“We overeat, not because we enjoy food too much – it is because we don’t enjoy it enough”
It seems that every week we’re introduced to a new diet that is going to extend our lifespan. Then, as a sure as God made little green apples (known as the Garden of Eden Diet) something else will come along that discounts the previous diet and replaces it with a newer and improved version guaranteed to be “the last diet you will ever need.”
Recently, we’ve been told that we can live longer, healthier, lives if we would only, eat like they do in France, the Mediterranean , the Nordic regions, or eat like our Paleo ancestors, who at best lived to be 40 years old.
We have even taken this so far, thanks to modern science, as to narrow it down to specific foods that we’re told can extend our careers as breathing human beings. A short list includes: fish (but not the kind with mercury) blueberries (but not the kind covered in pesticides) coffee (but not too much caffeine) tofu (but not the kind that tastes good, if there is such a thing). This does not include the natural and unnatural substances, vitamins, and minerals that rise and fall in popularity.
What’s a grayer (my new term for those of us who’ve have at least 50 years of culinary experience) to do with all of this information? How to deal with the conflicting research and the “expert” advice that often says so-and-so expert is wrong? It’s enough to make you want to run for a brownie bowl.
What if what we eat is only part of the equation? What if the common thread that runs through those who live longer and healthier lives is not the what, so much as the how? Perhaps, the reason that the one universally accepted truth about diets is that the traditional Western diet will rob you of years is due, in large part, to the antagonistic relationship we have with food.
According to the Boston Medical Center, about 45 million of us are on a diet. The very word “diet” puts most of us at odds with what we eat as it no longer means the simple act of eating, but some regimented and restricted form of food intake. It’s no wonder that a study in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine reports that diets have “several psychological effects, such as stress, anxiety, lower self-esteem, depression and irritability.” This gives the phrase stress-eating a whole new meaning.
Perhaps, rather than simply trying to find health-friendly foods, we should try to make friends with the eating process itself. However, let’s be honest, if we continue to introduce foods that lack the basic essential ingredients, it’s foolish to think that our bodies are not going to feel deprived. One has to wonder, however, if sitting down to a health-inspired plate of roots, grains and herbs, all the while bemoaning the absence of anything from the animal kingdom, stressing over whether or not you can eat like this for one more day, and having anxiety dreams about being locked inside a Ben & Jerry’s, is actually good for you.
One of the clearest, and most clever, creations to address our food phobia is the series entitled Eat This, Not That. It is a shear stroke of genius that someone has cut through all of the confusion and simply told us what to out into our pie-holes. (Pie, by the way; not that!)
I would like to get a slice of the diet pie here and offer a purely psychological approach to the issue. I call it Eat This Way, Not That Way:
This Way: Sit down while you eat, face fully forward and rest your back against the back of the chair.
Not This Way: Standing up, or sitting with only half a cheek on the chair as if you’re ready to bolt at any moment, hunched over your plate like you’re protecting it from a pack of hungry wolves.
This Way: Surrounded by people whose company you enjoy.
Not This Way: Surrounded by people whose very chewing grates on your nerves and who have the table manners of a pack of hungry wolves. (My apologies to hungry wolves as I’m sure their eating habits are more in tune with the natural order than most humans.)
This Way: Take a few deep breathes before the first mouthful and take similar breathes throughout the meal.
Not this Way: Breathing and eating at the same time so that your food has to continually choose which pipe it’s going to down, leaving you with a permanent bruise from the Heimlich maneuver.
This Way: Say a blessing; give thanks, or a moment of silence, before the first bite to recognize the importance of nourishing yourself.
Not this Way: Grumbling about the high price of everything these days and how everything tasted better in the “old days.”
This Way: Mindfully chew your food using all of your senses in the process.
Not This Way: Shovel it in mindlessly until it strikes you that you almost ingested a piece of silverware.
It’s a short list, to say the least and I have no scientific research to back up my claims. I can say, with a high degree of certainty, you will enjoy whatever it is you’re eating if you follow these rules. I can also say that once you enter into a friendlier relationship with your nourishment the idea of putting things in that are harmful will make as much a sense of watching full-night’s worth of any news channel and wondering why you can’t sleep at night; bon appétit and sweet dreams.