Enhance your learning by answering these questions before you read the post.
What’s a “healthy relationship with food”? What does it mean to be “obsessed” with food?
Is healthy eating important to you? If so, how does that value manifest itself in your life?
On the surface, my boyfriend appears to have a “healthy” relationship to food. He doesn’t think too much about it and just eats what he wants when he wants, when he’s confronted with food that looks good, or when someone offers him food. I, on the other hand, spend a fair amount of time planning my meals, preparing them, and formulating strategies for dealing with upcoming situations that might derail me from my healthy eating.
But if you look just beneath the surface, below the broad shoulders and under the flattering black sweaters, you’ll find quite the belly. Yes, my beloved is overweight—20 to 40 pounds or so, depending on if you are asking the scientific research or the general, overweight public.
Now, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from 50 years of nutritional and medical research, it’s this: what you put in your mouth matters, and it matters a lot. If this one utterance by an unknown like me doesn’t convince you, check out the bible of nutrient-rich healthy eating, Eat to Live, laden with citations for your edification or nutritionfacts.org, where you’ll find a library of 4-minute videos highlighting current nutritional research.
Every now and then, someone says to me, “You’re thin. You don’t have to watch what you eat.” Though I don’t quite follow that logic, I generally point out, “I’m thin because I watch what I eat.” In fact, when I used to eat what I wanted when I wanted (like my boyfriend does), I was considerably heavier. And while switching to a nutrient-dense diet has certainly helped eliminate uncontrollable cravings and my sugar addiction, it has not eliminated my desire to eat recreationally.
Once my taste buds adjusted to the flavors of unsalted, unoiled, and unsweetened fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds, my desire to eat just for pleasure returned. Luckily I have lots of tricks and strategies for keeping a lid on my hunger drive, but they require that I think about food more often than, say, my boyfriend. Of course, those extra thoughts lend themselves to a considerably lower and healthier BMI.
“But I don’t want to become obsessive with food!” many clients have bemoaned.
“Well,” I ask them, “would you rather do some planning and implement prevention strategies or just continue eating whatever, whenever, guaranteeing the same result?”
Adopting a healthy eating style in our SAD (standard American diet) culture is not easy, and most of us will not be able to make the switch for good without some big changes. In other words, you’re not going to just wake up one day and start choosing fruit and flax seed instead of donuts for breakfast and salad instead of Home Town Buffet for lunch.
But let’s use Home Town Buffet as an example. The restaurant chain actually has a decent salad bar, so you could go there for a decent nutrient-dense meal. Unfortunately, Home Town Buffet plies their customers with far more than just raw veggies, offering things like corn muffins, mac-n-cheese, fried chicken, various beef cuts, cakes, cookies, and ice cream! And it’s all you can eat! Your hungry brain really digs the all-you-can-eat part of this scenario. Most people attempting to amend their wayward eating habits will find it very difficult to sit through a meal at Home Town Buffet without caving to temptation.
But what if your boss sends you to Home Town Buffet to meet a client, or your high school friends decide to reunite at the Buffet? Well, you could just show up and hope for the best, but that never really works, does it? That’s where the extra strategizing comes into play. Here’s my strategy for Home Town Buffet-type situations.
Make a huge salad with beans (no potato salad or bread sticks, etc.).
Eat it very slowly, putting my fork down between bites.
After finishing my salad, check my watch and wait 15 minutes. Then, if I still want that hot fudge brownie sundae, I can have it. More often than not, I’ll already be satisfied.
Does that sound crazy or obsessive? To me, what sounds crazy is bypass surgery, chemotherapy, and three-times-a-week dialysis treatments. If I have to do a little extra work to significantly increase my chances of avoiding that horribleness, so be it!
The Bottom Line
Eating a heart-healthy, vegetable-rich diet in a fast-food, pleasure-driven culture is difficult but not impossible. When you see your weight, cholesterol, triglycerides, and fasting blood sugar fall, you’ll be happy to seem a little “obsessed” with healthy eating!