How To Build An Awareness Of Eating Habits

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Stephreyn85 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t watch TV. Well, I don’t watch commercial TV unless I need to check the local weather for the news. I avoid commercial TV because I see food commercials. Pizza. Crackers. Chips. Restaurants with appealing meals with giant portions. Oh, and the soda pop. I have kids and I don’t want them to see how the commercials glorify eating, as if without consequence.

Everything we do has consequences, and what we eat and when is the big one. Eating is about self-preservation to be sure, but in this country at least, it’s far more. Eating is recreation in pie eating contests. Where we eat is about status in the fancy restaurants. Eating is about satisfaction. We even give human attributes to hot dogs, fruit, candy, and cereal. Isn’t that a sign of mental illness? You know, to convince people to eat food that is advertised with human attributes?

Who knew anyone could be so happy eating a Twinkie, Froot Loops, french fries or a massive meal at the Olive Garden? Who knew that a giant Slurpee could bring so much joy in life? Who knew that all of this could come back to haunt us?

According to the CDC:

  • The prevalence of obesity was 39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015~2016. [Read CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data briefCdc-pdf PDF-603KB]
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. [Read guidelinesExternal]
  • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. [Read paperExternal]

Obesity is so prevalent in the United States, that it’s almost the new normal. I can recall watching the extras DVD of the movie, Herbie The Love Bug. The movie was released in 1968, and the extras DVD had a segment that featured a contest where a prize was awarded to the best dressed VW Bug. The winner would receive a new VW Bug made to look exactly like Herbie.

As I looked at the crowds in the contest video, I slowly noticed that most of the people there were skinny. And I mean skinny like I was when I was a kid. They didn’t have screens everywhere. They didn’t have as much processed food as we do now. They spent a lot more time outside in the sun. But they probably didn’t have as much awareness about the consequences of food as we do now. They just had greater access to whole food.

The Kinesthetic Food Spectrum

On the other end of the spectrum was chocolate. My dad had a soft spot for chocolate. I think I noticed one day that he’d order his liquor and chocolate from the local liquor store, and a box of that stuff would be delivered to our house. I saw the chocolate in the box but didn’t know where it went. So I did some poking around and found it buried behind all the chicken pot pies and Swanson Hungry Man meals in the freezer. From there I developed a taste for frozen chocolate, and as a middle-aged man, I can tell you that I still like frozen chocolate. Only now, I like it dark and slightly bitter.

Still on that other end of the spectrum was candy. As a kid, I’d gather up the deposit bottles and go to the local liquor store myself and exchange them for money and then buy the candy I wanted. Mentos, Raisnets, Sugar Babies, Bit-O-Honey, Milk Duds, and Bubble Yum. I’d take it home, sit in front of the TV, eat candy and watch old Popeye cartoons. Or I’d read a book.

But those experiences gave me a chance to compare how I felt after eating fruit and candy. I began to take note that I felt a lot better after eating apples, bananas, watermelon, grapes, cantaloupe, and oranges. They were sweet, too. With fruit, I didn’t have that malaise I had with the candy. And then I forgot that experience for a while, during a lost weekend of six years of smoking pot.

Pot made me feel really isolated, paranoid to the point that I thought babies could tell that I was stoned, and pot made me read tons of books. There was something about pot and books that just went well together. Pot also changed my eating habits. I tended towards the sweets. I tended to disregard how I felt after I ate something.

Then I met a woman who made me want to get sober. I thought she would like me better sober. She wasn’t a very reliable date and stood me up frequently, and when she did, I’d have a bong hit and forget about it. Then one day, two weeks after quitting pot, I had a conversation with her on the phone when she said, “Scott, you’ve changed. I don’t know. I guess you’re not funny anymore.” I was noticing how I was feeling and I wasn’t hiding it.

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

It was cheap, too. I didn’t like spending money eating out. So maybe once a week, I’d have dinner by myself at Coco's with something to read, like Scientific American or Car and Driver. Sometimes the newspaper fit. Later on, I evolved from Cocos to Mother’s Market and Kitchen with natural and organic food.

Reading and eating to me meant, long, slow meals. I’d eat with small bites and chew them slowly and thoroughly, savoring every chew. To me, the joy of eating is all about surface area. Mastication is king.

Between young adulthood and middle age, I went to meetings, made new friends, and my eating habits continued to evolve over time. A few books changed my way of thinking about food, too. The first book, Proper Food Combining Works: Living Testimony, by Lee DuBelle, confirmed something that I had known all along, that I should pay attention to how I feel after I eat something.

So I made an effort to become more aware of how I felt after I ate something. I noticed which combinations of food worked for me and which did not. I also read an article about how autopsies of soldiers from Vietnam showed that the stomach sorts food for better digestion. So I took notice of how I ordered the sequence of my food. I took liquid before solid food if there were conflicts between them. I made time for intervals between snacks if there was a conflict.

I also drank less juice and ate more whole fruit and veggies. I didn’t touch alcohol, and I avoided pop and sports drinks. I drank water almost exclusively. I’m one of those guys who can have a beer, walk away for a year, maybe two, and have another one if I want. And then one day, in 2002, I just decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to drink beer anymore, so I stopped.

Water is the first beverage for me and it will be the last. From time to time, I might have tea, hot chocolate or occasional ginger or root beer. But 95% of my liquid intake is water, or I get my water from fruit like apples, grapes, bananas, and oranges.

Another book that changed my views on food is Enzyme Nutrition, by Dr. Edward Howell. In it, I learned about the enzymes in food and how they work to prepare the food for our stomach. Raw food in its natural state has enzymes that break it down. Scientists have even found that some animals, like birds, will hold seeds in their stomach to the point of sprouting.

Then I read The Sprouting Book by Anne Wigmore and learned how to sprout seeds for food. I even went to the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego and did a juice fast for 3 days. By the 3rd day, I was on fire and I couldn’t get my brain to slow down (maybe that was normal). That was my ultimate “I know how I feel after I eat” moment.

I also went vegetarian for 10 years before I got married. I started that idea after a few of my friends encouraged me to do so. I was just going to stop eating meat until someone told me that I was crazy, or at least, mentally deficient. But that never happened until I got married.

I didn’t tell my new wife what to eat as our marriage wasn’t contingent on food choices, but I wanted to remain vegetarian. Eventually, I relented. And after reading The China Study, the longest and largest longitudinal study of food and correlation to disease, I found that I could compromise. Therein, I learned of a very clear boundary for animal product consumption. If your diet consists of 20% or greater in animal content (meat, dairy products), your chances of cancer rise substantially. They also said that if you keep animal content in food below 5% then your risk of cancer and heart disease remains low.

Food Metrics

There are some foods that I really love, like Indian food, but I don’t like the way that I feel after eating it. So I decided not to eat more than one Indian meal at my favorite Indian restaurant in a month. Sometimes I go two months between Indian meals. There’s a great Mexican restaurant in Manhattan Beach called El Tarasco’s. I love their taco combination plate, but I can only eat there once a year. Pizza? I can get Papa Murphy’s maybe once a month, but usually, I go with 2 or 3-month intervals.

On the other hand, I can eat brown rice every day, for nearly every meal. I can make a salad at most, every other day or irritable bowel syndrome pays me a visit. And anything with gluten kicks my ass, so I’m really trying to cut down on wheat flour-based foods. I’m building a modified keto food habit, but without so much meat and animal fat. I can get some of the fat I need from avocados. I know that I need carbs and that carrots, apples, and potatoes have that in spades, and I can eat them because I know that I feel alright after I eat them.

I built my awareness of eating by taking note of how I feel after I eat something. I don’t count calories. Instead, I note if I cough, if I feel sleepy, if I burp a lot, if I feel too full, if my gums bleed, and so on. I check in often to see what my body is doing in response to the food I eat and let that be my guide.

This is what works for me. It might work for you, too. The only way to find out what works for you is to try it, experiment, talk with your doctor or a good nutritionist, and take notes. Building awareness of eating habits requires time, effort and introspection. Introspection will lead to an analysis of how and why we make our food choices. But there is no other way to know how we feel after we eat unless we look inside to find out.

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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