Some thoughts on diets and eating

March 2, 2013 § 41 Comments

shower feast

Shuffle shuffle shuffle, shplop, clump, clump, clump…(that’s the sound of me hauling in and climbing up on my soap box, actually no, let’s go with it being me setting up my 2 cents booth, and special for you, today only, there’s no charge!…)

So a study came out and suddenly everyone’s all abuzz with the Mediterranean Diet all over again.  Perhaps you’ve heard?

Which I suppose must be nice for the Mediterranean Diet and all, given it was probably feeling a little dusty and lonely and ignored from several years of being quite out of the spotlight.  And maybe, if things go well, it’ll get some people to eat a little extra olive oil and seafood.

But, here’s what I worry.  I worry that this is just going to add back one more way we measure ourselves and judge ourselves when it comes to what we eat.  It provides one more set of potential boxes to constantly fret about ticking off so that we can feel good about ourselves because we “were good” that day, and to feel bad about ourselves if we deviate from because we “were bad” that day.

This is actually my problem with all the diets I hear about these days be they “paleo,” “vegan,” “raw,” “4-hour body,” “bullet proof,” or what have you.  It’s not a problem with the diets themselves, actually, but a problem with how we – or, well, let’s personalize this, how I – respond to them emotionally.  They make me judge myself.  And if there’s one thing I don’t need extra help with, it’s judging myself.  I’m super good at that all on my own, thanks.

When I’m trying to adhere to one of these carefully delineated ways of eating it becomes a constant rating game, just like so much of the rest of life can feel.  When I’m getting praise at work or I’m on a run of eating no grains at all or something, inside I start jabbering, “I get a star for this, ooh that means I’m a good person. Must try to maintain stars at all costs”… and then I get worn out and feel bad about myself because I’m just trying to maintain my internal idea of how many stars I have, and then I do something “wrong,” like eat a scone or get a negative comment back from a journal I’ve submitted a paper to.  “I get a big black X for that, oh no! disaster!! despair!!!!!!  I must be a bad person.  I am a horrible person…”  And then I feel bad about myself.

Either way, it turns out, I feel bad about myself because I tie myself to my rating system of the moment (and I have a feeling I can’t possibly be the only one who does this, including with regards to food).  And with diets, this winds up making me feel frightened of my food.  And I’m quite certain that when you’re frightened of your food, it can’t really nourish you, no matter how many micronutrients it might contain.

When I get into one of my states of being frightened of food I may, ostensibly, be eating extremely healthfully – all kale and salmon and whatnot – but I feel terrible, and quite unhealthy.  Food becomes a source of worry, depriving it of all its latent potential for enormous beauty and creativity.  I sit around and wonder about that piece of white toast I had.  “That’s probably going to give me cancer,” I torture myself.  The thing is, probably a piece of toast here and there won’t.  And probably getting stuck in fear driven thought patterns will.

When I read all these books about different diets based on this bit of science and that bit of science, I start bombarding myself with endless thoughts and calculations about my food and become so very listless and uninspired.  And that winds up carrying into other parts of my live as well.  I feel unwell and uninspired all around.  Clearly that can’t do me any good.

What shakes me out of it are examples of people eating beautifully, and thoughtfully, with care and intention and boundless joy, and nothing whatsoever to do with science (and that includes having nothing to do with “foods” that are created by science, a la nearly all the snack foods and fast foods and things in packages everywhere).  Reading Tamar Adler’s work or Julia Child’s, for example, makes me feel empowered and healthy and ready to cook gracefully and lovingly with whatever good, real ingredients I have on hand, knowing that it is all about balance.

Seeing the ladies at the Canal House and their endlessly varied lunches, too, makes me feel so excited to eat well because you can see in those lunches the balance and natural limits that come from the true love of savoring food and flavors, rather than strictly imposed bounds.  Some days they’ll have grilled bacon, gruyere and dates on olive bread (which I’ve tried and is unbelievably good, by the way) or fried chicken sandwiches, but then on other days they’ll have freshly grown vegetables with a spiced yogurt sauce, or a piece of poached fish with the newest spring peas and herbs, or a half avocado sprinkled with sea salt.  Not because they feel penitent about the fried chicken – they may joke of penitence sometimes, but you can tell they don’t mean it, really – but because on those days that is what was beautiful and right to eat.  And you can tell they relish their time eating together.

How many of us eat our breakfast on the go, scarf our lunches while working at our desks, and eat dinner without ever stopping to put our forks down and converse for a few minutes.  And, I can’t say it’s completely our faults.  We are surrounded by signals that tell us, “you’re busy!  You’re so busy!  Being busy means you’re good and productive and being a good worker.  Being un-busy means you don’t contribute, you don’t really have a right to be here, and you probably are boring.”  When we get those signals and allow ourselves to believe them (and it’s so freaking hard not to believe them) of course we rush through our meals.

But that gives us no opportunity to notice what we are eating, to be mindful of the flavors and textures and scents and how the food was prepared and who we are eating with.  And if we don’t notice those things, we are left hungry, and we do feel bored because we didn’t actually have the experience of being there.  And being hungry and bored in a world that is also constantly pushing snacks and stuff that looks like food but is actually crap (that is one place where I think strict-ish limits should be drawn) on us, well that’s a dangerous situation.

The busier we are, the more rigid of boundaries we set up to give us some feeling of control.  But being in control doesn’t mean we are free.  We have infinite choices but we are not free.  It’s sad.  And the rigidity of the boundaries leaves them so susceptible to cracks.  A crack here and a crack there usually sends us into feeling unhealthy, and correspondingly behaving unhealthy, because it is a tenuous and frightening situation.  What we need is to shatter completely.

What I need, that is, is to shatter completely.  I’ll (try to) not presume to put feelings into anyone else’s heart.

When I stop judging and defending and judging and defending, I make better choices anyway, and creativity blossoms again.  Not that I ever remember that when I’m stuck in my judging and defending pattern.

Of course, if you have an intolerance you should avoid that food.  If you are already sick you should possibly eat in a more particular pattern.  I’m not saying no to limits.  But I’m saying no to judgmental limits, and yes to natural limits, the limits that are born out of actually loving and wanting the best for yourself, and really loving and wanting the best from your food, and as often as possible remembering that eating food is a social and cultural act meant to be shared, not dissected by the scientific method.

Listening.  Trusting.  Loving.  We need more of that in our diets.

I pulled myself out of one of my self-loathing, food-fearing funks yesterday by reading through a couple of really gorgeous cookbooks, gorgeous in that earthy way that makes you want to cook, not just ogle.  And when I pulled myself out of the funk, boy did I cook.  We had a couple good friends over, and we had lamb meatballs in a spicy sauce with yogurt; orzo tossed with giant bunches of chopped herbs and crumbled feta; a salad of citrus, avocado, and olives; plus another salad of spinach, dates, and pickled onion with spiced pita croutons; and to finish one truly spectacular chocolate chip cookie each.

The meal pretty much wasn’t anything free.  There was gluten, and dairy, red meat, and nuts, and a little sugar, and a huge assortments of fruits and vegetables.  It was gorgeous and colorful and entirely made from scratch.  We sat for several hours eating and laughing, and I felt perfect after it, just barely full (small portions, friends!  small portions.), balanced, and happy.  I defy anyone to tell me that wasn’t a healthy meal.

So there you go.  I’ll be back in two shakes with a few good recipes, now that I’m getting my cooking groove back, but for today, that’s all I have.  My soapbox…er, my two cents.


Tagged: , , ,

§ 41 Responses to Some thoughts on diets and eating

  • carey says:

    A-freakin’-men. I was a vegetarian for several years, and fretting over what might be in everything I ate was not something I enjoyed. Shortly after moving to Vermont (where there seems to be no shortage of amazing, high-quality everything), I decided to start eating meat again. I feel so much happier and healthier now that I’m listening to my body and enjoying whatever it happens to crave, rather than operating under a set of self-imposed restrictions. And being part of a community where people are so enthusiastic about the things they create makes that freedom all the more enjoyable.

    So glad you decided to write this post, Emily. You’re voicing things that I’m sure many of us feel in one way or another, and that we all need to be reminded of. Thank you for sharing!

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      I’m so glad you listened to your body and that you’re feeling healthier now. And, Vermont is such a lucky place to live for high quality food! I escaped north as often as possible when I lived in Massachusetts and I just adored Vermont. I had some of the best meals ever there!

  • kenziezimmer says:

    Thank you for this! Definitely sharing…

  • jacquie says:

    wonderful post. please continue “rant and soapbox on” – there need to be more voices like yours out there. and if you have any suggestions in terms of turning off the cultural voice of busy=good and not busy=bad i would appreciate hearing them.

    glad you got your groove back on in terms of the kitchen as it seems to be a source of nourishment for you. is the chocolate cookie recipe one of those that will be forthcoming? 🙂

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Thanks so much Jacquie. I’ll continue to bring my soapbox out judiciously, whenever I feel the need. 😉 And, I can certainly post the chocolate chip cookie recipe soon! I listen! I take requests! 🙂

  • ashinbleu says:

    Wonderfully written and well said! I needed to hear this today for sure as I am bombarded by friends trying out all sorts of diets and feeling guilty about not eliminating certain foods from my diet.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Don’t let them make you feel guilty! I feel like I have to constantly (every single day, multiple times of day!) remind myself that guilt doesn’t accomplish anything. If I need to make better choices, I can focus on that and not feel guilty, and if I’m listening to my body then I should keep doing that and not feel guilty. Either way, guilt never gets us anywhere, but it is hard to shake it because it’s so prevalent, and kind of addictive.

  • ashinbleu says:

    Reblogged this on ashinbleu and commented:
    Really well written article I just had to share…

  • I recently became a vegan, and I always try to remind myself that not eating dairy and eggs 6 days out of 7 is what matters. But when my grandma gives me a box of organic, gourmet, sea salted, dark chocolate wrapped caramels, and I eat one before giving the rest away, I am NOT going to feel bad.

    For me, growing my own food has brought me back to really appreciating what I’m eating. I don’t grow it all, but enough to remember that every leaf of spring mix was lovingly grown from seed, and every cabbage started out as a cute little seedling with four awkwardly mismatched leaves.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Never feel bad about a gourmet sea salted dark chocolate caramel. Never! 🙂 I totally agree about growing your own food. I know that not everyone feels like they can, but it does make you realized how very beautiful and precious food is.

  • M.L. says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! As someone struggling with an eating disorder, I really appreciate your pragmatic and positive thoughts on eating.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle. I actually struggled with disordered eating for several years a bit over a decade ago. It took a lot of daily practice of releasing my need for control and remembering to love myself and let that guide my choices. Always remember that you are already perfect, the only manifestation of you in the whole universe! It sounds cheesy, but I think it’s actually true, and the rare moments when I can really feel and know that in my heart, those help me through all my other moments.

  • acrusteaten says:

    Incidentally, I just read an article in a similar vein in The Foodie Bugle about a way of eating called ‘mindful eating’ which you’d probably be interested in if you haven’t already discovered it.

    Good post.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Yes! I think mindful eating is a great way to approach our food. I’ll definitely check out these articles. It’s something I always like to learn more about.

  • Melissa says:

    I love this. Eating should be about balance and moderation and enjoyment and love. Not constant dieting and guilt. Thanks for the post!

  • Kathryn says:

    Yes to all of this. It seems more and more that every bite we take is loaded with moral judgements and ethical dilemmas. We give food this strange power over us and we’ve created a generation with the most screwed up eating habits. It’s people like you that remind me that food is just food and should be celebrated for being just that. Thank you!

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Exactly! We’ve focused so very much on the potential health and environmental effects of food it makes it so crazy loaded and stressful to try to eat! And of course, I’m definitely not saying don’t eat healthy food and food that is better for the environment, but I really feel like we need to focus on relearning to make good eating choices without the screwiness around it and with more celebration.

  • vintagejenta says:

    AMEN! Learning to let go and “forgive” yourself when it comes to food choices is super important. I occasionally will indulge in fast food or Little Debbie snacks, but generally I feel not-so-good afterwards. But I don’t beat myself up over it.

    A few weeks ago I realized we weren’t eating very many vegetables anymore. I had gained some weight, didn’t feel great, and was getting into cooking ruts. So I made a conscious effort to eat more veggies and use up leftovers in the freezer, and I actually came up with some new and very tasty meals! And pretty healthy, too.

    Getting bogged down in the details of calories, grams of fat, and serving sizes is so much less important than listening to your body for what it is craving (red meat? green veggies? something smooth and milk-rich?) and when it is full. And it’s way more stressful!

    I have one general rule when it comes to food: if my great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, I won’t eat it (unless it’s some cool Asian vegetable). Which means lots of from-scratch cooking and eating lots of leftovers to compensate for the days I don’t feel like cooking. And lots of simple eating.

    I do love white bread (the hearty, crusty kind, not Wonder), cake, and bacon. But I try to eat those in moderation. And I’m certainly not going to beat myself up for having a piece of cake. A whole vat of ice cream? Yes. But because I don’t deny myself all the time, I have more self control than a lot of people. So I can stop with a half cup of ice cream, instead of eating a whole quart.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I’m far from skinny (mostly because winter means less opportunity for outdoor activities and leaves me craving starchy, creamy, fattening things), but I’m pretty darn healthy. I can go on a 3 mile hike easily (like we did today) and can even manage a 6 mile hike if I’ve got half a day. And I LOVE to dance.

    So I guess the culmination of this long, rambling post is – eat what makes you feel good and healthy and don’t worry about the rest. Oh, and have a little treat now and again! It won’t kill you and will probably be a lot more satisfying than depriving yourself and then bingeing when you can’t stand it anymore.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Hear hear! And, I do agree that teaching oneself to indulge occasionally and in moderation can really help prevent the binging that often comes with tons of self deprivation. And simply cooking from scratch and eating good real meals is such an important step to all the things we have decided we want from food. Good for you for not beating yourself up, and just focusing on each good choice you can make next time. I think that’s awesome!

  • abiainscough says:

    Beautiful post! It’s very rare that I completely agree with everything a writer’s said, but you’ve expressed everything so completely perfectly here! Wonderful post 🙂

  • Leah says:

    Thank you so much for writing about this and writing about it so well. While I eat quite well the majority of the time, I always have some issues with food, exercise and body issues lurking in the background.

    For the past year, I’ve really been working hard toward true self-love and going easy on myself. It’s freaking hard! Especially for someone who truly loves food and understands its joys, but is also plagued by unrealistic ideas of perfection.

    Talking and reading about other people’s experiences like this is something we could all do a little more of. Keep up the good work, and the positive thoughts!

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      It is really, really freaking hard. It’s also hard to accept that these things almost never just switch over night or in some flash of insight, and then afterwards everything is easy. Nope, it’s practice every single day forever. I guess life is about living your practice. Of course, I tend to forget this for weeks at a time. But, every time you refocus on it is a grand thing.

  • Sara says:

    I really enjoyed this post, and for me at least it was timely with respect to all these diets. I just decided to look at the China Study, which is none too thrilled with animal protein, while the paleos are at the other end. I think it’s pretty clear that less processed food is better, but it’s still bewildering. It’s no wonder there’s an appetite (ur…) for these diets with so many food-related health problems, but it’s food as medication rather than food as a balanced part of life isn’t it?

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      It’s totally food as medication. And it is bewildering. I do believe that food can heal and that eating crap is terribly harmful (I mean, I can’t not believe that, given I’ve studied nutrition), but it’s become such an obsessive focus in our society, it leaves us all feeling like these horrible unwell messes and that our every decision has the power to instantly heal us or give us disease, and we forget all about the fact that wellness is our natural state and that if we focus on how we are well, it can actually help us make healthier choices. Plus, there are so many other related things that play into the picture like lowering stress and being social and believing in ourselves, that also keep us healthier.

  • Thank you for your well-articulated and well-timed words, Emily. As someone who has been overweight, has lost the weight, but who has just always adored food, for me it’s always been a matter of finding the balance between emotional and mindful eating. I’ve defintely grown in this journey, but at times, the Pinterest feed trending in vegan and Paleo recipes just makes me throw up my hands. I have neither the energy, willpower or grocery budget for such things, and I’ve definitely learned that denying myself certain foods is a sure path to overindulgence at a later point.

    I’m grateful to have been raised by homemde, from-scratch meals created with love and shared around a family table with lingering conversation. In fact, that was the point of your post that struck me most significantly — my husband and I eat my lovingly cooked, from-scratch meals in front of the television. Why on earth do we do this? Likely, because I was never allowed to when I was a kid 🙂 We’ve been eating our dinners quietly and quickly and often find room for seconds because of it. I’m so looking forward to making a change and eating our dinners together, with conversation interspersed with forkfuls. Thank you again for the great reminder to do so.

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      I’m so glad you found my thoughts helpful. I like to look at pretty pictures on Pinterest, certainly, but it is enough to make you go insane as well, with all the false examples of perfection and the crazy foods for eating within different diets (vegan paleo 5-minute microwave mug cakes or whatever whatever…). That’s so interesting about your eating in front of the television. I’d be really interested to hear about how it goes eating together not in front of the TV. Sitting down to dinner with my husband (or husband plus friends if it’s the weekend) is my favorite part of the day! Even if we don’t have much to say to each other that day, it’s nice to sit quietly and totally slow down to smile and enjoy our meal, however simple it is.

  • anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am currently going to school for nutrition and hope to become a registered dietitian. But I am also over weight. So I am hyper aware of food in every sense of the word. However I have a hard time formulating the coherent thoughts you put to words so perfectly. That is exactly how I feel about food, and I strive to have a good relationship with my food in every way I can. But it seems the more we strive for it the less attainable it becomes. Such a great post, thanks again

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Yes, yes! I think in a way our reliance on striving is so much part of the problem. We feel like everything has to be hard and that we have to strive and stress about it. I keep finding that if I let go and ask myself, “knowing that you are perfectly fine exactly as you are and that nobody’s opinion affects that, how do you feel like behaving/what choice do you want to make?” It sounds totally weird and new-agey doesn’t it??!! 😉 Oh well, sometimes it works. Best of luck with everything, including your nutrition studies! Being an RD is hard work, and the good ones (and I’m sure you will be, since you are already so aware) are just remarkable in their work with people.

  • LaReesa says:

    Wow! I completely agree. I had to skim because I’m at work (and reading blogs…naughty, naughty), but what I saw summarizes exactly how I feel but didn’t know how to say. Food should be enjoyable and not a source of stress.

    I saw your blog on the Northern Waters Smokehaus Facebook page, and I’m a huge fan already! And a fellow Duluthian 😉

    Bon apetit!

  • erinrosalita says:

    Excellent words! Thanks for sharing your balanced perspective, and for being a small voice of encouragement in the midst of too much diet-disparagement. Eat on, my friend!

  • Reblogged this on Hudson Valley Eco Chic and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more with this article. I stumbled upon this at a perfect time, I read this not even 20 minutes after getting sucked into a post about the secret evils of potatoes, and felt even worse about my lack of healthy eating this past week. While I of course strive to be healthy and happy, that comes from eating good food, at a good time, with good people. It does not come from the news reporting which diet is proven healthiest, just to have the diet change a couple months later.
    Not only did this article make me happy… it made me hungry!
    (and I also LOVE the Ottolenghi cookbook)

    • Emily (Kuross) Vikre says:

      Isn’t that cookbook magical?! I’m glad you read this at an opportune time. Stay positive and happy about your food! 🙂

  • Kudos to you! A few ideas really stuck out to me while reading this. You speak of being mindful of the taste and texture, of the subtleties of our food. I agree, our consumption of food should be a savored experience. I never eat to eat, rather, I eat to enjoy my food. To take pleasure in the experience..Rather than make myself feel guilty by what or how much I eat, I simply avoid chemicals, dyes especially. I believe that in moderation and with variation, all natural foods do us good!

  • […] now and then.  These are the cookies I served one of to each of our guests the other week at our dinner party, and deemed that dessert enough.  And it absolutely […]

  • “Listening. Trusting. Loving. We need more of that in our diets” I need this written somewhere in my kitchen. Probably on my forehead too. Beautiful and true.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Some thoughts on diets and eating at Five And Spice.


%d bloggers like this: