Love your food & let it love you back

I was doing some research for an article at work the other day and chanced upon this quote from Surgeon General Regina Benjamin:
“Americans will be more likely to change their behavior if they have a meaningful reward–something more than just reaching a certain weight or dress size. The real reward is invigorating, energizing, joyous health. It is a level of health that allows people to embrace each day and live their lives to the fullest without disease or disability.”
I could not agree more! I know all too well that shooting for a certain number on the scale or trying to fit into a pair of skinny jeans can be awfully motivating in the short term, but staying at that weight or continuing to fit into those jeans is usually less motivating. And that’s when weight regain happens.
Maintaining a weight loss requires effort for the rest of your life. Part of that effort involves daily choices about what and how much to eat. From time to time, in the course of discussions with friends or family about what I don’t eat anymore (or don’t eat much of), I’ve frequently heard comments along the lines of, “Well…you need to get at least some enjoyment from your food” or “Oh, I know I should cut back on [name of food], but it’s just so goooooood!”
The first comment touches on that popular misconception that healthy food isn’t enjoyable. Pardon my French, but that’s bulls–t. (OK, if I were actually speaking French, I would have said “quelle connerie.” Yes, I looked it up.) I enjoy food, and I only eat food I enjoy. About 90 percent of the time, I eat foods I enjoy that also happen to be healthy. It’s a win-win.
The second comment assumes that food is a primary source of pleasure. Here are my feelings on that: If your weight or your health isn’t where you want it to be, and you know you are eating foods that you should be eating less of (whether because of the food itself or the amount in which you consume it), then you need to find other sources of pleasure in your life. Is it worth eating a pint of ice cream every night if it means you develop diabetes and have to start worrying about things like taking insulin and the threat of complications kidney failure, blindness and losing a limb?
Ahem.
While I was vacationing on the lovely Oregon coast last week, I read the next chapter in The Slow Down Diet, “The Metabolic Power of Pleasure.” One of the (many) points made in this excellent chapter was that many healthy foods don’t deliver deep pleasure while we’re eating them, but the fact that we know they will benefit our health is pleasurable in and of itself. On the flip side, many foods that give us immediate pleasure can take away pleasure later by make us feel unwell or actually contributing to poor health.
I find a rich, high-quality dark chocolate mousse more pleasurable than a good salad, but I eat a good salad every day, and chocolate mousse about once a year. The subtler pleasure of the salad, combined with the pleasure of current and future good health, more than makes up for the more intense pleasure of decadent desserts.
There are three exercises in this chapter, which I think about 99 percent of people would benefit from:
  1. Make a list of all foods you think are healthy that you also find pleasurable to eat. Include at least three of these foods in your meals each day and see how you feel.
  2. Make a list of every single food that gives you great pleasure, no matter how “forbidden” it is. In the next week, eat one or two of them and really take the time to savor and enjoy them. See how you feel.
  3. Make a list of every single non-food thing (people, places, things, experiences) that gives you great pleasure. Are you including enough of these things in your life, or are you compensating with food?
That’s only scratching the surface, so if the issues surrounding food and pleasure resonate with you, I strongly suggest you get your hands on this book. Life’s too short to not be as pleasurable as we can make it, and life will probably be longer if we get most of our pleasure from healthy food and from non-food delights!