Empty Calories, Empty Minds

There’s a connection. Food and body, thoughts and mind. What we’re thinking (or what we’re not) is really in direct correlation to what we're eating (or what we're not). Years ago, when life was all there was to live, folks didn’t have to wonder where their food came from, how it was made, if it was good for them or not. But so much has change in this past century. Now, in this age of information and technology, mankind is bombarded by the media, by the high speed of life, entertainment, the internet, the boggling questions in the realm of relationships (do I marry? Kids? When? How many?) - not to mention the multitude of different kinds of diets, from vegan to Atkins to back again. Where did simplicity of mind and body go? Can we ever get it back?
My answer is yes. A very real and solid YES. And you guessed it - simplicity of mind doesn’t include counting calories or miles run or even, for that matter, weighing yourself and obsessing over your BMI. The food industry is overrun with statistics, while food in and of itself, real food, is anything but a statistic. As many before me have said, food can’t be viewed as a compilation of nutrients. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and if we think about it too much, it takes all the enjoyment out of it.

It seems sad to realize that we have lost touch with reality while we’ve been learning so much. It really appears that yes, too much knowledge is a dangerous thing! There surface too many options, too many weighty (!) decisions - too many whys, becauses, optionals, refining and sifting to find the perfect.

Food isn’t perfect. That’s the beauty of it. In trying to fit the realm of food into a cubbyhole called “nutrition”, we have peeled away the layers of enjoyment, sliced through the spirit of socialization, taken out the core of satiety, and packaged and labeled it all under “Nutrition Facts.” All hail the mighty twinkie... though the irony is, those who are eating the twinkies very rarely are the ones reading the twinkie nutritional numbers. Skinny girls are running around obsessing over the calories in the apple they had for lunch, while others hide in their cars dining on a whole box of donuts. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I know the agony. I know the indecision.

I also know that I found a way out of it. I learned to separate numbers from food, realizing that the two had nothing in common. I then began to limit my options - in a reasonable way: I began to eat what we have lost. And by that I mean, real food. I stopped scoffing fat as being from the devil. I stopped “labeling” foods, not just as good or bad, but labeling them at all. A fruit is a fruit is a fruit - I stopped my thoughts there, with no further debate about the GI of each fruit, which one should I have now, should I eat it with fat, should I get more active afterwards, etc., etc. I hit the STOP button. I was giving power to the numbers, just like I used to give power to the girls who mocked me in high school, by crying and complaining to my sister (or to whomever would listen!)... I began to realize that the more I let go of trying to control my food, the more control I had over the rest of my life. I was slowly but surely gaining back what I had lost. And in the meantime, I was beginning to really, truly savor, delight in, and enjoy old-fashioned food.

What is old-fashioned food? Pretty much anything any nation ate before the industrial revolution began... I’m talking about raw (or as some call it, real) milk, pastured eggs from “free range” farm chickens; grass-fed beef, delectable sprouted grains, loads of fresh raw creamery butter; salt from the sea, first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil; dark, rich chocolate... basically, what I like to call The Works. These are the things that enabled farmers to farm, women to work and maintain large households; these are the foods that scorn being labeled or numbered or even, tasting the same every time. There’s plenty of rhythm in real food - just very little rhyme. Pastured eggs taste different. And they very well could taste different every other week. Same with real milk; it varies, just like the diet of the cow it came from. Fruits, vegetables, fats, meats - all of them deriving their flavors from their natural environments - no two will ever quite taste the same. (Unlike the aforementioned twinkie - why, it always tastes the same! Just like a number. Always the same. Where’s the enjoyment in that?) Over time, your taste buds will wake up. They’ll ask for butter on top your steak; they’ll notice the difference between this week’s onions from this farmstand, versus the ones from the market up the road. You’ll get picky, selective: but all in a very good way.

The numbers will float out the window. You’ll know your cravings are simply your body knowing which nutrients it needs - you don’t need to know. You’ll begin to notice that your cravings for sugar are really cravings for fat (especially animal fat). Your taste for food will return, or awaken, in a way you never thought was possible.

The first time I had raw milk, I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. The first time I had high quality pastured eggs, I realized they were worthy every penny of the $3.50 I paid for them. It took time, but now I can’t fathom replacing my 85% dark chocolate with a Butterfinger. It almost seems like heresy. On the other hand, I can’t ever imagine starving myself again or counting calories. It would be a slander against the good food nature provides for me. Every glug of olive oil is worth it; every drip of cream is savored. Real food is valuable. And as we all know, the things that are of the most value to us are above quantification. How could we measure the love we have for those dearest to us? Likewise, how could we measure the value of the food that is dearest to our bodies? It’s anathema.

We can, and have, researched the value of old-fashioned food. Books like Real Food by Nina Planck, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, outline in great detail the reasons and the scientific findings of the value of real, old-fashioned meals. There’s a whole movement out there for local foods (in fact August is Local Food Month), hoping to bring Americans back to the table, away from overdoses of options, back to when life was all we had to live. Life, that was totally worth living. It’s out there. It could one day be in your own back yard.

If I had just a little advice to give, it would be this: accept animal fats as being good for you. Your body can’t live very well without them. Stop worrying, let go and don’t look back. Limit your options to real food - food that’s easy to read (by taste alone!), easy to digest, lovely to taste, and nourishing - both for the body and the mind.

Once your stomach is satiated, your mind will come alive. Mine did. No more empty calories for me. Life is too valuable for that.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant. Worth re-reading, studying and remembering. Truth has never tasted so good!