Jane Day is co-author with Dr. John Day of "The Longevity Plan," documenting their journey to China's Longevity Village. "Preparing food for guests has always been a stressful thing - feeling inadequate and fearing that the dishes wouldn't turn out. Posting recipes has been an exercise in the ultimate confrontation of this fear. Gratefully, the joy in figuring out how to make favorite dishes with healthier ingredients now exceeds the fear and I take courage in the idea that maybe I can help someone else do the same."
In the cereal aisle, I overheard a mother telling her child, “You can have this cereal, or this one, or this one.” The child countered, “Can I have this one?”
“No,” The mother replied, “but you can have this one.”
I looked up to see her pointing to a box of sugary chocolate puffed cereal.
I paused, intrigued. By what criteria was this mom making her selections?
Pretending to be busily evaluating the cereal boxes myself, I continued to listen as the tension increased between the mom and the boy of about 10 years in age.
Finally, her food rule was revealed. “Look, we’re going gluten-free, so you’re going to have to pick one of these gluten-free cereals.”
Why was I so intrigued by this scenario?
Because I saw myself in it. Over my lifetime, I have placed a lot of “food rules” on myself. At one time, my “rule” was “fat-free” or “reduced-fat.” As long as a food met this criterion, I could happily consume it.
Do you remember SnackWells fat-free cookies in the green box? I was in heaven when those appeared on the shelves.
Never-mind that they were loaded with sugar and other mysterious ingredients; they were “fat-free,” and thus permissible.
Were you as excited as I was when fat-free Olestra made its debut? This ingredient in fat-free Pringles and other chips was marketed as the answer to eating our chips without all the fat.
It wasn’t long before I, and others, discovered that something about this ingredient didn’t agree with our bodies. It was removed from the market almost as quickly as it came on.
During this era of “if it’s fat-free, it’s ok,” John’s brother, Mike, said one day, “Even fat-free foods have calories and it’s the calories that count, not the fat.”
By my rules at the time, I disagreed. Some time later, I switched my food rules from “fat-free” to “sugar-free.” At this point, anything sugar-free was the way to go.
It didn’t matter what chemical was being used to replace the sugar or what it might ultimately do to my body.
I’ll never forget the day my sisters-in-law and I discovered sugar-free jellybeans. We were in London and attended a play that night. We brought our newfound treasure with us and freely partook.
It wasn’t long before whatever it was that replaced the sugar began wrecking havoc in our digestive systems. Bloated, cramping, and gassy, we kept jumping up from our seats and heading for the bathroom.
Upon our return to the hotel room, our attempts to sleep continued to be interrupted by the same symptoms.
We had a great time teasing each other about our great fortune that turned into misfortune.
I find it fascinating that I have put so many irrational food rules on myself, these being just two of many examples, all in the name of being “healthy.”
These rules kept me stuck in a lot of processed foods with a lot of labels making the promises I wanted to hear.
Don’t most “diets” have rules that, when we really think about it, don’t actually make sense for our health?
Do you remember the one that lets you eat as many cheeseburgers as you want as long as you don’t eat the bun?
Or how about the rule that John followed for a while which allows you to consume any quantity of breads, pastas or pastries you desire, as long as they are gluten-free?
John’s not gluten-intolerant and, like many on any diet attempting to control food intake and weight, he ended up actually gaining weight from this particular diet attempt.
Today, I am trying a new approach. The new “rule” is simply Real Food First. What is real food?
As a society, we have drifted so far from this basic concept of real food that we can be left asking ourselves whether the Mac and Cheese box declaring its ingredients to contain whole grains with 2 extra grams of fiber is now real food?
So much of our packaged foods today are devoid of so much of the nutrition we need. Instead, they contain nutrient-deficient ingredients that can cause us to crave more of these same nutrient-deficient ingredients.
As Americans, we tend to have so much guilt around food and often don’t enjoy our food.
The abundant temptations and our resultant obsession with food rules to control our intake in the name of health, may contribute to what is making us sick from food.
In China’s Longevity Village, I reflected on our dilemma as I witnessed friends and family working together to grow, harvest, prepare and partake of their food.
Food rules, guilt, and obsession over resisting food are non-existant, as are obesity and eating disorders. The people are simply grateful to have the real food that they’ve worked to produce.
In the U.S., 50% of our meals are prepared or eaten out.
It is easy to become distanced from the knowledge of what is actually in our prepared food.
When we get curious and begin asking questions, we often find it is comprised of ingredients that do not promote our health or even create cravings to eat more processed foods.
For me, when I find that I am in the grip of the junk food, it takes some work to escape its hold.
The junk food can override the natural cues my body tries to send me to eat healthy, and instead, make me think I just want more junk. But as I refuse to succumb to this lie, and eat more real food, I am better able to listen to my body’s cues and actually come to crave the real food more than the junk food.
I currently strive to first eat the vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds that give me the nutrition my body needs and satisfy my hunger in a real way.
I am finding that this reduces my intake of the less nourishing foods and sometimes eliminates the desire for these foods all together.
Another benefit to this approach, for me, is that nothing is “forbidden.”
In my experience, when I forbid myself a certain food, I often end up eating that food in excess.
The freedom that Real Food First offers, in contrast to the irrational food rules and the accompanying cravings, tastes so much sweeter than any sugar-free cookie or fat-free potato chip I could ever consume.
We’d love to hear your stories about your own attempts to escape the grasp of junk food.
Have you ever tried restricting certain foods or ingredients? How have these attempts have worked for you? What is working for you now? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.