Monday, December 29, 2008


"Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better." Robert Redford.

As generally happens at this time of year, people's minds turn to resolutions and, most commonly, to losing weight in the new year. As I listen to people talk about their determination to lose weight, I can't help but notice that their language reflects attitudes of struggle and sacrifice which would seem to handicap their efforts. And there also seems to be an undercurrent of virtuousness behind those struggles. This got me to wondering about both diet and the wider issue of "noble" suffering.

The average American diet is widely acknowledged to be a nutritional nightmare. I think this stems in great part from our hurried attitude towards most things. We must have fast food, fast cars, fast downloads, fast you-name-it. And with this speed comes an inability to savor anything. Meals bolted on the run do nothing beyond fill the stomach and quiet hunger for a while. Food swallowed whole has no opportunity to play on the tongue, although in the case of fast food that is probably for the best. We pursue neither nutrition nor enjoyment in our meals.

We look at dieting for weight loss as self-deprivation, further hampering our efforts. We focus on what we "can't" eat or on what we "should" do, eliminating from consideration what we can and may do. This simply has to set us up for defeat even before we've begun.

How might it be different if we looked at it from an attitude of self-indulgence rather than lack? I believe Alan Watts once wrote that if we were true hedonists we wouldn't consume more and more, we would insist on only the best. This would involve a bit of a time commitment, but what if we spent a few minutes finding the best tomatoes at the grocery or took the time to find the perfect pear? The enjoyment of them would begin from that moment and extend through the preparation and consumption. Surely this indulgence would enhance the experience and take away the feelings of deprivation. It would also lead to healthier eating overall, which might, just maybe, help us achieve our other eating related goals.

My other thoughts were set to unraveling the notion that suffering is somehow more virtuous than enjoyment. Perhaps this is a worn out hang over from the mythos of our Puritan ancestors, but it does seem to weave its way through our cultural consciousness. If I am miserable, I must be good and if I'm not, not. I'm not sure why this has stuck with us, but I vote that we attempt to un-stick it.

We could enhance our diets, our enjoyment, our lives by indulging ourselves in the freshest foods available, pleasing to both eye and palate. We could lovingly prepare nutritious, attractive meals for ourselves and our families. We could gratefully indulge in good tasting and good looking dishes. We could pamper our bodies with the best we could find. Certainly there is more virtue to be found in taking care of the one and only body that we've got than in trying to whip it in to shape. The result would be most likely the same and it would have to be better for our psyches.

If we consciously approached our eating, and indeed all of our lives, as a good to be enjoyed, we could also eat the occasional Oreo with no ill effects.

1 comment:

mad angel said...

As a first-time user of the Weight Watchers points system, I am pleasantly surprised by how many great and tasty options there are, and how simple they are to prepare. I fell off the wagon over Christmas, but am back on track today. and why did I fall off the wagon? Because I really, really felt like I "had" to have all those foods I "can't" have on the diet. We don't overindulge here at Christmas, but little things like a hot biscuit with butter can be devastating. It would be good, as you say, to remember what one can have and enjoy while on a diet. I would do well to remember it, so thank you for a timely reminder! In the end, if I do manage to lose even half the weight the doctor wants me to, feeling better physically will help me forget all about those "can'ts" and "shoulds."