“Eat to live, and not live to eat.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
The title of this post might be a bit misleading …
When I say ‘food fight’, I am not referring to the raucous heydays of slapstick humor, ranging from the Three Stooges to Animal House to your very own high school cafeteria!
I’m talking about the internal fight over food that many, many of us fight almost constantly!
I’m talking about the fight between the wise part of our minds and the part of us that just wants to feel good!
I’m talking about the fight between the part of us that knows a grilled chicken salad drizzled with olive oil vinaigrette and a tall ice water, would be far better for us and our futures than a thick, juicy cheeseburger, heavy on the mayo, with a very large side of crinkle-cut fries liberally covered with salt and ketchup, and a chocolate milkshake to wash it down!
Now that, for a lot of people, is a heckuva fight, is it not?!? (By the way, quickly, which would you choose, right at this moment?) For other people, it may be other things … such as when it’s about 9 or 10 in the evening, and you’re feeling hungry, or you want a snack to accompany the TV show you’re watching, or the book you’re reading, or you’re just bored and need something to do, and putting food into our mouths is an interesting activity. So, in those cases the fight can be about other possible choices.
For many of us, such fights are all-out wars! And in far too many of these wars, we end up surrendering to the part of our mind that tells us which choice would be most pleasing to our taste buds, stomach, emotions, etc., … but at what price?
No ‘Shrink in the Belfry’ post would be complete without a picture of a belfry, and this is no different. The pictures above are of a very interesting place. It’s a restaurant called, “Beans in the Belfry”, and it’s located in and under the belfry of an old Methodist church in Brunswick, Maryland. The church was built in 1910, but a number of years ago, after the railroad economy of Brunswick collapsed, the church basically folded. A few years ago, a couple of enterprising folks bought the building and spruced it up, turning it into a coffee house and restaurant that features highly eclectic furnishings, a variety of live music, and reportedly good food.
Just goes to show that even belfries can be pleasing to the palate!
Let’s cut to the chase:
It is my opinion that in no other aspect of human life does falsehood play such a dominant role than in the way we eat. And unfortunately, it causes huge fights. As I have written in the past, one 0f my goals is to identify falsehoods by which many of us routinely make choices – let’s call each of these “bats”, living in the belfries of our minds – and to help us all cast them out. So, where are we deceiving ourselves?
For one thing, we are almost all of us convinced that unless food tastes good, and we usually mean “REALLY” good, we don’t want to eat it. Various types of vegetables and vegetable dishes fall often into the category of, well, “optional”, since the flavor might not be on our favorites list. Somewhere along the line, our culture assimilated and accepted the idea that it’s ok to only eat food that one likes, and to discard the rest. Which is one of the reasons why, I believe, TV shows about cooking have become so popular. We all keep hoping that someday, somebody will invent a way to prepare spinach, turnips, asparagus, okra, and broccoli that will be super easy, but also super tasty. So far, it hasn’t happened for a lot of us, so we keep tuning in to see what Paula, Guy, Rachael, Giada, Alton, Ina, and Bobby have for us, hoping and hoping and hoping and ….
Is this true? Does food that is not only good for us, but in many ways essential for our overall health and well-being, have to be pleasing to our palates in all cases? Is there perhaps a way to alter our mental approach to eating so that we find our pleasure in knowing we are taking good care of our bodies, regardless of how the food actually tastes?
Another lie that we have adopted as truth is that to be truly satisfied at the end of a meal is to feel full. We have not truly dined unless our stomach is yelling up to our head that it is stretched far enough!
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
We are convinced, most of us, that unless our stomachs and brains are telling us that we are absolutely full, we are not yet “done eating”. It is my belief, despite the fact that I often fall victim to the very lie I have just laid out, that if we are hearing the message, “Hey! Stop eating! We’re stuffed down here!”, from our stomach, then we have already consumed FAR too much food. I don’t know why our stomachs will hold a much larger quantity of food than we actually need, but they do. We really don’t need all that much food to thrive, let alone survive.
Finally, one of the main reasons we eat is to “feel better”. And, the sooner the better for most of us. Ever wonder where the term, “comfort food” came from? Ever feel the need for instant comfort? Wonder why so many people have trouble with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, partying, and, yes, food? The thing is, that we DO live in a highly stressful world. Yes, it is true that we bring a ton of stress upon ourselves by believing certain lies about life. We believe that a lot of very unimportant things (in the long run) are incredibly urgent, even crucial, to our existence and well-being, and it eats us up all the time. When this happens we get into a big hurry to find relief … a momentary and immediate escape from the stress we live with. What better escape than a pleasant one? And what better pleasant escape than something that really feels good as we see it, smell it, bite into it, taste it, chew it, roll it around in our mouths, something really substantial, pleasing all of our senses, all of our taste buds, and then swallow, getting that satisfied feeling that words can’t really convey that we have taken “the good stuff” in.
Food really is, for many of us, a drug.
All created by God.
But if we don’t follow the principles of truth, it will kill us.
How can we get a better hold on this concept of eating?
Well, first, I suggest that we all try to learn to forgive ourselves for whatever mistakes we have made, for believing whichever lies we might have believed, and for following the strong voice of our bodies so often. Once again, we must remind ourselves that we are all fallen creatures, and that grace is the umbrella under which we live and breathe and have our being.
Secondly, remember in all things, at all times, that balance is the key, not extremism. God DID give us all plants of the field, all fruit of the trees, all fish of the lakes and seas, and all beasts of the wood and fields for our sustenance AND enjoyment. God also gave us eyes, taste buds, and nostrils, and betwixt the three of them we find exquisite sights and flavors in many foods … these are not things to be ashamed of. These are things to be enjoyed!
However, remember again, balance … enjoy the viewing pleasure of food well-presented, enjoy the wonderful and enticing aromas, enjoy the delightful and manifold flavors and tastes and textures of many kinds of foods, but remember that we are eating primarily in order to sustain and nourish our bodies and brains for the many tasks they must perform in service to the Creator and to other children of God around us, and the many years in which we might serve.
So, all of that said, the third thing we must keep before us always is to remember that intelligent people are telling us all the time about the best ways to eat. Listen to them, and try to find ways that: 1) follow the “food pyramid” as closely as possible; 2) keep within our individual budget; 3) look, smell, and taste good; and 4) without involving too much sugar, too many chemicals, too much white flour, too much fat, too late in the evening (remember, almost everything you eat within 3 hours of your normal bedtime, your body will believe that you don’t need it right away – which is largely true, so it will “save it for a rainy day”, and the way the body does this is to shunt it all into fat storage!), or too much volume (again, remember that the appropriate portion size for almost everything we eat is what fits in the cupped palm of our hand. In other words, not a heckuva lot! But, if you slow down, really savor every bite, and chew slowly and thoughtfully, it will seem so much more enjoyable and fulfilling. I guarantee it!).
We’ve been fighting this food fight for years, most of us, and it’s really far past time for us to breathe deeply, remember that life is about LIFE and SERVICE, not about food, and that there are many healthier ways to get our stress relief “fix” besides chips and dip, huge bowls of ice cream, mounds of cookies, and other assorted indulgences.
And really, there is no deadline. So, please, take your time. Pick out one aspect of your eating that you will change first, build a new habit (takes a month of doing it daily, so the experts say), and then move on to something else.
So, make whichever choice you want to first: smaller portion sizes, eating nothing within 3 hours of bedtime (you will NOT starve!), lower fat content, eliminate white sugar/corn syrup/fructose/artificial sweeteners, less white flour/white rice, adding in one more serving of vegies and one more of fruit daily, chew more slowly and more times before swallowing … doesn’t matter which one. Just do one at a time. Then another. And then another. We CAN win this fight, but not if we get all hyped up about it and decide we’re going to “never eat another cookie as along as I live!”, or some such vow.
Be gentle with yourself, enjoy wholesome food, don’t make it your drug.
One final word:
In social gatherings, I have often joked that I believe calories consumed during special social events are completely ignored by the body, and just excreted in the usual ways. Obviously, that is not the truth (though it always sounds good!).
However, I do believe that we as humans do one another a favor when we give ourselves permission to eat things that ordinarily we would consider as too rich or too fattening, when it’s a “special event”. But even here, we can be “mentally healthy” about it. We can take a very small piece of cake, a thinner than usual slice of pie, eat one scoop of ice cream instead of 2 or 3, go easy on seconds, just be healthy and balanced. After all, the central point of gathering is the human fellowship and support of one another, NOT the ingestion of good food or drink. But if reasonable intake of good food helps lighten your heart, and in turn helps you really be there for others in either good times or bad, then so much the better.
A clean belfry is always a good thing, and healthy eating is not that difficult. Let’s choose to love ourselves by picking one area to work on this coming month. Let’s build a new, good habit!
Eat to live, and food fight won!
Craig Meek, M.D.