There were parties that I missed when I chose to spend late nights at the McGill University library struggling to grasp the complexities of physics and organic chemistry.
There was sleep lost with that all-nighter I pulled preparing for my gross anatomy final exam.
I’ve opted to spend the day cleaning and doing laundry not because it gave me pleasure, but so I could be proud of my home when the guests arrived.
We all make choices in our life where we sacrifice transient comfort for a greater goal. Somehow this seems acceptable in most aspects of our life, except when it comes to what we eat.
- Why do we prioritize flavor over health promoting nourishment at nearly every meal?
- Why do we judge a meal’s value by the portion size and not by it’s nutritional quality?
- Why does a transient taste sensation override the desire to support our health with what we eat?
You do not need to derive pleasure from every meal you eat. Sometimes, it is OK to eat something just because it is good for you.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think that the joy of eating should be sacrificed in the name of good health. Food is one of life’s great pleasures! I have always told my Clinical Nutrition students that when working to improve a patient’s dietary intake, never make healthy eating synonymous with deprivation. Instead, demonstrate how eating health-promoting, real food can taste great! But, as we all know, when we are transitioning away from artificial food products towards whole real foods, at first the flavors may in comparison, seem a little muted; not as salty, rich, or sweet.
Artificial, processed foods are often and notoriously bolder in the flavors of sweetness, saltiness, and richness. Food manufacturers enhance flavors to make their products seem more satisfying but as we know, this satisfaction comes at a cost.
Evidence is emerging to suggest that these artificially enhanced food products are not only nutritionally void and damaging to our heath, but they also appear to be addictive.
In a recent 2013 study, researchers at Harvard set out to demonstrate that not all calories are created equal. They found that compared to consuming the same number of calories from complex whole food, consumption of lower quality high sugar, processed foods leads to:
- Greater increases in blood sugar
- Increased hunger
- Activation of the same regions of the brain associated with reward and craving that are activated in response to addictive substances like alcohol and drugs
Exposure to these poor quality foods therefore makes us crave them even more. This can make passing on the packaged cookies and choosing the apple feel uncomfortable and less satisfying… in the moment.
Nobody likes putting time towards studying. Yet, it is an important means to an end. Regular studying enhances knowledge and may also lead to a degree, a satisfying job, and a stable income.
Choosing daily to have water or unsweetened ice tea instead of cola (diet or regular) may not be most satisfying to your palate, but it too is a means to an end; helping to prevent of type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
Choosing to eat less of the food on your plate may lead to a little less satisfaction in the moment, but when you look in the mirror and feel great you don’t think about those extra bites that were left behind.
Choosing not to give in to that late night snack craving and instead going to bed a little unsatisfied will be an non-issue when you have enough energy to play with your children.
You don’t lament passing on the fries and choosing the roasted vegetables when you are dancing at your grandchild’s wedding.
Choosing to eat well during most meals: whole, real food and not too much – will help you achieve far greater and more meaningful goals than a transient pleasure sensation in your mouth. It also makes the occasional special indulgence in fresh ice cream sprinkled with almonds all the more sweeter, and the occasional savoring of a Kobe beef burger all the more delightful.
Life is all about choices, but we need to pause, and be mindful when it comes to deciding what and how much we eat. By defining a bigger goal – a healthy body composition, less pain, more energy, enhanced vitality and longevity – choosing the wild salmon filet and roasted vegetables instead of the double cheese burger and fries becomes no different than studying for the high school history exam.