It is almost the New Year, so it is time to discuss resolutions for being happier and healthier in 2012. Since two out of three American adults are now considered to be overweight with a body mass index (BMI) over 25, losing weight and / or getting healthy is generally high on just about everybody’s list of resolutions. To find you own BMI, the National Institutes of Health have an online BMI calculator.
If you are like most Americans, resolving to lose weight is an annual rite every New Year’s Eve. And, if you are like most Americans, you will end each year a couple of pounds heavier than the year before.
As Americans, we find ourselves leading the world in obesity rate, with more than a third of us having a BMI greater than 30. What makes this even more shocking, however, is that Americans also spend more time, money, and energy on dieting than any other country. We call this watching what we eat… and yet we still have not managed to reverse the trend that has made us the heaviest modern country on the planet.
No matter how many books and how many diets and “programs” that pass through America, the result is that we as a country are continuing to gain weight. Maybe it is because we have been taking the wrong road to reach our desired destination of optimal health and weight.
Maybe the key is not counting calories or carbs or energy burned, because study after study is now showing how little those in the “science of weight loss” really know about the entire subject. In fact, if one looks at the long history of mankind, the incidence of widespread overweight and obesity in the general population did not really become a problem until the so-called experts started telling everyone what they should and should not eat in order to be thin and healthy and happy. Overall, quite the perplexing quandary.
Maybe the problem we have here in America is HOW we eat, as opposed to what we eat. When we talk about HOW Americans eat, the gist is to find how most of our calories find their way into our bodies.
Before a massive change in the last 50 years or so, most calories consumed by Americans were consumed during long cherished dining rituals. The names of these rituals is immaterial, whether it be breakfast, lunch, supper, dinner, brunch, etc.
What made the rituals important is that it was a time to spend around the table with family or friends. The food and drink consumed was only a small part of the ritual. The preparing of food and the table setting played a part. The giving of thanks for family and friends played a part. The company of loved ones, and conversations across the realm of imagination with those loved ones also played a part. Even the clean-up after the meal played a part.
Some aspects of those rituals made dining a more formal affair. You washed up before eating. You ate your food with eating utensils instead of your hands. You ate your vegetables. You passed the food when asked. And you asked for seconds before eating more of the thing you really liked. All in all, you presented yourself in a favorable light, or you heard about it from the powers that be. These were important things, because it really minimized the amount of food that was consumed in “dark territory.”
The term “dark territory” – when it comes to calories consumed, means calories that we ingest that do not stick with us psychologically. And there are a wide variety of these dark territories. Eating while watching television is a dark territory. So is eating in the car. Or your bed. So is eating while standing up (picking up a few goodies on a pass through the kitchen).
Another form of dark territory is eating with your hands as opposed to utensils. This is because one tends to cut up things we are eating with a utensil to a smaller size than the bites we take from the things we hold in our hands, like pizza, or any kind of sandwich. Taking large bites means that food is introduced much more quickly, thereby ingesting an excess amount of food before your body even has a chance to tell you that you are full.
Overstuffing your body has some major downfalls. First, it makes it uncomfortable to do anything physical, so people find themselves collapsed in chairs or sofas surrounding the television instead of moving about. Second, it exposes people to repeated advertisements for less than healthy food. And thirdly, it serves to stretch out the stomach so that it takes more food to make us feel full in the future.
For a change of pace this year, resolve to bring back the joy of dining rituals. Enjoy spending time with your family and friends and talk to one another with some music in the background. Make each other your focus and enjoy the food and drink that you share together. Give thanks for those who bring meaning to your lives. And be civilized, eating with forks and knives (or spoons or chopsticks) instead of using your hands. Heck, do it like the old days and get dressed up for dinner and make it a truly formal affair.
Learn to cherish the quality of your food instead of reveling in the quantity. Rediscover the flavors of a good home cooked meal. Give your microwave a vacation and make preparing your food a pleasure and not a chore. Make a well-rounded meal and enjoy your food more slowly and revel in the ritual itself. And add a little physical activity following the meal. Even a short walk will do.
Most Americans love to eat. So take the time to put some love into the things you feed to yourself and your loved ones. Your waistline and your relationships will thank you for it. Happy New Year!