A Scientific Approach to Eating for Life
By Charlotte N. Markey, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology, Rutgers University
You Can Eat in Front of Me
This past weekend I found myself at a summer BBQ complaining to a friend about the number of times my family has eaten out recently. Work has been crazy, the kids’ end-of-the year schedule has included parties and picnics, and planning and making “real meals” has happened less than I’d like. Without missing a beat, she asked, “so how’s your book about healthy eating coming along?”
Then, we both laughed. We’ve had this conversation before. I’m a health psychologist; she’s a pediatrician who counsels parents and children about the importance of eating well (in fact, she let me interview her for chapter 2 of my book). We know what we should eat and what our kids should eat. However, we also are reasonable, down-to-earth people and we know that we can’t always do what we know we should when it comes to eating ourselves or feeding our kids.
A number of years ago (probably, when I became a parent), I realized that I was on the verge of becoming a hypocrite. How could I advise others about what they should eat while not always eating “perfectly” myself? Then it occurred to me that eating should never be about perfection or too many rules. Years of studying eating behaviors has left me convinced that healthy eating must include moderation, enjoyment of food, being smart about food choices, and often, not overthinking things.
In spite of what I believe to be my sensible approach to eating, discussing my work often feels like a bad idea at dinner parties. I don’t want people to be self-conscious about what they eat in front of me. (This reminds me of a comment a friend of mine, a pastor, once made, “as soon as I tell people that I’m a pastor, they start to tell me when the last time was that they went to church.”) I hate it when I’m scheduled to give a presentation of my research during the lunch hour. People inevitably start to eat a bit more stealthily. Unfortunately, some stop eating before the message in my research becomes clear: what we eat matters; who we eat with matters; establishing generally good habits is important; stressing about all of this is counterproductive.
Smart People Don’t Diet is about abandoning diet fads, plans, and prescriptions that are likely to result in frustration, weight gain, and negative health consequences. It is about eating for life. It isn’t about eating “perfectly.” Food – and life – is too complicated for that.
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