Are You at War with Food?

I often encounter people who are clearly at war with food. They announce proudly, “I don’t eat pizza”, or “I would never eat fried chicken”, or “No way — no dessert for me … not ever!” Of course, each to his or her own, and we are all entitled to our choices. But does it logically follow that these sweeping declarations (often made loudly at the dinner table) represent rational, accurate thinking?

Consider, “I don’t eat pizza.” If you don’t like pizza, that’s one thing. But if you, what do you object to? Bread? A person who doesn’t eat pizza often enjoys bread in other contexts. He or she might not say, “I never eat bread,” but might say, “In the right dose, I’ll eat bread.” And what about tomato sauce or cheese? Many people love tomatoes in sauce and enjoy eating cheese. Does something magically happen to cheese and tomato sauce when they’re poured on dough? This is not a commercial for pizza or any other food, but these examples provide a peek at the illogical thinking that might be going on here.

There’s no reason to be at war with any kind of properly prepared food. People who make these sweeping generalizations act like the food in question — pizza, fries, hot fudge sundaes — are poison. But, as with all foods, the poison is only in the dose. The name of the game is to take in enough calories to provide nourishment, but not so much as to get fat. Ditto for nutrition. Nutrition isn’t about eating just vegetables, or just meat, or just … whatever. Nutrition is about the right balance and intake. The body requires a variety of nutrient types.

In psychology and philosophy, we use the phrase “intrinsic value”. It’s the error of treating something as ALL good or ALL bad when it’s really the factual context that matters. Instead of saying “pizza is bad” or “chocolate cake is bad,” we should be saying, “The dose makes the poison.” We should be looking at balance, facts and context, not phony absolutes whose only purpose could be to make somebody feel good about him- or herself in front of others.

I know a lot of people who have lost weight and sustained the weight loss. They tell me they did something other than that “all-or-nothing” approach to dieting. They might have counted calories. Or perhaps took up more exercise. But they all tell me that losing weight is easy compared to keeping it off. Millions of people lose weight and then gain all or most of it back. They’re living monuments to the all-or-nothing/intrinsic value approach to eating. And so are the people at war with food. They might never gain weight back, but they’ll always be hungry and will always be thinking about food. Is that any way to live?

Most things are not intrinsically good or bad. They’re only good or bad in the context relevant to our well-being. It’s not the food that makes people overweight. It’s the abuse of the food. Most of us associate stern, shaming moralists with an earlier era, like the Puritans of the 1600s, the Victorians of the 1800s, or even the silly “food pyramids” (since disproven) of the ‘50s. But I see much of that irrational mentality in today’s world. It’s almost as if the people declaring war on things that taste good and add to life’s enjoyment simply want to vanquish pleasure. Could there be a relationship between the two?

Many people who fret 24/7 over every bite they take tell me that they’re often in a bad mood simply because they are constantly hungry. Is this any way to live? If this sounds like you, take a moment to challenge your assumptions. Maybe you can move toward a more rational and less stressful outlook on eating, while still staying healthy and happy. Life’s too important to not give it a try.



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