Friends and Family

Harry Health Guide
  • Let's look more closely at the cultural biology of eating. Imagine that you live in Japan a hundred years ago, in a family that can afford enough food. A pot of rice is cooking on the stove, and at the same time someone is cutting up the vegetables, and the relatively modest amounts of protein (either fish or poultry) into very small pieces. The meal comes to you as a very modest portion of rice, perhaps half the size of your fist, with very lightly cooked, fresh vegetables and small pieces of protein on a very small plate.

     

    You pick up your chopsticks, and begin eating around the table with your family. Several things happen. First, the food has been cut into small pieces ahead of time, and it's impossible to take large bites with chopsticks. So you end up eating the meal very slowly. That's critically important, because it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to process the signal from your stomach that it's receiving food, and from your intestine that it's beginning to digest. Once these signals hit, your appetite automatically slackens, but you can do massive damage in that time.

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    In America, with food that is easy to consume in massive quantities, and forks and spoons that resemble front end loaders more than eating utensils, you can easily get 1500 calories into your stomach before your brain realizes you're eating. That's a whole day's worth of food! I like to think of this as stealth eating, because you've done all the damage before your body has a chance to react, and if you do this three times a day, you don't stand a chance.

     

    The other feature of the traditional meal, was that it was a social event. The calories were adequate, but not excessive, and the pace was slow enough that you had time to talk, and to make the meal a human event as well as a voracious feeding frenzy. We no longer do that much in America. Most meals are eaten on the run, or in front of the television, and are followed by mindless snacking while online, or back in front of the TV.

     

    We'll talk about exercise and physical activity in another blog, but for this one realize that how you eat is the first, and most important key to weight loss. It's not very complicated, but it's alien to the culture we've created, so you'll have to be a bit of a pioneer in this.

     

    My suggestion is to downsize everything in your kitchen. Get smaller pots and pans, get smaller forks and knives and spoons, consider getting chopsticks, and eat off appetizer plates. Be sure the appropriate portions come to the table, and give some serious thought to cutting everything up into very small pieces before you put it on the plate. Order just an appetizer at the restaurant, and make it last the whole meal. I promise you will feel stuffed.

     

    Do your best to eat with other people, and to make the meal a social event, but even if you don't, turn off the television, get off-line, and sit down to eat in a formal setting so you can concentrate on your food. That last bit is pretty important. Eat slowly. Take a very small bites, and then chew your food for a long time.

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    All of that sounds ridiculous, but the alternative seems to be gaining 10 pounds a year, so maybe we should re-define ridiculous. Fighting your biology is ridiculous. This is the way you were designed to eat. Your biology is fixed. You can't change it, but you can manage it.

     

    We tend to skip over the very simple basics that would change our lives, while looking for something new were, more exciting, and easier. But the basics are all that really matter. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. So give this a shot, and see what happens over time.

Published On: January 11, 2008