Historically, the question of “What shall we eat?” has been answered with very hard labor. Preparing food was a burden. In the nineteenth century folk song, “The Housewife’s Lament” a woman sings:
It’s sweeping at six and it’s dusting at seven
It’s victuals at eight and it’s dishes at nine
It’s potting and panning from ten to eleven
We scarce break our fast till we plan how to dine
Real food requires real work. No wonder at a traditional table, heads bow and thanks are offered.
Things change, and French sayings to the contrary, they aren’t the same. Our foods have changed radically. We grab, pop into a microwave, and gobble. Pay at the counter and gobble. Drive through, pay, grab and gobble. Food must be fast. We eat mindlessly. I am in an airport. As I walked toward my plane this morning, a woman entertaining her child was just finishing a bag of chips. It isn’t even ten in the morning, and she’s been munching on convenience food.
There are some things wrong with our food system. It is too easy, and the foods that are easy are a kind of poison, full of sugars, salts, and fats. The poor chubby woman eating her morning bag of chips is punishing her body. Loaded with the unholy triune foodgod, the sugars race to her liver to be converted into fat, the fat is quickly stored into fat stores, and the salt raises blood pressure. How are we even still alive?
Do you wonder how we got here? It is a story of too much success. Food is abundant. Our farming industry is incredibly productive, pumping powerful fertilizer made from oil into the ground. Harvests roll in, we have too much, and food scientists have to find ways to convince us to eat more and more. Traditionally people eat enough to keep themselves supplied with energy. That limits how much the food-industrial complex can sell us. Enter the food scientists, finding ways to make us overeat. They do that mostly with these three ingredients, fat, sugar, and salt. By tweaking those, they fool our brains. We think we should still be eating even though we have taken in plenty of calories. So we eat, eat, and eat. Our waists expand. We are becoming enormous, lumbering behemoths. And still we eat.
So I make the case for healthier eating and you nod and munch. Everyone know the truth. Fast food is not health-supporting food. Why don’t people heed good sense and eat wisely? Because Wimpy in the old Popeye cartoon was right. “I will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today.” We are interested in short term gain, and we promise to pay tomorrow.
What shall we do? I’ve had some success with shifting to short-term benefits. We can harness our desire for quick by focusing on the immediate effect of the food. Today’s phones have a countdown feature. When I eat something, I set a countdown for thirty minutes, and when it goes off, I write down how I am feeling. Luckily, healthy food makes me feel better thirty minutes after I eat it. I bet your healthier meals are the same. Junk food, prepared convenience food actually makes me feel worse in thirty minutes. So I am focused on “what will make me feel better in thirty minutes?”
Now I have developed a habit. “How will I feel in thirty minutes,” I ask myself, “if I eat that?” In only a few seconds, I find an answer. I can sense quickly how I am likely to feel, and I am making better choices. The fast food meal with its fats, sugars and salt load looks unpleasant to me. In thirty minutes, I will not feel so hot. All I want is a painless way to feel better. My intuition tells me to eat healthy food.
Yes, this is some work, requires effort. On the other hand, it can become second nature if you keep at it. Think of the benefits. You migrate towards more natural, healthy foods and never feel deprived. On the contrary, your life is more enjoyable.
I find the best way to develop a new habit is writing the if-then statement. Write a series of sentences beginning with if and followed with then. “If I am about to eat something, then I ask myself how I will feel in thirty minutes.” Another one: “If I have just finished eating, then I pull out my phone and start a thirty-minute timer.” And yet another one: “If I hear the phone timer go off, then I jot down how I am feeling from the food I ate a half hour ago.”
Writing if-then statements makes acquiring new habits easier. It might take several rounds of writing but the new habit does become much more automatic. Try it yourself and see if I am right.