My philosophy on eating. (Hint: I like it.)

21 May

It seems that everywhere we go, we are bombarded by nutrition advice. On product labels, on the nightly “news,” on Food Network, in email blasts, and from our friends – everyone seems to have the latest and greatest tips on dieting and health.

Thanks to “scientific study” (oh, and marketing), it is now possible to find arguments in favor of any chosen vice. Addicted to coffee? A new study shows it’s good for you! Drink a little too much red wine? No problem, it prevents heart disease! Like fatty foods? [Good] fats are necessary for life! Chocoholic? Consume at least an ounce daily – the more expensive, the better!

And on the contrary, eating foods we previously considered innocuous now means asking for obesity, cancer, decreased sex drive, a third nipple, or an alien baby. It’s enough to make you give up the whole thing and go to bed with Little Debbie.

Little Debbie

BUT I do think it’s important to be conscious and deliberate about what we eat. For me, it helps to have a few general rules. They are –

1. Food should be enjoyed always and shared whenever possible.

2. In eating and in other areas of life, moderation is the best measure.

3. Learn all you can, make conscious choices, and eat with a clear conscience.

4. Every day – and every meal – is a new opportunity to make good choices.

The following I say only for myself, because I know other people’s consciences may dictate something different. Generally speaking, I say to each his own when it comes to eating – see #3.

Me, I have an instinctive reaction against any diet that completely eliminates a certain food or class of foods. Granted, I have drastically cut back on some things in my diet – I avoid high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, sodas, fruit juices, white bread, and any kind of bagel about 90 percent of the time. But I will not completely give up meat, eggs, dairy, cooked foods, or processed carbs for fear that I will develop an unhealthy relationship to food.

It’s undoubtedly true that some foods are healthier than others. And we also must consider the environmental impact of what we eat. But to look at a food and label it as “bad,” I think is misguided. We might say, “I can find a healthier option than this,” and that is fine. After that, we have a choice to say “so I will,” or, “but I don’t care, I want this Twinkie now.”

guinness

While it might be trite to say that life is short, it is not untrue. We only get one time around, and part of making this life great is being happy in it. Most of us aren’t scientists or doctors, we don’t grow our own food, and we can’t see into the medical advances of the future. What’s more, any one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. So it’s important to keep some perspective about food, and recognize that there is more to food than nutrition alone. Eating is cultural and sensual. When we eat, we nourish our bodies, minds, and emotions.

The concept of “comfort food” is powerful, and I think, not to be neglected. Sometimes there can be great power in indulging. And when indulgence is done as a conscious choice as opposed to a compulsion – as an occasional treat rather than a habitual lifestyle – I don’t see anything wrong with it. In fact, I think it’s a necessary part of being human.

If what we’re doing doesn’t make us happy, it’s appropriate to reevaluate our choices. Taking on extreme behaviors in service to an ideal is usually a setup for failure. It’s why so many people “fall off the wagon” while trying to follow a strict diet.

That is not to say that we can’t, our shouldn’t, improve our habits. We absolutely can. But developing a new habit requires a full commitment, a revamping of our state of mind. It must be done for the right reasons.

We are naturally pleasure-seeking creatures, and when we deny ourselves pleasure on a regular basis, with something as fundamental as eating, our psyches revolt.

Holding fast to a restrictive diet can also hinder social enjoyment, which violates my very first rule. If I don’t ever eat sugar, and my friend has a birthday party at the Cheesecake Factory, what am I going to do? I can politely decline to partake, potentially making others uncomfortable or apologetic. Or I can give in to temptation, only to chastise myself later on.

My point – perhaps my overall “rule” – is simply to enjoy life and be gentle with yourself. If I’ve made a choice that wasn’t the best, it’s already done – so I move on, and embrace all the choices I get to make in the future. Or as Bobby McFerrin said, don’t worry – be happy!

Pollan, In Defense of Food What do YOU think? This is such an important part of life and I know there are a lot of opinions out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please reply in the comment section. 🙂

As a side note, I’m currently reading this book at the recommendation of many friends. We’ll see if my views have changed by the end!

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