Since I was a baby, I’ve always been picky about my food. My mom had a hard time getting me to eat, so she just waited until I was hungry and then she’d feed me well. I suppose it didn’t help that Mom and Dad looked on as I found a bar of soap one day and took a bite. I don’t remember that event, but I think I am still guided by it. I simply exhibit some caution when I eat.
As a kid growing up, Mom always kept a bowl of fruit on the kitchen table. I could always choose from bananas, apples, oranges and grapes. My dad had a sweet tooth and kept chocolate in the freezer. (To this day, I still keep my own chocolate in the freezer.) And then from time to time, I’d take the “deposit bottles” for recycling and got a few bucks from them. I’d buy candy with that money and go home and watch TV while eating some of the haul.
That experience of eating candy or fruit, was a study in contrasts. I could easily tell the difference in how I felt after eating candy or fruit. From that point on, unconsciously at first, I began to moderate my eating habits based on how I felt after I eat. As I grew older, into my 30s and 40s, I developed a very conscious habit of noticing how I feel after I eat something. If I don’t like the way I feel after I eat something, I either cut back or cut it out, completely. And that is my philosophy on food, in a nutshell.
I extended my philosophy to more than just food, too. I also applied that to cigarettes, and with just one try, I knew that I never wanted to smoke cigarettes again. I’ve applied that to alcohol, I mean, who wants to get drunk and have a hangover the next day? I don’t. Even light drinking doesn’t work for me, and that became especially true when I was strength training. I could see that I was working against myself by drinking and exercising.
I could “think through the drink” so to speak, mainly because alcohol wasn’t really my drug of choice. For a few years of my life, that was cannabis. I did enjoy it at first, but at some point, I considered the possibility that people might like to know me when I’m sober. I also figured out that I didn’t want to be high for the rest of my life. I even learned much later, that my brain is a 2.5 million year old pharmacy when I learned about endorphins and how they work. I learned that I could change the way I feel my making choices about the words I use when I think.
For a long time, I was a sort of health nut. I really did try to eat healthy foods all of the time. I monitored and evaluated the words I used to think about food and even talked with my friends about it. For a short time, I lived near a convenience store and would indulge in a short stack of Pringles here and there. You know, just to see if that still worked for me. I can vividly recall talking to a friend on the phone about this:
“Yeah, I like to get a can of Pringles once in awhile just to see if that still works for me.”
My friend replied, “Why would want to do that? All you need to do is ask yourself what you want to be doing when you’re 70. Do you want to be outside playing tennis or sick in bed?”
There was also a time when I worked at a retirement home in Southern California. The average age of the residents there was about 82 at the time. They had 3 stages: normal apartments, assisted living (dementia), and the 24/7 care ward (the slippery slope). When I worked there, I was on the IT team and I had a little office with no windows except for my door. It was a relatively peaceful place to work and I really did enjoy working there.
Just outside of my office was a file cabinet, and often, there would be a box of chocolates. The residents living there had adult kids and grand kids, and the kids would bring boxes of chocolates for their parents and grandparents, and I mean 5 lb 10 lb and 15 lb boxes of chocolates. The parents would get far more than they could ever eat, so they would send it to the kitchen, and the kitchen would keep it in the freezer until they could unload it for some event. Or, a box would land just outside of my door. And I saw that box every time I went into my office to work.
I have a self image that requires me to be thin, and I knew that the temptation would be great, so I had to come up with a plan. I decided that I wouldn’t touch the box unless someone else was there. And when there was someone else there, I would open the box, waft the smells to my nose, take a deep sniff, close the box and say, “Ahhhhh. I’m done.” Then I’d duck into my office.
I am still presented with temptation from time to time, especially now that I’m a father. Birthday cakes, Halloween candy, Christmas candy, the occasional party thrown by wife (no alcohol served there since traditional Vietnamese women don’t drink — whew!) with traditional Vietnamese pastries galore. So I keep that temptation on a leash.
When I look at all that food, candy and stuff, I think about how I’m gonna feel if I eat it. I consider how often I could eat it by time periods, like days, weeks, months or even a year. Creme Brulee? Maybe once a year. A taco combination dish at my favorite Mexican restaurant of all time, El Tarasco in Manhattan Beach? Maybe twice a year. I’ll even drink that with a Coke, and I would only have a Coke once a year.
We get these tamales from Costco in a big bag. Maybe 2 or 3 times a year. A meal at The Cheesecake Factory? Once a year. The California Pizza Kitchen, still might be once a year. See where I’m going?
Rice? Every day. Apple? First thing in the morning, every single day. Water? 2–3 liters a day. Juice? Not very often, maybe a few times a month, but water is my thing. I try to eat 2–3 fruits a day. A salad every few days, too much can lead to IBS. And on and on, like that.
I start with how I feel about the food, I remember how I felt the last time I ate it, and decide how often I want to feel that way. Apples and rice are by far my favorite food. Water is my favorite drink, and that is 99% of my fluid intake. I just don’t like the way I feel with anything else as much as I like how I feel with water.
Monitoring how I feel after I eat something helps me develop eating habits that support my health. I have a natural and hard inhibition to eating stuff that makes me feel “poorly” after I eat something. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention meat above. Well, the tacos had chicken. After I read “The China Study”, I decided to eat meat very sparingly, and try to keep it down to about 5% of my diet.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. This is a subject that I am absolutely passionate about. We are what we eat.