Just so you know, as I write this post I'm unashamedly drinking a cup of coffee with (gasp!) real half-n-half in it, along with a totally not low-fat or low-calorie homemade almond biscotti. It's not a guilty pleasure. I'm not ashamed of it, or promising myself I'll do 10 extra minutes on the treadmill to atone for this "sin." I'm not trying to hide this from my co-workers. I know this seems like some kind of proud villainy, given our cultural approach to food. But really, this is just me, eating the food I like. The food that makes me feel good.
But ... as I was meandering through the New York Times this morning, I stumbled upon this: Government’s Dietary Advice: Eat Less.
Now, you may not have the same reaction to it as I do, but when I hear someone exhorting us/you/them/anyone to eat less, an image of my sweet, frail, tiny little great aunt comes to mind. And I'll explain why in a second. But first I want to say this about the actual article.
It is indeed an eency weency baby step of progress when government regulatory agents of any type make even the most toothless statement in opposition to the agendas of the powerful lobby groups that control them. So, ya know, yay for that.
I even agree that the recommendation to fill at least half of your plate with fruits and veggies can be a good one. Even a great one. Avoid the dirty dozen if you can help it, but do what you can. Score 1 for whole foods, -1 for processed foods. So far so good.
But, this "eat less" thing....
Let me tell you about my Auntie E. Auntie E is my grandma's younger sister. My grandma, the one who flew her father's plane between Iowa farm fields and had gorgeous skin and hair and ankles (apparently that was a big deal once upon a time), and sang beautifully and danced gracefully and argued forcefully, and baked and sewed relentlessly, and knocked all the men dead. That one. She has a younger sister, E. And E was petite while her sister was tall; she had thin straight dark hair while her sister had thick wavy blond hair, etc. etc. It's not that E wasn't pretty and talented and intelligent enough. Taken by herself, she was all these things. But her older sister was the stuff of legends, especially in a small Iowa town. So E grew up with a major inferiority complex that even escaping that small town and that big shadow couldn't reverse. She went off to college and made her own friends and got her own boyfriend and was respected and valued for her own accomplishments, but it was never enough.
Somewhere along the way E decided that the one thing that made her special was her knack for self-denial. Her own grandmother, who was also thought to be a great beauty, once remarked that the secret to maintaining your youthful beauty was to push back from the table while you were still a little bit hungry. And E could do that. Oh boy could she do that.
I remember visiting E's family as a child, and E would cook a big fancy dinner for her family and guests, and then sit down with just an apple while everyone else ate the dinner she had prepared. I remember family reunions where good food was everywhere, and E didn't take one bite all afternoon. People often complimented E on how thin she was, and she would wave it off with some self-deprecating comment. In recent years E has had terrible health problems because her bones are razor-thin and break with alarming ease. As she ages she seems even tinier, with rounded shoulders and apologetic eyes. And looking at E makes me feel indescribably sad, because I suspect she has spent her entire adult life hungry. It just seem like an incredible tragedy, to spend your whole life hungry in the middle of such abundance.
So here's what I say. Eat more. Eat more whole foods. Eat more local foods. Eat more homemade meals with real ingredients. Eat until you're satisfied. Eat healthy whole-fat dairy products that actually give a feeling of satiety. Snack on nuts and homemade cookies. Eat eggs from happy cage-free chickens. Eat avocados and olives and other "high-fat" foods that are nevertheless really good for you. As much as you can, avoid foods that are packaged in plastic (plastic is a terrible environmental scourge, and it transfers some of its toxins to the food packaged in it, y'all!). Bake, if you enjoy baking. Surround yourself with good healthy foods that make you feel nourished and satisfied. But don't deprive yourself. Don't go hungry. It is neither healthy nor virtuous to deprive yourself of the nourishment you need. And good food provides both physical and psychological nourishment. So eat up. Eat until you're satisfied. Ignore the government "experts" who always and everywhere turn out to be the pawns of some industry, whether it's the diet industry or the food lobby. Learn how to listen to your body, and give it what it needs. Eat until you're satisfied.