In September’s column, the focus was about having a friendly relationship with food. When the relationship is adversarial, we become anxious and eat either too much or reach for unhealthy foods. The evidence shows that although diets seem to work initially, in the long term they fail. In addition, they restrict what we eat and those restrictions increase the desire for the illicit foodstuff. We should be as relaxed with food as we are with friends.
Eating is so quotidian that we take its availability for granted. Yet like friends, we should choose our food carefully. Some friends are delightful to be with although they can get us into trouble. We should not deny ourselves their company, but instead limit it. I love salty french fries, but I know I must be vigilant with that friend or I can get into trouble. I treat these “bad” foods as acquaintances that I enjoy seeing from time to time still, like with some friends, I remain aware of their danger.
As much as we enjoy existing friends, we should be open to growing our social orbits. In the same way, we should also be open to enjoying a variety of foods. Exploring new foods is often wonderful though it can sometimes be a disappointment, much like meeting new people. Luckily, there are plenty of healthy choices. Americans have become so nutrition conscious that we have lots of information about which foods are the healthiest and often have access to them. Meats are abundantly available, however vegetables have more variety in taste and texture. They are friends that advance our health. I know that chicken, pork and fish are also delicious and look forward to interactions with them.
Visits can often be overextended, even with the best of friends. This sounds simple, but it is hard for many: Stop eating before you outstay your visit. Many were raised to believe that leaving food on the dinner plate was an unforgivable waste. I now know that my stomach, after a delay, will determine when the visit is over and that I will not be killed for leaving food on my plate. The incremental pleasure of finishing a big portion at a restaurant is not worth the additional inch on the gut—take food home for tomorrow.
Psychologists have found that many obese people’s eating habits are under stimulus control—seeing food makes them hungry. This described me until I learned I could walk away from the table, leaving food on my plate and not fear a craving. I can now appreciate the parting with the same satisfied feeling as telling a friend “see you later” rather than “goodbye.”
Illustration by Tom LaMothe