South Beach, The Zone, DASH, Jenny Craig, Ornish, The Biggest Loser, Weight Watchers, protein only, no carbs, the diet of the moon, carrots and celery, grandma’s soup, the miraculous 7-day program my neighbor told me about, etc., etc., etc.
Any of these sounds familiar?
All different approaches to tackle the same apparent problem: Food; that evil bastard that keeps on seducing us, attracting us to its provocative sugary coating or fatty smell, until, despite all our efforts to silence the voices in our heads, we surrender, defeated, one step closer to diabetes, obesity, or even worst, drawn in the bitter waters of our internal lake of guilt.
Now let’s get serious.
Food has always been with us, so what has changed? What’s the reason it has now become such a big problem?
It is clear that, like in the hose in our garden, if what gets in is more than what gets out, we will have an unbalanced situation. It’s the same for the relationship between calories intake and calories consumption. Sedentary lifestyles are now the norm in urban, modern times environments. Without having hard data, I’m sure average daily calories expenditure has gone down significantly over the past decades, specially in fair to fully developed countries and in the bottom of the pyramid age groups. But this is, at most, 30% of the problem. The real issue is that the other side of the equation, our daily calories intake, has roofed to the top as calorie-dense options have gained presence in the shelves, and, at the same time, the quality of those calories has plumped down giving way to everyday more processed meals. It has never been easier, or cheaper, to eat badly. Just step into the closest convenience store, carrying only the lowest denomination bill you have, and see what you end up with.
But it is not the intent of this post to debate about healthy and unhealthy food. What matters for these lines is to accept the fact that assortment on the shelves is something way beyond our control, and that as in many other aspects of life we are surrounded by nothing more than options. We have the power to choose, and to choose both what we buy and how we use it.
Craving is a survival mechanism of the body to make sure we get what we need. The body craves specially for calories-dense options, as it is an efficient way to nurture without having to spend the whole day chewing grass like a cow. That is the reason we specially crave for sweet stuff. A mango will always be more appealing to our instinct than a lettuce. But going back to our convenience store experience, nowadays we can find snacks that fit in the palm of our hand, with enough calories to nurture a 12-year old kid for a day. Paying attention to what we eat has never been so important.
And here is where the trick is, the big aha. In this crazy-paced world we live in, and with so many poor food choices around, we hardly have time to pay attention. We glide through the day trying our best to keep up with all the tasks we are supposed to complete to earn the ‘good parent, ‘good spouse, ‘good employee’, ‘good neighbor’, ‘good citizen’ award. We kiss our kids off to school while texting our boss, looking at the just-too-close due date for this month’s mortgage, thinking on the present we still have to buy for our wedding anniversary, suffering those old pants that have shrunken; all at the same time and with a double-glazed chocolate doughnut in the mouth, hundreds of calories, gone, and we didn’t even noticed…
…And the day is just starting and we are still hungry…
Sad, don’t you think?
So who’s the enemy? Modern times demands? The insensitive Food Industry? The chief procurement officers of the 7-Elevens of the world? Food itself? All combined?
I don’t think so. It is our lack of attention to one of the most important aspects of our lives (together with sleep). It is our uncaring attitude towards food.
Next time you find yourself browsing your phone while eating, sipping a whipped-creamed large coffee while typing an email, or just watching a movie with a large plate of chips in your hands, you better stop what you are doing and give food the time it deserves. Let food be at the center stage of the moment. It will help you to pay attention to what you are eating (hopefully a thoughtful and smart choice). You will eat less and enjoy more. You will become conscious of every bite, allowing old tastes and textures to come back to life while discovering new ones. As a bonus, you will clear your mind and, what matters to the weighing scale: you will make every single calorie count.