Returning to Real Food

I was daydreaming in the grocery checkout line not too long ago when my eyes fell, and my attention turned, to the cart in front of me.  Come on, we all do it.  We’re waiting forever and a day, we’ve scanned the tabloids to see whether Brad and Angelina are on the brink of disaster, we’re resisting all those unhealthy impulse-buys on either side of us, and we’re naturally drawn to check out what other folks are checking out.

Sometimes when I’m doing this snooping, I construct elaborate stories about people’s lives.  Based on a cart’s contents, I decide that the in-laws are coming for an extended visit, so they have to stock two different brands of mayonnaise because Mom won’t touch anything but Hellmann’s; or the kids’ birthday party is this weekend, so they’re laying in supplies for s’mores and root beer floats.  Hey, it passes the time!

This time, I watched as the boxes and jars crossed the scanner: at least ten reduced-calorie frozen dinners, several boxes of portion-controlled 100-calorie packs, “light” canned soups, diet drinks, reduced-fat crackers, low-carb ketchup, boxes of frozen vegetables in low-fat sauces, sugar-free gelatin snacks … and more.  It wasn’t a reach to write this story.  Someone had turned over a new leaf.  Or, someone was in the thick of a diet.  Every item in the cart was chosen with calorie reduction in mind.

Let me interject that I never, ever judge other people’s choices.  Ever.  Anyone who knows me, or who has spent time with me on a one-on-one basis, knows that.  If you eat a pizza and a pint of ice cream, I’m not going to look down my nose at you.  I’m more likely to ask you how it was, and then support you as you move forward.  When I make up my stories in the checkout line, it’s not to chide or chuckle.  It’s to learn, and to teach others.  [And to occupy my mind to keep the M&Ms from whispering to me.]

So when I dissect this cart, it’s to help you see something important that it’s missing: real food.  The only real food in the whole picture was a carton of eggs and a few bananas.  Maybe this person shops at the Farmer’s Market for fresh food, but maybe not.

When I started out the first time, I did the same thing.  There wasn’t a reduced-fat, sugar-free product that I didn’t have in my arsenal.  Because one of my myriad problems is portion control (that is, knowing when to stop), I figured I would keep my volume high, and my calories artificially low, so I’d stay satisfied.  It helped me get a grip initially, but it’s not the way I live anymore.  It’s too restrictive, and it’s not real life.

You don’t have to buy special or different things to lose weight.  You do, however, have to learn how to change your relationship with food, and to eat differently.  And you have to learn how to eat real food.

Let’s go back to real food.  Real, whole, unprocessed, unadulterated food that doesn’t come in a brightly-colored bag or can.  An apple is its own 100-calorie (or so) pack.  Chicken breasts are, by their nature, low-carb.  Let’s eat real, honest food that didn’t have all of its nutrients refined out of it, so it had to be re-fortified – like white bread and many cereals.  Let’s eat strawberries and bananas, carrots and tomatoes, chicken and fish, oatmeal and brown rice, potatoes and beans and whole-grain bread.  Let’s drink milk and water (and wine!).  Let’s eat real food, eat it together, and enjoy it.  Put your grapes in a baggie and hit the road.  You’ll have plenty of fuel for your body, and you won’t be taking in long lists of unpronounceable chemicals.

The idea is expressed beautifully by my hero, Michael Pollan: “Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

Read Pollan’s entire essay here, and return to real food with me: http://www.michaelpollan.com/article.php?id=87

Can’t go wrong with that.  So eat food, and be healthy and whole!

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2 Responses to Returning to Real Food

  1. Jenn says:

    So well said! I tried several times with the 100 calorie snack packs and Lean Cuisines, and it always left me hungry and didn’t taste all that great. This time around I shop the outside of the grocery store, and our dinners have never tasted better and we stay fuller longer.

    • You’re rocking out. With those 100-calorie packs, we’re pretty much paying Nabisco to do portion control for us. Sometimes it’s helpful, but it’s definitely not a lifestyle — what you’re describing is a lifestyle!

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