Ever notice that we Americans can’t seem to feel comfortable with food? Here, I am not talking about comfort foods, but that will probably come up later.
It seems that ever since marketing and science have been flooding our experiences, we have gotten confused about the role of food in our lives. Is it a savior, leading to longer life, or is it the enemy, doing its best to seduce us into ill-health?
How did we get to this place anyway?
And what can we do about it? Now that we have marketing, compounded by television, social media, our tech habits, and national organizations, food science has taken on a life of its own. Not only that, but we are now manipulated into having certain attitudes about food. Foods are labeled as fun, super, hip, healthy, organic, GMO, and downright evil (“sugar is death”).
Then we have the diet industry. Dieting is considered virtuous. Non-dieting is dangerous, because who knows what awful things you can get up to when not being told how to eat?
Let’s look at a few key phrases from a book called “Food Forensics” (by Mike Adams). It’s about toxins found in our foods. WARNING! These phrases contain strong language, demoralizing statements, and mind-boggling negativity. There are phrases like “poisoning our children,” “mental and physical destruction,” and “defilement of the food supply.” There’s also “supplement manufacturers who lie about the effectiveness and healthfulness of their products.”
Then there’s the Feds, who do their bit to help us get a grip on the situation. But, can we trust them to not be in the pocket of corporations? On top of that, the new food pyramid is nothing short of obtuse.
We also have the fact that media competes for clicks, getting noticed, and coming up with the catchiest headline. This kind of thing can lead to focusing on numbers. Things like “Top 10 Healthiest Foods in the World,” “10 Foods for Sun Protection,” Prevent 90% of Alzheimer’s Cases with Food,” and “50 Best Weight Loss Foods.”
So why does this kind of thing get to us?
There are things about us humans (especially American humans) that cause our mindsets to be influenced by all of this. Some of them are:
- It appeals to our search for an easy solution to a complex problem.
- The latest fads (diets and exercise equipment) feed our fantasies about an ideal self.
- Our Puritan heritage tells us that we all have a corrupt nature that we need to feel guilty about, needs reforming, and demands strict controls.
- We have been told that because of the burgeoning world population, we are going to have to rely on new technology, food manufacturing, and innovative techniques to produce enough food for everyone.
- Shoring ourselves up with supplements, added vitamins, and certain foods implies that our bodies are weak and do not have much in the way of defenses or healing abilities.
- We have so many messages coming at us that it is difficult to trust ourselves to be discriminating if we are not educated in nutrition or even science.
- At this point, none of us have never known any other approach. The concept of the calorie was introduced in the 1890’s, and 1895 saw the first government-sponsored list of nutritive values of various foods.
Some of these concepts are not all bad, of course. Some supplementation can be good, being aware of calories can help us keep our weight in check, and knowledge of what constitutes healthy food is a plus. But our expansive knowledge of food content can bring about guilt, lists of forbidden foods, and ever-changing approaches to how to eat.
At this point, let’s have a shout-out to emotional eating. Unfortunately, marketing has fed our emotions in many ways. Food is portrayed as the solution to needing a boost, required in many social situations, and something that even leads to dating and enhanced relationships.
Not to mention comfort. Indeed, eating produces a response in our brains that says, “pleasure”. And now food manufacturers make sure that their foods are hyper-palatable, with mouth feel, sugar, salt, and/or fat. All this can lead to what we call “mindless eating”, where there is a knee-jerk kind of response or even habit that leads to losing track of what is being put in the mouth.
What to do?
How do we separate out what is “fun” or “hip” and start to regard food as pleasurable, something to be savored and enjoyed and not feared? Especially since “bad eating” (i.e., that which is not good for our bodies) in fact tastes so good? How do we separate “fun” from “pleasure”?
Before we take a look at some strategies, let’s make no mistake. This is a complex and emotionally laden issue. We can’t go with “3 Ways to Stop Thinking Food is the Enemy” and call it a day. But, you have to start somewhere.
First of all, let’s look at what happens when you decide (consciously or unconsciously) that food is the enemy. What follows is that YOU are bad if you eat certain things. Then comes blaming and excuses, both of which imply helplessness. Or, things like “I can eat this today, because I will make up for it tomorrow by going on a diet (i.e., deprivation mode). For a good start, you can decide you are sick and tired of that roller-coaster.
Secondly, you can adopt a guiding principle of self-care. Self-care means finding foods that will nourish you, and are not influenced by the environment that we are immersed in. Focusing on what contains nutrients for our bodies can help us to make choices that are not related to outside messages.
Thirdly, we need to switch our thoughts to what is truly rewarding for ourselves. That would be nutritious, less calorie dense foods. At the same time, we can let go of the idea that certain foods are going to shorten or lengthen our lives. What??? The truth is that no ONE food can do this for us. Time and again, research shows that it is food combinations and variety that are best for us.
Take charge of your health. Learn some new shopping and cooking skills if need be. Become media-savvy, discriminating between marketing manipulation and what are real, non-processed foods as close to natural as possible. Find ways to make these items just as convenient as fast foods or snacks. Allow yourself “evil” foods once in a while, but do two things: Eat them slowly, and ask yourself if it is really THAT good, especially after the first few bites. Relax. Ask yourself if you would like a steady diet of that. Then ask yourself how would that feel.
I could go on. Rest assured there are volumes written about this issue, and rightly so. A few suggestions:
Consumed: Why Americans Love, Hate, and Fear Food by Michelle Stacey
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Life is Hard, Food is Easy by Linda Spangle
Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
Note: Food Rules is an entertaining, short, and easy book to check out that lays it all out in very few pages.
Here’s to finding pleasure in food again,
© 2021 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.