The reason for the season is not food
If what we love becomes the act of eating in itself, we’re shortchanging ourselves on the rest of life.
By Mariann G. Wizard / The Rag Blog / December 8, 2010
You won’t want to read this story.
You won’t want to hear what I have to say.
Here it is anyway: YOU EAT TOO MUCH!!!
Not only you, of course, almost all adult Americans gain five pounds annually between Thanksgiving and New Year’s; five pounds that Never. Comes. Off.
The real problem, however, isn’t holiday over-indulgence; it’s the mindset that feasting and gorging is an integral, necessary part of any celebration, even the ones we have every day when we leave work.
Today the world is experiencing a burgeoning epidemic of adult onset diabetes, especially among children — soon the old name for diabetes type 2 may be wholly obsolete. It’s been predicted that by 2020 — in less than 10 years! — nearly one-half of American adults will have type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are the three most frequent causes of human death today. While each is multifactorial, rather than having a single cause, they share one underlying risk factor above all: obesity, overweight, plain old fat.
Diet-related illnesses have been linked epidemiologically to transitions away from traditional diets in many parts of the world to a so-called “Western diet”: one heavy on red meat, transfats, carbohydrates, white sugar, white flour, and lots of salt.
They’re on the rise as well in the American heartland, where this very diet is the traditional fare. However, most Americans no longer do the farm labor or other exacting physical work that their grandparents did, yet many still “eat like farmhands.”
The equation isn’t really complicated. Food intake produces energy. Energy that is not burned off by activity accumulates as mass. And mass that accumulates on your body is called what?
Our hearts are not built to carry and aerate the equivalent of two or more people’s mass. Our bodies do not produce sufficient insulin to digest heaping helpings of sugar. The stress of constantly dealing with too much food intake can contribute to chronic inflammation, communications malfunctions in cells, and eventually can lead to cancer.
While the concept of “super-sizing” junk foods, in particular, is a recipe for disaster, it’s important to understand that it’s just as possible to consume too many calories from healthy foods as from unhealthy ones. I can easily consume the same amount of calories from yogurt as from ice cream, if I just keep shoving it in the pie-hole!
Friend of The Rag Blog Frances Morey, in her book, The Skinny on Weight Loss (Xlibris, 2002), details her highly successful struggle to lose weight and keep it off for many years, in practical and hilarious form. What I use most from among her tips is the knowledge that, in its natural resting state, my stomach is about the size of my own clenched fist, and the idea that if the stomach is repeatedly stretched and distended beyond this size, several times a day, day after day for years, it loses its ability to bounce back to its natural size.
Recent evidence suggests that habitually engorged stomachs — quite logically — have more of the cells that signal hunger. The bigger the tummy, the more it demands.
But you don’t have to give in.
It’s important, if you want to avoid putting on that five pounds in December, or in January, to keep a few principles in mind:
Remember that food is not the reason for the season — any season. We eat for energy to do the things we must do, the things we want to do, hopefully, the things we love. If what we love becomes the act of eating in itself, we’re shortchanging ourselves on the rest of life.
This isn’t to say that meals shouldn’t be savored! And we sure don’t want to get into the mind-set of self-denial, a damnably unhealthy emotional state in which one is divided against him/herself. That’s when you start “rewarding” yourself with “forbidden” foods. NOTHING IS FORBIDDEN. You are the boss of yourself.
But this is where the old adage, “All things in moderation” really applies. A small piece of pie is as delicious as a giant piece.
Before you go out to a party or holiday dinner, take a few moments to think about the people who will be there, what you want to discuss and do with them, and what they mean in your life. Good dinner conversation can be an effective aid to moderate intake.
Then make a fist and take a good long look at it. How much are you willing to stretch your stomach tomorrow for one more tamale today?
Now, not to claim I’m not packing some extra baggage, because I for sure am, but I’m trying hard to hold the line where the scale needle hovers. I usually have a small, healthy, low-fat snack before going to an event where food will be present, so I’m less tempted to camp out next to the buffet table.
It’s also wise to remember that, whether it’s a holiday or not, foods eaten less than four hours before bedtime are much more likely to be stored as fat than expended in activity. This is true even for items made with white chocolate and macadamia nuts.
Again thanks to Morey’s book, I’m also more conscious now of portion size. At Thanksgiving, for example, I was able to put two bites of almost everything available on my plate, and really, that was plenty. Smaller servings, eaten without haste and with conscious appreciation, let your stomach tell you when it’s getting full, so you can stop before you have to pop the button on your trousers.
These days, if possible, I like to provide myself and other party-goers with diabetic-safe sweets that don’t give a harmful “rush” of sugar in the blood, but are still rich and satisfying. Recent Food and Drug Administration approval of the South American herb stevia for use as a sweetener rather than a “nutritional supplement” is making party foods possible that, whatever their other ingredients, will at least make the dessert table accessible, and guilt-free, to diabetics, pre-diabetics, or simply careful eaters.
Alcohol intake may also rise during the holidays, and beer and mixed drinks typically contain many calories. Their use should be subject to the same considerations as food: don’t go to the party primarily to get sloshed; don’t drink alcoholic beverages to quench thirst (that’s what water is for!); do drink slowly and in moderation.
One way to get something more out of a holiday cocktail is to ask for an after dinner digestive, such as anything made with angostura. So-called “bitter principles” stimulate bile production. Bile is essential in digesting fats. High fat consumption is an underlying cause of high cholesterol and related cardiovascular issues. The sooner it’s digested and excreted, the less chance it has of sticking to your honky-tonk bedonk!
Speaking of honky-tonks, if you know you have or are about to overindulge in caloric intake, you also need a conscious plan to burn off that extra energy. Yes, this can be especially difficult during the busy holidays, and no, battling the shopping mobs on Black Friday doesn’t count.
Often, cold weather and early nightfall restrict outdoor activities as well. But the simple fact is that you have to move it to lose it. Whatever physical activity you do get in, turn it up a notch for the duration: walk a little faster, dance a little harder, drive to the hoop instead of going for the outside jumper. Take the dog twice around the park instead of once; make love more passionately. Sweat, and get your heart pumping like you mean it, several times a week.
If you’re the one throwing the party, clear some floor space and put on some dance tunes, then get out on the floor yourself and cut a rug! Your guests will surely follow, and all will be the merrier for a great cardio workout.
Need a negative motivator for movement? Diabetic neuropathy is a frequent outcome necessitating removal of gangrenous tissue or, often, entire digits or limbs. As long as you have legs and feet to walk with, take the stairs.
I can already hear some of you pissing and moaning about how your heart won’t let you “indulge” in strenuous activity — like it’s something you’d otherwise want to do! And yes, you need to be healthy enough to exercise before you start getting carried away with activity! If you have any doubt about it, consult your health care provider.
But if you really aren’t healthy enough to exercise, then overeating is… there’s no nice way to say this… somewhat self-defeating. If your health is already impaired, what sugar-dipped or fried thing in the world is delicious enough to make you willing to hurt yourself more?
Well, maybe it’s the double-fudge brownie cheesecake with sour cream sauce. Maybe it’s the pork sandwich on fried bread. Maybe it’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted. Maybe it’s your last meal?
Go ahead, make yourself happy — but can you maybe try to be happy eating just one? Or do you like knowing that your Higher Power is a stuffed crust meat-lover’s pizza with extra cheese? Tonight I hear homemade chocolate rugela and coconut macaroons, Hanukkah treats baked by a friend, calling me from the kitchen. I will not heed their call. I will have one (OK, two, they’re small!) tomorrow after lunch, and I swear I will walk the condo community perimeter twice in the afternoon.
Millions of words have been written about weight control. Americans spend millions of dollars a year on outrageously absurd products in hopes of dropping a few pounds at least temporarily. Yet we block out the simple, self-evident words that might actually help us: STEP AWAY FROM THE TABLE.
[Mariann Wizard, a Sixties radical activist and contributor to The Rag, Austin’s underground newspaper from the 60s and 70s, is a poet, a professional science writer specializing in natural health therapies, and a regular contributor to The Rag Blog.]