Avoiding "Food Follies" as a Grown-up

A last week in my blog, Food Follies, I wrote about about all the mistakes I made (or nearly all of them..or may just some of them) as a parent trying to feed her children healthy foods. Yesterday, I came across an article by Dean Ornish, MD  that caught my eye. I have followed Dr.Ornish through his career, his research and books for at least 20 years. I was most pleased to see the following announcement: 

"Two days ago, after 16 years of review, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a proposed decision to provide Medicare coverage for the comprehensive lifestyle program for reversing heart disease that my colleagues and I at the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute have developed and tested (www.pmri.org).

This is the first time that Medicare will be providing coverage for an integrative medicine program, so we are grateful to everyone involved in this decision. Since reimbursement is a major determinant of both medical practice and education, this is an important breakthrough. This is the first time that Medicare will be providing coverage for an integrative medicine program, so we are grateful to everyone involved in this decision. Since reimbursement is a major determinant of both medical practice and education, this is an important breakthrough. (The Pritikin Program also will be covered.)"

Dr. Ornish followed his jubilant announcement with a summary of his philosophy about successful approaches to nutritional and lifestyle choices.

You can read the entire piece by clicking here, but I have excerpted some of his points below that I find especially appealing and true. it is a sustainable approach for grown-ups and children:

1.You have a full spectrum of nutrition and lifestyle choices.

It's not all or nothing. Diets aren't sustainable because they're all about what you can't have and what you must do. If you go on a diet, sooner or later you're likely to go off it.

What matters most is your overall way of eating and living. If you indulge yourself one day, you can eat more healthfully the next. If you're a couch potato one day, exercise a little more the next. If you don't have time to meditate for 20 minutes, do it for one minute -- the consistency is more important than the duration. Studies have shown that those who eat the healthiest overall are the ones who allow themselves some indulgences.

2. Even more than feeling healthy, most people want to feel free and in control.

If I tell people, "Eat this and don't eat that," or "Don't smoke," they immediately want to do the opposite. It's just human nature, and it goes back to the very first dietary intervention that failed -- "Don't eat the apple" -- and that was God talking, so we're not likely to do better than that... And if their spouse says, "Honey, you know you're not supposed to be eating that," people sometimes start to feel a little crazy.

Nobody wants to feel controlled or treated like a child. Even my son, Lucas, doesn't like to be treated like a child. When he was four, I said to him, "No one can tell you what to eat, not even me. You don't ever have to eat anything you don't want." He feels regarded and respected, so he feels free to make healthful choices that are sustainable. He understands the reasons for eating this way rather than telling him, "Because I said so!" Paradoxically, he eats much more healthfully than most of his friends because he feels free to choose.

3. Eating bad food does not make you a bad person.

The language of behavioral modification often has a moralistic quality to it that turns off a lot of people (like "cheating" on a diet). It's a small step from thinking of some foods as "bad" to seeing yourself as a "bad person;" at that point, might as well finish the pint of ice cream.

Also, the term "patient compliance" has a fascist, creepy quality to it, sounding like one person manipulating or bending his or her will to another. In the short run, I may be able to pressure you into changing your diet, but sooner or later (usually sooner), some part of you will rebel.

What's sustainable are joy, pleasure, and freedom.

4. How you eat is as important as what you eat.

When I eat mindfully, I have more pleasure with fewer calories.

If I eat mindlessly while watching television, reading, or talking with someone else, I can go through an entire meal without tasting the food, without even noticing that I've been eating. The plate is empty but I didn't enjoy the food -- I had all of the calories and little of the pleasure. Instead, if I eat mindfully, paying attention to what I'm eating, smaller portions of food can be exquisitely satisfying.

"Eating with ecstasy" is much more sustainable than "portion control." Here's a downloadable guided meditation:

Also, when you pay attention to what you're eating, you notice how different foods affect you, for better and for worse. More healthful foods make you feel good -- light, clear, energetic. Less healthful foods make you feel bad -- heavy, dull, sluggish. Then, it comes out of your own experience, not because some doctor or book or friend told you.

5. Joy of living is a much better motivator than fear of dying.

When you make healthy diet and lifestyle changes, most people find that they feel so much better, so quickly, it reframes the reason for changing from fear of dying to joy of living. Joy and love are powerful, sustainable motivators, but fear and deprivation are not.

For many people, these are choices worth making -- not just to live longer, but also to live better. Life is to be fully enjoyed."

For more information: www.pmri.org


  1.  Magda's avatar
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    Dear Kay, thanks for sharing your thoughts about mindful eating. Reading your blog today was a gentle answer to the recent intensification of my folly eating habits. I think I've been trying to change my eating habit so hard that I've ended up intensifying my unawareness of it to the point that I do not know if I'm giving myself freedom of choice or making myself eat more and faster. Well, it is good to be aware of that now!! I think your blog called my attention to this next step :)

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