeback or something, but it goes back to that feeling of, I don’t know what it is, targeting, or… What the kid said, may or may not be true, but it also says something about the way that parents are teaching their kids or training their kids.

Sedley: Right, and it says a lot about the value we still put on fitness. That has been a constant, you said, through your generation, through my generation, it, the, the way in which we’ve, internalized these messages time and time and time again, it, it really feels so daunting and overwhelming.

Lehndorff: Especially here.

Sedley: Yeah.

Lehndorff: I grew up in Massachusetts. I was surrounded by large people. I could have moved to Minnesota. I could have moved to, uh, you know, Wisconsin or someplace where the culture was accepting of large people. And also, you know, there are a lot of large men who don’t give a crap, you know, who happily, they live their life. But I didn’t. I moved to Boulder. which is about the most thin, skinny-focused, fitness-obsessed place on the earth. You know, I mean, that’s, I don’t, I don’t know why I, I, you know, there’s other reasons to live here. Like KGNU. But yeah.

Sedley: So, so let’s start in then on your, your career in Boulder, or if it started before within the world of food, how did that, how did that start?

Lehndorff: Well, I mean, obviously I was obsessed with food. I worked for some caterers in high school and college, and then I, I got out because I, I needed work. I got to Boulder, and, uh, I worked at a whole bunch of different restaurants that don’t exist anymore. I did catering, I taught cooking classes, I did a lot of, you know, food-related things. At the same time that I was writing for various publications in Boulder.

Sedley: You said that you were already thinking about food. Do you feel like the hyperfixation on food and body came before you started working in food? And if so, do you think that it led you to work in food in a, in a way?

Lehndorff: Oh, I don’t think you could.

Sedley: Yeah.

Lehndorff: I mean, they’re intimately connected. I don’t think, because at the same time that I was thinking about this and dealing with this, I was, I was becoming a, a writer and basically my, My thing with writing all, all along was that, I mean, and the writers I admired were, were personal. They used the word I.” I didn’t want to really be a reporter. I, I wanted people to notice my, me. You know? So at the same time that I had these body problems, I, I said, here, look at me, look at me, read me, love me. So it, you know, they kind of, they, they kind of went together.

Sedley: Say more about that, that idea of, of kind of putting yourself at the forefront of this work around food. It sounds like almost as a way to gain acceptance.

Lehndorff: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I, and I, I want it to be, and I’m, you know, as a result of all of this, because of my writing and public activity and KGNU and everything. I live in a community and I meet people all the time who have really appreciated what I did and loved what I wrote about. In part, especially around family. Because I’ve written extensively about family. My family and their relationship to food. And, you know, when my son was growing up, he, you know, I wrote about him and food because I, I believe it is the central, you know, other than sex, food is the central act of, of community in our world. And it’s, it’s something that’s sorely missing. You know, if we’re looking at solutions to some of this food disorder, eating together, turning off devices, actually paying attention to people, listening to them over the table, is, is absolutely vital.

Also, I think it’s the way that you turn children into human beings. Because I’ve noticed it in families that, that don’t eat together and kids don’t learn how to be at a table and be like that. Um, you know, they, they, they struggle. There’s a lot of disassociation amongst kids now, you know, where they don’t want to publicly engage and, you know, I think some of that goes back to families not eating together.

Sedley: So it kind of sounds like this career in food has had mixed effects on your relationship with food and body.

Lehndorff: Oh yeah. I mean, on the one hand, I am me. I’m like the old guy of food and food journalism in Colorado. You know, all the other people send people to me to talk about the history of it, but on the other hand, it’s obviously had a negative impact on my psyche and, you know, even at the age of 70, I haven’t given up on finding a relationship or, or that, but I’m still, you know, afflicted.

Sedley: Finding a relationship with food?

Lehndorff: No.

Sedley: Oh, in general.

Lehndorff: With a partner, yeah.

Sedley: Right, because it does sound like that has been kind of a theme almost is the way you view yourself and the way that you’re able to interact with the world, including people and food and body does impact your interpersonal relationships. They’re directly connected.

Lehndorff: Well, sure. Sure. And I think that people, besides looking at your. at your body when they’re appraising you, they’re also looking at the person, hopefully, standing next to you, or the lack thereof. And, you know, so I think we judge people in part by whether or not they’re in a real relationship or, I don’t know, so I’m not expecting to resolve this actually, but I’m still working.

Sedley: Yeah. I think that is such a point that comes up in a lot of conversations I have with people that have complicated relationships with food and body is, it really, really can take such a toll on your involvement with the exterior world because you’re very, very focused on how people perceive you, how you perceive yourself. Depending on your relationship with food, it can be so obsessive. It’s all you think about. If you’re malnourishing your body or if you’re overeating, it, it takes tolls on your organ systems, needless to say. I’m curious, the identity tied with being a food writer and a food connoisseur of sorts, do you think that if you didn’t take that route in your career, – and this might be hard to answer – you would be more or less focused on your relationship with food and body?

Lehndorff: I think it’s certainly a possibility.

Sedley: And there is something really unique about eating disorders, disordered eating patterns, in the sense that a lot of people try to compare eating disorder recovery to addiction recovery, right? And in some ways they are very, very similar.

Lehndorff: Yeah, I think they come from a similar psychological basis.

Sedley: They do, they do, sure, but a key difference is that a lot of recovery spaces point out is that with something like drugs or alcohol, you are working to keep it out of your life. With food, you have to eat every single day.

Lehndorff: You have to make your peace. Right. One way or another, because, well, as you know, in your own experience, if you don’t eat, equally horrible things happen. So it’s this constant dance with this thing you, you love and hate. So, you know, and every time I open the refrigerator, I have to refocus. I have to think about, “Well, what did you eat today, John? Did you actually get any activity in?” And then I go out to eat, because I write about it. So, I, I’m, I’m the first to admit I have a, I have a complicated situation.

Sedley: So where are you at with that dance right now, with food and, and the ability to, to enjoy, hear what your body is asking for, and respect that, versus the dialogue in your head?

Lehndorff: Well, it’s complicated.

Sedley: Of course.

Lehndorff: Because I know too much about food. My problem, some people are, you know, they really don’t know their bodies, and they really don’t know food, or nutrition, and I, I, I do know it, so I, I have to make, right now, I’m, I’m making a very conscious, conscious choice to eat right, and to not eat too much, and, or too late, and I have to cut certain things out of my diet in order to lose weight. And now I’m driven by the fact that I have, well, I had back surgery a year ago. I have foot problems. I, you know, a knee problem. I’m trying to get healthy. So I, no, I haven’t come to, I mean, I, will it last? Boy, I don’t know.

Sedley: The word health is always such a, a fascinating word to me that I could do a whole different series on.

Lehndorff: Health food.

Sedley: Health food, and when you say health for yourself, that is entirely different than health for me, right? When you say “eating right,” quote unquote, that word means something completely different for you than it does for me. And I think, I feel like that is something that that society gets really, really, really messed up by, right? The, the, the differences in, in what constitutes health. And there’s this phrase in a lot of recovery spaces, health at every size. And essentially what that implies is everybody is a different size. Everybody’s built different. The meaning of health to you, is between you and, and doctors that understand you and everybody else can F off and do what they got to do.

Lehndorff: And the other thing I, I wanted to mention is just, you know, there’s this tremendous buzz right now about the, this new class of weight loss drugs that actually were discovered for fighting diabetes, which is a whole thing. another issue. But, you know, having used various things over the years, including amphetamines, to fight appetite, to lose weight, I don’t think it’s going to work because unless you continue to shoot yourself in the stomach once a week for the rest of your life, because as soon as you stop, your body is going to go back to its comfortable place. So … I still think you … you still have to do all the all the recovery work and make peace with the parts of your life that make things harder.

Sedley: So working in food spaces I’m curious what is the dialogue like around permission to eat food for what I mean by that is in a lot of spaces at least with my generation I see that people who are naturally predisposed to thinness are given a lot more permission to sit on the curb and eat a slice of pizza at 2 a.m., whereas if you’re in a bigger body, people will judge that or, or attach connotations of, of, I don’t know, laziness or, or the list of negative words goes on. How does that show up in, in dining spaces that you’ve seen? Is there still a large emphasis on permission to eat for people that are naturally thin?

Lehndorff: I don’t think people notice them. But when you are a large person and you’re eating and really enjoying yourself, I think that there’s still a high level of judgment, you know? Yeah. Whether it’s in restaurants or in other situations. I think it’s ingrained in people. So, you know, in larger scope of things, it would be nice if we could have a societal shift that changes this attitude. But at a certain point in your life, and I don’t know what age it is that you come to this, but you go, “This is who I am. These are the things I’m going to have to struggle with.” And it’s so hardwired in, that it’s not going away. It’s going to be part of who you are. And you, you, you have to make some kind of peace with it so you can be happy and have dinner with friends.

Sedley: This is a continuing, a lifelong dance, as you put it. Was there a point at which you reached a mental state of saying, “I am someone that has the body that I have, I have put it through all of these trials of trying to lose weight.”

Lehndorff: Yeah.

Sedley: “It falls where it falls, and even if other people have opinions about that, that is who I am.” Is that something that you are able to, to, to believe and trust in yourself at this point?

Lehndorff: Yeah, I think also, um, I’m not sure it’s necessarily true with other eating disorders, but whatever it is I say to myself, how I treat myself internally, is so much worse, so much more brutally critical than anything that anyone ever actually says. Part of the problem is your projection. You look at people and you go, “They must be thinking that I am either emaciated or obese” or whatever, whatever it is. And it’s this, this loop that that goes on, and I’m sure, you know, part of therapy probably is trying to break that feedback loop that makes you assume that people are, are, are judging you.

Sedley: Did you ever seek outside help, like therapy or, or, or dieticians, nutritionists?

Lehndorff: At various times, sure. Yeah.

Sedley: What, what brought you to seek that support? And was there support for you? Because I know that men in particular, there aren’t a lot of spaces to have these kinds of more vulnerable conversations.

Lehndorff: Well, it’s a double thing. One is that women are much more likely to be willing to seek and accept guidance. Men are idiots. Thick-headed, strong-willed, testosterone-driven idiots. You know, “I’m gonna do it by myself and I don’t want to, you know, seem weak.” So it’s not easy. And I’m sure up until recently there probably were a lot fewer resources available to help men with various levels of eating disorders. I mean, Boulder is full of people who would be obese if they weren’t obsessive runners or triathletes or whatever. And those people are, you know, beating themselves into oblivion, trying to fend off that part of themselves. So it’s like all these 70-year-olds getting knee replacements and hip replacements and back replacements in my case.

***

Sedley: If you’re just joining us now, you’re tuned into A Public Affair. This is Episode 4 of my limited series, Nourished, featuring a conversation with the one and only KGNU food expert, John Lehndorff. Usually John shares the airwaves to talk about joy around food. This time we’re discussing his complicated relationship with food and body. He’s also in the studio with me right now. So we’re going to continue the rest of that conversation, the next 10 minutes or so. And then we will be open to taking your calls, comments, questions between myself and John based on what you’re hearing right now, we’ll get to the second half of that conversation. And this is KGNU FM 88. 5 Boulder, KGNU 1390 Denver.

***

Jackie Sedley: So let’s talk about the positive aspects of food. The parts of food that have made your life feel so positive and, and fulfilling. I know from my experience that a lot of people in treatment spaces, their goal is to have a body that can sustain itself and to go through the world nourishing their body enough that they can live to see another day. I am someone who believes and needs full recovery to be an option. I want to have the Anthony Bourdain journalistic foreign correspondency adventures of my dreams and, and break bread with people all across the world and eat whatever they serve me that they made in their remote village and in the middle of wherever they reside.

John Lehndorff: That’s the joy.

Sedley: Right.

Lehndorff: I mean, that’s why I, you know, as difficult a job as it was, that’s why I enjoyed being a dining critic, because every time I went out to eat, I would collect a group of friends or family or other people who would come with me. And in the end, it’s, it’s about the getting together, but it’s a wonderful, uh, lubricant. It’s also a way to find out about people. I mean, sometimes, uh, I ask people, “What’s the first thing you remember loving that you put in your mouth? You know, other than mom.” “What’s the first thing you remember cooking or tasting?” In those moments, you see people become children, especially when I talk to them about pie, you know.

Sedley: I love your saying that when you ask people about the things they’ve tasted early in life, it brings them back to being children because when you do watch a child eat, right? When I watch my nephews eat, it is the most intuitive experience that you want to just cherish and hold on to.

Lehndorff: Yeah. That’s one of the things I loved about raising my sons. He’s now 30-years-old, great cook, great palate, and people still mention this column, but the first time we let him have peanut butter, it was, it was an extraordinary, it was explosive, it was blissful. You could see it in his face. You wish you, uh, have that ecstatic experience. Occasionally I, I, part of what I tell people to do to break their food ritual is to something completely new. That’s part of how I remain friendly. So I, I seek out these experiences and I share them with people and it makes me really happy when I do that.

Sedley: I want to ask you my favorite question to ask people that I’ve never asked anyone in a journalistic setting, but I would love to hear your answer. There’s a bit of scenario setting here, so bear with me. Um, hypothetical scenario I created years ago. Unfortunately, in this future that I’m describing to you, the death penalty has not been abolished and it is your time. You have accepted it. It’s a crime you didn’t commit.

I have a couple of parameters for you. So, you get an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, and two beverages. The beverages could be a whole bottle of whiskey in one hand, and a, a sweet iced tea in the other. It could be whatever you want. No water. Water is, water is taken care of. Don’t worry about that. You have to tell me when you drink. You don’t have to worry about being too uncomfortably full. It’s about enjoyment of the meal, and the meal doesn’t have to make sense either. So, your appetizer and your entrée don’t have to go together. For you, they might. For And there’s a bit of magic involved, thanks to these imaginary taxpayer dollars in this fake scenario, so they can revive someone who has passed away to make your favorite stew from then, and that person will do it willingly. There’s no begrudgingness to it. You could get the best sushi chef in the world. You could get a restaurant that closed to make you food. And if this actually happens, I’ll ask you the question again. So don’t feel too glued to your answer. But what are the first things that maybe come to mind?

Lehndorff: Well, the bringing people back to life thing, you know, I mean, on the one hand, it would be mom serving me goulash or egg croquettes or any of the dishes that she liked to make because whatever my issues are, you know, with body dysmorphia and stuff, those were very happy times. So that’s one way of looking at it. I’ve thought about this before and I’ve read about other people’s last meal ideas. You know, appetizer-wise, it’s hard for me to separate it out from my, my problem. I mean, obviously, it should be something fried. Incredible fondness for fried clams growing up in New England. It’s tartar sauce. We called it then tada, tada sauce. Um, so, that, that, that’s certainly one possibility.

Sedley: From anywhere in particular?

Lehndorff: You know, context is everything. Ideally, you know, for that particular course, I would be standing in the sand outside a clam shack on the coast of New Hampshire at Hampton Beach eating a clam roll.

Sedley: Salty, salty air.

Lehndorff: Right.

Sedley: The ambiance of it all.

Lehndorff: As good a job as main shack and other places, it’s not the same. It’s like eating green chili and Massachusetts. So that’s a huge favorite. Um, maybe it’s the heritage, but I, my tendency would be to go with an Italian entrée, whether it was cannelloni or stuffed shells or something that involves tomato sauce and cheese. Cream is good too.

Sedley: And anywhere in particular or no?

Lehndorff: You mean in terms of like a restaurant?

Sedley: Like where it’s from, who’s making it?

Lehndorff: Well, somebody else. I’m really tired of my own cooking. Boy, you know, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve eaten meals cooked by some of the, some of the best chefs in the world, advantages from Thomas Keller and Paul Proudhon, but I have extremely fond memories of a restaurant in Boulder where I, I started to finally understand Italian cuisine. It’s called Laudisio, and it wasn’t Italian-American. It wasn’t spaghetti and meatballs. It was risotto and polenta and carefully prepared meats. That was a revelation. I loved the food and I also loved the way that they approached it. So, so that might be, uh, that might be a possibility.

Sedley: Delicious.

Lehndorff: For dessert, it’s a hard one. I mean the obvious answer would be pie, preferably wild blueberry.

Sedley: Mmmmm.

Lehndorff: You know, near the top, top of my list.

Sedley: Vanilla ice cream?

Lehndorff: Yeah. Or real whipped cream.

Sedley: Mmm.

Lehndorff: Again, it’s probably uh, there’s a lot of other sweets that I’m more than capable of appreciating from macarons to macaroons, but I think that would probably be it. Uh, drinking-wise? A very smooth old Scotch that’s been, I like the ones that are aged sherry in port barrels and around. So delicious. That would certainly be one beverage. And other than that, it would be something refreshing and bubbly.

Sedley: Delicious. It’s a phenomenal answer. And it’s so, I love this question because for one, it’s, it’s always fascinating to me to see if people bring up nostalgia or a meal that was really, really good or how, how much they think about the question and also the way that people light up, the way their eyes light up, the way that their body language usually relaxes or tenses depending on their relationship with food. And it really just always brings me back to the fact that it is so central to our lives. And so if it’s going to be central, regardless of our connotation, the most idealist world would be for everyone to have it central in a positive way, not just a neutral way or a negative way.

Lehndorff: Exactly. Yeah. And I do think, from my experience, that it’s not something that you can solve by yourself. You can’t think it through and, and, and truly solve it. You need other people, whether it’s family, found family, friends, community. The solution isn’t to not eat in front of people, which is a common disorder, but to go ahead and find ways to elevate eating with people. with those connections, with those kind of heart moments where you feel that you’re united with people.

Sedley: Alright, John anything else that we didn’t touch on that you think we should?

Lehndorff: Well, I’ve always been interested and people with disordered eating are always horrified, terribly afraid and yet strangely attracted to what people think. So I’m I’m looking forward to to hearing what listeners, how they’re dealing with it in their own lives.

Sedley: How does it feel to be speaking this into the airwaves of KGNU? It feels okay.

Lehndorff: You know, it’s a little anxious, but I, you know, I hope it helps.

Sedley: Thank you so much, John. I appreciate you.

Lehndorff: Thanks, Jackie.

***

Jackie Sedley: That was me, Jackie Sedley, speaking with John Lehndorff, resident food critic and expert here at KGNU and in Boulder in general. We spoke last week.

We had that conversation last week, but now this morning, John is in the studio with me. Good morning once again, John.

John Lehndorff: Good morning, Jackie.

Sedley: So at the end of that conversation, I asked you how you were feeling about this going on-air. Do you want to, do you want to say a bit? I know we have a caller on the line already, but do you want to start off by saying a little bit about how you’re feeling now that it has aired?

Lehndorff: Um, anxious I, I think is a, is a safe thing. Mm-Hmm. But, uh, curious about, uh, how, how it’ll, you know, impact people. Yeah. Um, I’ve been, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I talked to you, so.

Sedley: Of course. Well, you never reached out and told me not to air it, so that’s, uh, you know, a good sign in the direction of feeling good.

Lehndorff: Oh yeah. No, I didn’t, I didn’t consider that once I decided that it was okay to talk.

Sedley: Yeah. Yeah. Well, we already have a caller on the line. We have John for John. So let’s bring him onto the board. Good morning, John. You are on-air.

John (caller #1): Hi. Thanks for both of you for doing this. Um, I just wanted to, uh, have a question, but I also wanted to say, I appreciate John for his work, but also, you know, as his, with his insights with gardening, cooking at home and restaurant navigation and reviews, right? So he brings quite a depth to that, but as a, uh, someone who knows that kind of gamut from home cooking to fine dining, I, I just, uh, was wondering how he negotiates, like, eating out from a health perspective versus, like, what you can cook at home. How do you, do you cook same stuff, or do you have a, when you go home, when you got your go to, what, what are you doing there to, um, or is it possible to have that healthy diet when you go out?

Lehndorff: Uh, it’s, uh, hi John, thanks for calling. Uh, it’s, uh, it’s complicated these days. Um, when I do go out, um, it’s, it’s never out of my mind. Uh, it’s like, uh, You know, two sides of a brain. You know, one side of me is saying You know, don’t order the pasta and cheese, and the other side is saying, Uh, but I should, I should eat that and write about it and talk about it and that would be interesting for people. Which, of course, is a rationalization. At home, I, uh, You know, sometimes I, I, I, I eliminate whole food groups from my, uh, from my house. Uh, there’s, you know, certain, uh, trigger things that, uh, foods I love that I, if it’s available, I’ll eat that first instead of good stuff, whatever, you know, and it’s not like I don’t know what, what I should eat, you know.

John (caller #1): Do you, do you do the pasta and cheese at home, or would you just save that for when you’re, uh, you know, out on Pearl Street?

Lehndorff: Well, it depends on, uh, my mood. Um, and, uh, since mostly I’m cooking for myself, you know, uh, it’s just, you know, when I, when I end up making macaroni and cheese at home or something like that, I’m aware that I’m, uh, lapsing into, uh, using, uh, food as comfort, not viewing it strictly as nutrition. Uh, so it’s, uh, it’s always a struggle.

John (caller #1): Okay. All right. Well, Well, that’s interesting.

Sedley: Thank you so much for calling, John. Appreciate it.

John (caller #1): Thanks. I appreciate it. Bye.

Sedley: If you have questions or comments for John – that’s John Lehndorff, not caller John, you can call 303-442-4242, or email [email protected] if you don’t want to call in. Once again, 303-442-4242. I think that that call was interesting. The, the context of asking John about, um, you know, do you get the pasta when you go out and what does that mean for you? Just because, as a lot of our conversation alluded to, pasta and cheese means something different for everybody, right? If, if I go out and order pasta with cheese, that would be celebrated based on my history that I’ve talked about on the airwaves of having restrictive patterns and how, for me, that would be a sign of health and nourishment to my body. And so it’s, it’s always so interesting because our perspectives on pasta with cheese are going to be just as different as anybody else here asking.

Lehndorff: The other important thing, I think, too, is that, um, I’ve ended up, um, having a, a dysfunctional relationship with the concept of hunger.

Sedley: Mmm.

Lehndorff: Um, you know, some people, they, they ignore food until they get hungry. And then they, you know, they do something about it and then, uh, forget about it. And, um, you know, it’s, uh, very hard for me to get to the point where I’m actually, I, I mean, again, my perception is probably wrong, but where I feel like I am hungry.

Sedley: Right, right. We have a couple other callers coming through. I will bring the first caller on. Once I bring you on, please say your name. All right, first caller on the air. What is your name?

Alec (caller #2): My name is Alec. A-L-E-C. Alright, Alec. Please welcome. You’re on the air. Thank you. Hi, Alec.

Lehndorff: Hello.

Alec (caller #2): Yes, thank you. Um, uh, uh, John, uh, this was just extraordinary. Yes, can you hear me?

Lehndorff: Yes. Yes, we can. Make sure you turn off your radio.

Alec (caller #2): Yeah, that’s, that’s the thing. A bit of an echo there, no worries. Yeah, okay, sorry. So, very, very moving, and, uh, I listened to KGNU from early morning, and, uh, I’ve listened to you over the years, and, uh, now I live in Denver, but I, uh, lived in Boulder for 36 years. So, I thank you for your courage, your sensitivity. and Joe Huber. Uh, it’s really very, uh, very nourishing, speaking of food. Thank you. I, I, I, I, I appreciate that a lot.

Lehndorff: Thank you, Alec.

Alec (caller #2): Yeah, and I’m not a person that is obese. I’m probably, I’m 82 now and about 20 pounds overweight. But, uh, that’s in the last 20 years, so I didn’t have to struggle. This way, as, uh, as you have. And, one more thing, and I know that I have detected one, uh, I think, major prejudice in me about, uh, uh, obese people. I, I recognize it in myself.

Lehndorff: That’s a, that’s a, that’s a first step right there. I, I, I hope part of what happens is that, you know, people grow up with these prejudices. I have them. You know? And so, but, so you, you may not get rid of it, but you can be aware that you have this, this thing.

Alec (caller #2): Oh, yes … Yeah. It’s like seeing it, uh, as if I split myself in two and I can see it on an objective, uh, basis. Oh, “There’s Alec being, being prejudiced.” Mm. So, so it helps you know, that distancing rather than just being that way. So, we thank you both, my wife, both, and I, uh, very much. Thank you so much for this morning.

Lehndorff: Thank you.

Sedley: We appreciate you. Thank you. I think, I think that, that prejudice that Alec was speaking about, John, I think a lot about the comment you made in our conversation, being at a grocery store or out, and a child saying, “Mommy, why is that, why is that man so fat?” And I, I think so much about how, again, from that conversation, and I could talk about this forever, but children have all of this joy, and all of this more objectivity about the world, and this excitement, and when those kind of comments and thoughts come in, come out of their mouths, you recognize that that’s society talking. That’s their parents or the TV or the media they consume because we are not inherently people that would look at somebody and think that. That wouldn’t be a value statement, naturally.

Lehndorff: No, no, it’s environmental and educational.

Sedley: Right.

Lehndorff: And, um, you know, it’s natural for children to absorb their parents prejudices. They are inculcated with that, that attitude from a very, uh, early age, especially if, say, the parents, uh, had, uh, issues with weight in one way or another, and then that, you know, it’s the, it’s the weight of generation after generation being burdened with the, uh, same, the same, uh, prejudice.

Sedley: Right, right. And also the relationship between hunger and children. I think about how my, my sister, I have two wonderful nephews and my sister is very cognizant of these things. And so instead of saying, “Okay, Asher,” to my nephew, “you have to sit at the table and finish your plate or you, you have to, you have to finish X amount or anything like that.”‘ She’ll just say, “Okay, are you, are you full to the top? Are you full to the top of your head? Are you full to the middle? Are you full to the bottom?” And he’ll really check in with his brain, and body, and his cues.

Lehndorff: That is, that is so great.

Sedley: It’s great. And then if he says, “No, I’m full and I wanna go play,” she’ll say, “Okay, you can be full. Just sit at the table for a few minutes, see if it comes back.” And then if he gets hungry again, he will take a couple more bites. “But she is so good at saying, good job listening to your body, Ash!”

Lehndorff: Impressive.

Sedley: And I think that it’s so easy to get numbed out to the tones of your body.

Lehndorff: Mmhmm.

Sedley: And it’s very difficult to reconnect with that if that has been lost over time.

Lehndorff: So one, uh, one more little, uh, memory, um, and this is, uh, you know, adds a further, further level of complication, but I, uh, grew up as a Roman Catholic and was, uh, burdened with that particular religion’s, uh, beliefs. Uh, Catholic school, you know, uh, growing up, uh, school lunch. And, um, there was this very tall domineering, uh, nun dressed in black standing next to the, uh, where you took your tray. And, you know, she was, she, she would send kids back to, “You need to eat all of that because there’s children starving in China.” And I, you know, being smart, I went, “Well, how’s this, this food isn’t going to get to China and feed anybody?” That, that wasn’t what she wanted to hear, of course, but, you know, cause it was waste.

Sedley: Right, that commentary. We also have one more caller, John, to take us to the end of this episode. Hello, you are on the air. What is your name?

Theo (caller #3): Hello, this is Theo. Hello, Theo.

Sedley: You’re on the air with me and John.

Theo (caller #3): Hello, um, I, I have an odd problem. Um, I have no appetite. Um, unless I’m at a restaurant where somebody has made very fancy food, but the things I make for myself I often put, fill the bowl or the glass to, you know, full and I eat like one quarter of it before I’m done.

Lehndorff: Were you, did you like food when you were growing up? Were you hungry?

Theo (caller #3): Um, um, you know, I, there’s, there’s parts of my life when I, like, when I lived in Vermont, I can’t even remember what I ate or how I had the money to eat it. Um, um, I just, um, I have, I have trouble keeping the weight I need, um, because I’m never feeling like I’m, getting to food.

Lehndorff: Do you think it’s, it’s because, uh, you’re, you’re not able to kind of read what your body needs, food-wise, or, or it’s just indifference to food in general?

Theo (caller #3): Um, no, I mean, I’ll, I’ll, uh, any pudding or yogurt, anything that slides easily down, but if I have to, like, chew it and work on it, I also have a problem that I have no saliva. Sometimes I’ll chew on something and until I wash it down, it doesn’t move.

Lehndorff: And, uh, I, I, I don’t think that’s a, uh, a part of the universe of, uh, eating disorders or that, that, that people appreciate.

Sedley: Right. There is a large, there is a large, large part of relationships with food that are very, very, I think, hard for us to unpack on our own and fully understand where it’s all coming from and what part of it is psychological and what part of it is is physical. So I, I really, I really appreciate your call and I hope that we can continue to have more conversations about the different ways that we interact with food in the world and the way different varied relationships and perspectives that we have on it.

So John Lehndorff, that does bring us to the end of our show. Thank you so much for your vulnerability. I am so excited to have another call and show with you about this topic so that we can continue to take listener calls. I know there were many that we didn’t get to.

Lehndorff: Um, I would love to do that. And, um, I just want to say, uh, thank you to you, uh, for asking the question and making me think about it.

Sedley: What’s a good journalist if they can’t make you think about the hard stuff?

Lehndorff: That’s what I do to people all the time.

Sedley: And do you wanna share your email, John, in case people have questions that you weren’t able to answer this morning?

Lehndorff: Yeah, you can send questions, comments, anything to [email protected].

Sedley: All right, and you can also email [email protected] with any thoughts you have about further Nourished episodes you would like.

Jackie Sedley

Jackie Sedley

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