HomeHealthArchivesMar 2005

 

Challenging The Sociology of Eating

Consider the traditional approach to dieting, whether to lose weight or control cholesterol. You starve and, if committed, work out. You eat those little thin slices of low-fat low-cholesterol bread, and embarrass yourself with those "low cholesterol" meals while every one else is eating hamburgers and ice cream sundaes. After a few months you lose those  milligrams of cholesterol, looking forward to the day when you can eat anything you want again, in whatever quantities. But that's when you find out the bad news. You only have two choices: go back to your old habits and close up your arteries like a backed up sewer pipe, or fill the fridge with fruit and those expensively little slices of "cake" to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.

What kind of life is that? Fruit and vegetables are healthy but they can get boring meal after meal, week after week. How will you handle those cravings for something sweet, something with more substance, but something that could still be kind to your arteries.

Deprivation and living are not synonymous when you're trying to lower cholesterol, or after you've reached your goal and want to maintain a healthy level. There is a better way to live. All it takes is a little common sense and planning, a little adjustment in thinking and food preparation, not major changes in the human race.  You can eat many of the foods you like and enjoy them if you learn to prepare them in a new way and eat them in the proper quantities. You can maintain a lower cholesterol and even stay at a comfortable weight, and look and feel good. To accomplish so much is worth the effort.

The secret is to count milligrams of cholesterol and grams of fat, along with calories, but not in the sense of a dieter desiring to lose pounds. Count to maintain a proper balance of fats and cholesterol ingested to your total daily caloric intake. The exact methods for doing this, in easy step-by-step instructions, are presented later, along with charts and forms to make it easy.

With advanced planning, you can determine what you eat, why you selected that item, and when you will eat it. Let's look at an example as a preview to what you'll learn in the next month. It is 3:00 PM and you crave something sweet. You've already had seven grams of fat for the day:

Item

Cholesterol

Fat

Calories

Bagel

0

2

200

Margarine

0

2

20

Ice Tea

0

0

60

Bread

5

2

70

Turkey

40

2

75

Apple Juice

0

0

100

Your only cholesterol --  just 45 milligrams -- was from the turkey and bread; and by your calculations you are well below 20% of your calories from fat. But what about dinner? If you were planning a low-fat dinner and dessert, you could splurge a little, even have a candy bar. But what if tonight were a special birthday dinner, complete with cake and ice cream? Then your mid-afternoon snack would be fruit or a piece of low-fat low cholesterol cake that you made yourself.

To be successful, you not only have to plan but you have to develop a new way of thinking about food -- to challenge the basic customs of eating. You see the way you eat -- the why, when, what, and how -- has been determined by society and the media, and is not always in your own best interests.

Let's first start with that term "normal cholesterol." That's the lowest cholesterol you and your physician feel you can attain, the cholesterol you know your body can metabolically achieve through eating modification and willpower.

Then, think very carefully about it by answering one simple question:

    Do you want to lose cholesterol for yourself or some-one else?

If you honestly want to lower your cholesterol for yourself then start immediately. Start by discussing your eating habits, and the methods explained in this book, with a competent physician. Ignore the plans and advice being offered by almost every thin starlet in Hollywood, or those promoted by the Oat, Grapefruit, or Prune Councils of the world.

But if you want to lower your cholesterol just because someone else wants you to, then you might not have the willpower to be really successful without taking prescription drugs. You have to want to do it, you can't be forced into it by anyone else.

Images are strange things. We all have images of the "perfect" man and woman. We look at ourselves in the mirror and often compare ourselves with this storybook figure. We see mass marketed effigies on television and in print. But these are merely facsimiles of some-one else's vision. Their goal is to sell a product, not an ideal, by illusion:  the product will make you emulate the model...on the outside.  But imagine if the models in those ads really ate the same volume of the products they advertise. Watching the commercials on television makes it seem as if the entire country eats breakfast at a fast food restaurant every day. And what a meal -- eggs, bacon or ham, butter, and greasy potatoes -- when one egg alone contains the maximum amount of cholesterol you should eat in a entire day.

Healthy eating doesn't have to involve any medicines or drugs, just common sense and careful attention. It doesn't require one special food or food group. And it definitely doesn't deprive you of the good things in life. Simply, our plan concentrates on giving food and eating a new perspective in your life. It is absolutely healthy because it is based on your patterns of thinking and eating. It helps you think about the amount of fat and cholesterol in an item before digging into it wantonly, letting you substitute a healthier item.

Let's start by putting things in perspective. Eating: The act of digesting food in sufficiently minimum quantities to satisfy your hunger and tastes.

The first task toward healthy eating is to honestly face the question of eating itself. Many people eat out of habit or boredom, not basic sustenance. They eat mindlessly, in amounts greater than needed, like some great dog in front of a never-empty bowl.

A little story.

Many years ago, in the blissful state of youth, we had a beagle, Lucky. About 7 every night -- out of habit -- the family would dip globs of ice cream before gathering around the television for a evening's entertainment. Now on most nights Lucky would see us go to the freezer and take out the ice cream, and because we loved ice cream so much we shared a little with him. However, on the few occasions that we would skip our little snack, Lucky, quite Pavlovian, would run to the freezer and bark for his dessert.

The dog's internal clock was simply trained for feeding. If we gave it too him, Lucky would polish off a half gallon in a few minutes. That's the same reason many humans eat. Maybe a little neater but by habit just the same.

Eating has become as much as a social habit as a need for self-preservation. It has become a reaction to boredom in which hunger is often mistaken for ennui. The physical activity of eating consumes our energy and occupies our minds when nothing else is available, or when other alternatives are either unpleasant, undesirable, or non-existent.

Social activities, holidays, and family gatherings have become excuses for over-indulgence. They center around the food, not the camaraderie between friends and relatives. But worse, we accept the food, the excesses, as a permissible and often whimsical component of life.

Nowhere can an American be made more aware of this sociology of eating than in a visit to Europe.  Many Europeans eat on a different schedule. Lunch is at 2 p.m. and dinner at 7. There is nothing worse than being a hungry American looking for an open restaurant at 4:30 in the afternoon.

But to the point, not everyone on this planet eats at the same time. So what does this prove? It shows that the creator of the universe had no definitive eating schedule in mind when man and woman were placed on earth. There was no commandment like "Thou shall eat at 6." And it means that we, as creatures of habit, are basing our lives around some artificial timetable that contributes not only to our current universal high cholesterol problems but to ill health that accompanies it as well.

Changing these patterns is not easy. So let's start with some simple rules and work from there.

Rule #1:  Eat only when you are hungry.

Rule #2:  Eat only until you are not hungry.

Rule #3:  Choose foods that at are low in cholesterol and low in fat.

Rule #4:  Monitor your intake of cholesterol and fat, and stop eating any more when you've reached your limit.

Eat Only When You Are Hungry

That's it. Don't eat anything unless you feel some hunger in your stomach. Don't eat because you are bored and have nothing else to do (a condition often confused with hunger). Don't eat because someone else is hungry. And don't eat simply because the hands of the clock are pointing in some special direction. Eat when you have to eat.

"That isn't easy to do" you might be saying.

It just takes some planning, thinking, and imagination. Practically, you can't have every member of the family eating at all different times. So some artificial time period must be established for purely tactical reasons.

Hunger indicates the need to sustain life, it is the only purpose of eating. Feeling a little hungry is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it promotes discipline and control. Eating when you need to lets you rule your body, gives you control over habits fostered by society and promoted by business and industry.

Eat Until You Are No Longer Hungry

Not until you are sick and full, or until every speck of food is off the table. Not until your mother is happy.

Of course, there is the critical question of what to eat.  But first consider the habits regarding when and how long.

Eating fills the time allotted to eating.

Normally, if some people have an hour for lunch then they take an hour for lunch. Even if it means eating more than they need so they don't have to get back to work. Given the time allowed, is eating all you have to do with your time? Aren't there things that you don't get done by the end of the day? Since eating is often the result of boredom and habit, then you have to learn to change your behavior. Don't get bored and your habits might change. The act of digesting food in sufficient quantities to satisfy your hunger and tastes can be accomplished in an amazingly short amount of time.

A meal is made up of a mandatory number of courses.

For some reason most people believe that every meal must be divided into parts: appetizer, entree, desert, and bread. (For some its even soup, salad, appetizer, meat, fish, dessert and coffee.) They're not happy if not served the traditional full-course lunch or dinner. We often eat because we think it's what we are supposed to do, or because the menu tells us to, or because we are too continental to skip a course. Like the people in a restaurant who will force down dessert just because it comes with the dinner. Gag.

Actually, restaurants and mothers are to blame here. "Clean your plate or no dessert, Billy." There are actually some people that eat an entire meal just so they can eat dessert. Shame shame.

You can eat anything you like and in any order that you like. It is neither less manly, womanly, American, or civilized to eat just a salad and bread, just a desert, or just an entree.

In fact, while we're at it, let's erase the word "meal" from the language. The word should mean any amount of food that we eat at one particular time. But what does it bring to mind in most individuals? A table spread before them of appetizer, entree, and desert. A meal can be a pita pocket sandwich, a piece of fruit, a cupcake and ice milk. But out of habit most Americans, especially males, consider a true meal only when it is divided into parts. That's why healthy eating is as much a matter of mind as of mouth.

Eating is a social activity.

False. Talking, dancing, playing games are social activities because they all require the interaction of individuals. Eating is not social -- unless you feed each other. If you want to sit and talk with someone, eat first. Get it over with then get up from the table, away from the food, and talk with an empty mouth.  Is the conversation of so little importance that it can be conducted in a busy restaurant, while cutting, chewing, and drinking?

Why can't you talk in the park, or during a walk, or just face to face?

Some foods are meant for certain times and in certain combinations.

There are some foods that are breakfast foods, some lunch, and some dinner. Other foods are just desserts. This one should have you rolling in the aisles. Orange juice and pancakes are not only for breakfast, sandwiches not just for lunch, and shishkabob not only for dinner.

Neither are food combinations set in concrete, such as steak and potatoes, eggs and bacon. Are you eating because of need, taste, or grammar? Why not have a pita sandwich filled with a white omelet for breakfast, soup and bread, or waffles for dinner?

Now even though our eating habits are just that -- habits -- that doesn't mean it will be easy changing them. Our entire society is based on our feeding patterns. But the individual who really wants to feel good can personally forge new behavior. And the first step is to understand that the reasons why and what you eat are often quite different than the need to eat. If you are already at this point, making the final adjustments will be easier. You just have to make the step to monitoring and regulating the amount of fat and cholesterol in your food.

Understanding this, and making changes in your thinking and eating, will accomplish a great deal. It will give you more time to achieve the things you really want. It will maintain a more normal cholesterol and even weight profile. It will make you feel and look better.

Select Foods That Are Low In Cholesterol and Fat

The majority of the time, choose low-fat and low-cholesterol foods. Try to plan ahead, several days at a time if possible, and set aside time each day to plan the next day's food intake.  Shop very carefully, reading the labels and comparing products, as you'll learn how to do next month.

In the future months, we'll present the fundamentals of food planning, and present recipes and preparation tips. We'll discuss how to fit eating patterns into your life, not the other way around. Planning is critical, especially if you are married or have a family since you'll have to balance your needs with those of others. And in this case, lowering your cholesterol is important if you want to be around long enough to share a long life with those you love.

Monitor your intake of cholesterol and fat, and stop eating any more when you've reached your limit.

Next month, you'll learn how to figure the maximum amount of fat and cholesterol that should be in your diet. When you reach these levels it's time to turn in your fork.  If you are still hungry, select a food that has no cholesterol and no fat. You don't have to be in the mood for unadulterated fruits or vegetables, either.  For example, there is a brand of sourdough "beer-type" pretzel (Snyder's) that has no fat or cholesterol.  One ounce is 110 calories.  Many stores now carry a frozen dessert that has no fat or cholesterol and an eight ounce cup has 130 calories (B-Thin).  It looks like ice cream, the texture is like ice cream, and it tastes similar to ice cream.  One of our local stores carries similar items in flavors such as Brandy Alexander, Peanut Butter Cup, and Chocolate Amaretto. Another sells a soft-serve no- fat, no-cholesterol frozen yogurt with a taste reminiscent of those ice cream cones we enjoyed on hot summer days.

For now, remember these simple rules:

1. Don't set aside a specific amount of time for any meal. While your lunch break might be one hour, your lunch does not have to be.

2. Think of a "meal" as the  minimum amount of food that will satisfy your hunger and tastes. Forget about the word course.

3. Do not eat to socialize and do not socialize when you eat.

4. Never eat while you are cooking or preparing food.

5. In the beginning, always measure or weigh your food to obtain the correct portions. An inaccurate guess can double the amount of fat and cholesterol consumed.

6. Exercise. You don't have to join a spa or run marathons. But some sort of exercise is mandatory.

7. Free yourself from the concepts of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Foods can be eaten at any time and in any combination.

8. Stop eating when you are no longer hungry. Not always when you think you've had enough but when your body tells you.

9. Serve or order just one "course" at a time. Don't commit yourself to the whole thing until you see how much it takes to satisfy your hunger.

10. Plan to eat enough food, of proper fat, cholesterol, and nutritional content, during the course of the entire day, not at one sitting.

This last concept forms the heart of healthy eating. Old habits are hard to break and some discipline and planning is required. No matter how, when, and what you eat, you must always consider the nutritional value. Changing your attitudes and behaviors about food must never effect the ultimate health value of the foods you eat.

The difference is the way and the timing of how this nutrition is taken in. Food planning, covered in the next month, is our technique.

Exercise

Contrary to some popular belief, you don't need a designer jogging suit or a life membership in some health club to exercise. Exercise is about the only thing in life that you can still get free. You can do it socially or by yourself, at any time of day or night, and in any weather.

While it sounds easy, proper exercise can be a very complicated thing. Like dieting, serious exercise should always follow a serious talk with your physician, not the neighborhood runner or weight-lifter.

Exercise should be considered an integral part of your life, not a side issue or temporary measure. Unlike food, which should be carefully considered and planned, exercise can  fit in almost all of the time. The technique is to take advantage of every opportunity to move some part of your anatomy. Let's see how.

First, walk as much as possible.  Walk to the corner store rather than drive. Walk up and down a few flights of stairs. Leave the phone on the hook and personally deliver a short message to a colleague in the office. Walk to get your own coffee or newspaper. Walk the kids to school. Save money -- stack your own wood pile, mow your own lawn, clean your own house.

Come on, be imaginative!  Have a bathroom on every floor of the house? Walk (or run if you have to) to one on another floor. Answer the phone in another room.  Walk the long way around the living room. Make three trips carrying the groceries from the car, one bag at a time.

Walking is a great exercise, recommended for almost everyone. But there's a lot more you can do -- "Routinercise"

Add exercise to the routine, usually stationary, things in life. Don't let an activity go by without moving. Do deep knee bends while talking on the phone or brushing your teeth, pace back and forth, or do leg lifts. Rotate your ankles while sitting in a lecture or movie. Move your arms and shoulders while riding (not driving) in the car. Do some situps on the floor while watching television. In fact, watching TV can be great exercise. Jog in place, stretch and bend. If you are too busy to set aside a certain portion of the day as an exercise period, use this otherwise stationary time in its place.