Spinning Food Rules


I’ve been on a book-buying frenzy lately, picking up new and older books about healthy eating that I haven’t had a chance to review yet.  In coming weeks, I plan to present my non-diet two cents about what’s said in these books — particularly how they fit with the idea of intuitive eating and mindful eating and giving ourselves permission to eat.

It would be easy to read some of the books with a diet mentality outlook and misinterpret them as being more of the same — restrictive rules about what we can and can’t eat.  But if we view them with a different eye — one that’s looking closely at how foods make us feel — the real essence of intuitive eating — I think we can find some useful nuggets of information to help us choose and eat foods for life.

I’ll start with Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, not only because it’s a short book that can be read in a very short time, but because it almost epitomizes what I’m talking about.  It’s full of words like “avoid” and “don’t,” words that can be anathema to a recovering dieter.  Yet if we get below the surface, which isn’t hard because it’s so simple, we can see the truth in the rules and how valuable they can be to helping us live well.

Take rule #2: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Clearly, Pollan is getting at our over-industrialized food supply.  A take-away he doesn’t mention in his discussion of that rule, however, is how it can contribute so greatly to ensuring we eat food that truly tastes good.  And that’s something any recovering dieter can probably appreciate.

Then there’s rule #20:  It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car. Pollan doesn’t even discuss this one.  Does he need to?  I mean, do any of us truly feel well after eating fast food? If the thought of giving it up sends you into throes of worry, however, think about changing what you define as fast food.  Think nuts, fresh and dried fruits, hummus and fresh veggies, artisan cheese and crackers and more.  All things we can easily purchase, consume without a lot of prep time and which serve to get us through those hectic times when we don’t have much of it to devote to food prep.  Bonus:  This kind of eating often includes foods we’ve felt nervous about eating because of their calorie/fat content — think nuts again.  Plus, we feel great after eating!

As the coup de grace for today’s post, I offer rule #39:  Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. Pollan starts his discussion of this rule with “There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking a soda now and then….”  He goes on to point out the problem: food manufacturing has made these foods so cheap and easy to get, we’re overindulging in them.  If we make them ourselves — which requires more time and effort — we won’t be eating them so often.

For example, consider reserving your enjoyment of ice cream to only homemade versions.  That takes me back to my childhood where I lived on a farm.  We regularly made ice cream with our abundance of fresh milk.  But regular really was only on special occasions.  It just took too much time and work with hand crank churns.  Much easier to make our own ice cream today but still more time-consuming than buying it at the grocery store.  And oh, the taste!

One of the criticisms of — or fears about — following rules like Pollan’s is that they will add up to us spending much more money on food.  Lee Greene of The Scrumptious Pantry is taking on “the widespread prejudice that eating organic/sustainable/real food is too expensive.”  For 90 days, she’s tracking online how much her meals cost.  So far, it’s looking good!  And I mean good in more ways than one.

Do you have any food rules that serve you well? Instead of ones that have created problems for you?

6 responses to “Spinning Food Rules”

  1. You’ve reminded me to pick up the latest of MP’s examinations of all things comestible. I have a couple of food rules that have served me well, both as a recovering dieter and a chef,
    “Buy the best and use less.” This applies to artisinal cheeses and breads, olive oils, chocolate and more. I have learned to slow down and savor the richness of a premium quality product over eating more of the mass produced stuff.
    I also must include The Yumm Factor in my day to day. And while yumm certainly applies to food, it can be found anywhere. It refers to anything that makes life more delicious.
    Speaking of which it’s time for the last Honeybell orange in the box. A splurge I welcome every year at this time, juice running down the chin and all.

  2. This book is on my reading list too. My take on it so far is in alignment with yours Marsha–it’s not about being restrictive with foods it’s about making choices that really nourish us (body and spirit). The “rule” I’d contribute would be: don’t eat while you’re doing anything else. Honor the act of eating. Food–good food–is meant to be savored. If we aren’t present while we’re eating we’re missing most of the experience–taste, hunger and fullness cues, the sensory experience, and we’re a lot less likely to be satisfied–even when we’re choosing lovely things.
    .-= Melissa McCreery’s last blog post..Is Emotional Overeating Weighing You Down? =-.

  3. Great post, Marsha! Thank you for giving us a different perspective. I usually worry about books dishing out food rules, because I’d hate for people to get caught up in restrictive thinking and adopt yet another diet – and ignore internal cues. I may be extra skeptical, though. So I’m glad you’re putting it into a non-diet perspective for us.

    A good rule or food tip that I like is to ask myself why I’m craving something. Is it because I’m bored and I want to snack; am I actually hungry; is it because I’m in the mood for sweets; is it because I’m upset or anxious? Sometimes it’s simply because I’d like to enjoy a piece of chocolate or I have a craving for Thai food (I really have had one recently! 🙂 Other times, it’s because I’m bored and need to chew something (in which case I have some water and gum and find something fun to do). Either way, it’s nice to check in with myself and see what I need and why.

    I’m looking forward to reading your non-diet take on other books!
    .-= Margarita Tartakovsky’s last blog post..Building a Better Body Image with a Daily Dose of Inspiration =-.

  4. Marsha says:

    Some great food rules, everyone! Thanks for sharing them.

  5. love2eatinpa says:

    omg! i just saw this guy on oprah and thought he was very interesting. at the recommendation of one of my readers, i just bought the book “breaking free from compulsive eating”. how funny that we are both reading up on this, trying to really absorb this intuitive eating! i look forward to hearing your review on this book and i will probably review the breaking free book on my blog. knowledge is power, right!

  6. Marsha says:

    @love2eatinpa — Who is the author of the breaking free book? Is it a new one? We’ve been teaching mindful, intuitive eating at Green Mountain since we first started in 1973 — before the term intuitive eating or mindful eating was coined. Of course, it’s evolved over the years, but it’s something we’re very well versed in. We’ve never written a book but that’s something I’m entertaining now. Because you are so right — knowledge is power. And we’d like to contribute to the wider body of knowledge out there by sharing our experience. That is, if I can find the time. The reason we’ve never written a book is because we’ve all been so buried in doing what needs to be done for the women who are at Green Mountain at the time. But it’s a real missing element that we haven’t written one.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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