Food is not my enemy...
Sunday, June 19, 2011
The more I read of _The Spark_ and the more I explore the community here, the more I like the approach to nutrition that the program takes. One thing that has always put me off about many diets (but especially those focused on removing some nutrient or group of them from the diet, like Atkins) is that they treat food like it is something to be feared and reviled. With that attitude toward food it's no wonder that the rate of recidivism with these diets is so high (seriously, how many people do you know who did Atkins for x amount of time, lost y lbs. and have since put all of it back on with interest? I don't actually know anyone who hasn't had exactly that experience with Atkins--not saying they aren't out there...just not in sufficient numbers that I know someone).
Food is not the enemy. Food is not wrong. Food is not bad. Food is not preventing me from reaching my goals. Food is the material and the fuel from which my future self will be built.
So since there is obviously a close connection between food, nutrition, health, and weight, if the problem is not food in and of itself, what is it? I believe it's in our feelings toward food. It's not surprising that food generates strong emotional reactions in people. We are many things, physically, spiritually, and intellectually, but biologically we are the only remaining species of primate in the genus homo. We share a lot of characteristics with our short, hairy cousins (apes, not your uncle Niko's kids), including a drive to consume food and use that energy to reproduce and thrive. The fact is, however, that we are more than our animal heritage. We desire food, but we also think about food in the abstract. Chimps and I both like bananas. Chimps, however, have never developed Bananas Foster.
The fact that human beings from every culture in history devote enormous amounts of time and energy to selecting, preparing, and cooking foodstuffs is not unimportant. Cooked food has played a critical role in our development (there is even current debate regarding how early hominids began to cook or otherwise prepare food since the nutritional demands of a large brain are not easily met by consumption of raw foods) and the development of our cultures. All creatures eat. Only humans make art with their food. And art is, per Aristotle, about the communication of emotional states.
So we get emotional about food. There are lots of positive emotions you can associate with food. Think of a really satisfying dinner with friends, full of laughter, and warmth, and camaraderie and how much the sensations of taste and smell and the satisfaction of eating meld together with that experience. There are also plenty of negative emotions we associate with food experiences--guilt, fear, shame, anger. All of these can drive eating as well--anyone who has never felt guilty after eating too big a portion of dessert, or felt shame over eating too much of something they know is unhealthy, or felt anger over themselves after failing to keep to some specious dietary restriction has my permission to feel very, very lucky about that. These emotions hurt, and we associate them with food. As a result we start to resent or even hate food instead of recognizing that the emotional associations do not originate with the food but with ourselves.
Now, there's a definite plus side to recognizing that we are the source of our relationship with food--we can control that relationship and make it a healthy one which has the effects we want rather than one which harms us.
This is getting kind of long so I'll sign off for the moment, but I think I'm going to try writing my next few blogs on this overall topic, cooking and my emotional relationship with food.