And now, for some food-and-health-philosophy-related brain sputterings.
I like to write about food. A lot. I like to talk about it, read about it. Cook it. Eat it. I read cookbooks like they’re book-books. Sometimes I wake up talking about what I want to cook for dinner, like it all came to me in a dream. Did I mention that I like to eat it? Because I like to eat it.
Generally I think I eat pretty healthily. I limit my fried food, I make a lot of things from scratch, I control a lot of my intake of things like sodium and empty calories.
Or so I thought.
A few things came together in my life recently. First, I read an article about a TED talk that fascinated me. Economist Keith Chen explored different linguistic characteristics and whether the structure of language impacts a population’s behavior. He found a strong correlation between speakers of languages with a strong, separate future tense and a tendency to not save money (39% less savings), not exercise (29% lower incidence of exercise), not eat well (13% higher incidence of obesity). Think of the philosophical shift between, “I will start my new workout program tomorrow” vs “I work out,” where “tomorrow” is implied by context. Or “tomorrow’ could even be stated, but the verb “work out” is still present tense.
Second, because I am a foodie with an interest not just in eating but also in the philosophy and mechanics of food, and a growing interest in general health, I enrolled in a “Massive Open Online Course” (a MOOC) called “Nutrition, Health and Lifestyle“. It’s purely for personal development and maybe a dose of perspective. By the end of Week One, it already worked. The first assignment for this course asked that we track our food intake for three days, one of them a weekend. So I did.
The third thing that happened was that I was clearly open to examining this information instead of deflecting it behind excuses. Because HOLY SHIT, I am an eating machine. I eat how much processed food? How much sodium? How much sugar HOLY CRAP! What the hell?
I used to smoke. When I (finally) quit (for real, seven years ago, after quitting but not sticking to it once every six months for years and making the joke that quitting was easy because I’d already done it a hundred times), the secret was being present in my quitting. Yes, I felt like shit. Yes, I was craving cigarettes like crazy. And no, I didn’t chew nicotine gum or use the patch because it may keep you from smoking but it doesn’t break your addiction, and why prolong the agony? But I also knew that giving in to the cravings and thinking, “I’ll do better tomorrow” wasn’t going to help one little bit. I am better than that, I thought. I am not the cigarettes, and they don’t dictate me any more. It was hard to see past the cravings because they were always in front of me. But you ride it out. Eventually, they subsided.
Having had that experience, I started thinking about why tracking your food is an effective tool for health maintenance. Essentially, it keeps you in the present tense. And with the breaking of any bad habit, the present is all you have. You can’t guarantee that you’ll get more money tomorrow (look at the problems caused by payday loans) or lose extra weight tomorrow or work out doubly-hard tomorrow or reverse the effects of a sodium overload, tomorrow. You’ve only got today to take care of business. And when tomorrow gets here, it will be today all over again. That’s what tracking does for me. It keeps my food consciousness active. Mindful, not mindless. It’s hard to concentrate on what you’re having for breakfast when you’re already dreaming about lunch.
It’s not about austerity. I’m not about austerity–trust me, I was out enjoying some delicious adult beverages with my peeps on Saturday night. It’s more about developing an overall schematic for how you approach food every day, and making the necessary adjustments. At least, that’s what it’s about for me. Four weeks and minus six pounds later, I feel like I’m on to something.
Funny how a confluence of events can cause a major gear shift, isn’t it?