6 - 2010

Food Rules 55-57: Eat what’s good for you, at mealtime

This is my ongoing,11-week series about Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Part III is called, “How Should I Eat? (Not too much.).” This installment covers rules 55 through 57.

Rule 55: Eat meals.

Pollan writes that this rule might seem ridiculous, but we are snacking more. Much more, like at least an extra meal a day’s worth. He adds:

In theory, grazing — eating five or six small meals over the course of the day — makes sense, but in practice people eating this way often end up eating more, and eating more processed snack foods. So unless you can confine your grazing to real food, stick to meals.

This same idea has struck me recently, as I’ve looked down at a waistline that has expanded ever since a personal trainer urged me to eat multiple “small meals” per day. In theory, great idea. The problem is (and I suspect I’m not alone in this) I don’t have the discipline to limit all of my five meals to around 300 to 400 calories. Anyone out there eat a 400-calorie dinner? Anyone?

If you “graze,” you basically must graze alone. A business lunch doesn’t confine itself to the calories of a “snack.” Nor does a family picnic. Nor does a fun night of pizza with friends, or any dessert, ever. (Unless that’s your meal, and that’s not healthy.) So the more I tried to follow this rule, the more I found myself simply eating more often and more total quantity. I’m not alone here — a study released in March found that snacks make up up to 27% of kids’ calories — and sometimes add more than 1,100 calories a week to kids’ diets.

So recently, I vowed to give up my grazing and basically stick to three squares.

For myself, I’ve also given up on the large breakfast, eaten to evenly distribute calorie intake throughout the day. Often, I’m just not that hungry in the morning — so I just wind up eating more.

I think the key is listening to your body. When I used to do that, things were healthier. Hopefully it will work again.

Rule 56: Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods.

“The bulk of the 500 calories Americans have added to their daily diet since 1980 … have come in the form of snack foods laden with salt, fat, and sugar.”

Ouch! 500 calories per day could equal 50 pounds in a year.  (A contrarian could ask why, then, we don’t all gain 50 pounds a year, but for our purposes here, let’s just acknowledge that we Americans are overweight, on average.)

So, snack on fruits, vegetables and nuts. Or to quote another grandma-ism Pollan mentions, “If you aren’t hungry enough to eat an apple, you aren’t hungry.”

Rule 57: Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.

Gross, if you think about it, right? Those gas fumes, the snacks. Pollan calls gas stations “‘processed corn stations’: ethanol outside for your car and high-fructose corn syrup inside for you.”

If you’re tempted, make up a funny reminder for yourself — “buy gas, get gas”?

To help your resolve, keep a bottle of water in the car so that you don’t go inside the gas station for a beverage and walk out with a candy bar and a bag of chips.

And if you’re going to go inside anyway for your cigarettes — you really should quit smoking now.

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