11 - 2010

Food Rules 58-60: Treats, tables, snacks & solitude

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 58 through 60.

Rule 58: Do all your eating at a table.

And Pollan claims that a desk is not a table. (Am I exempt from this one because I often work at my dining room table, and eat lunch while I am sitting there? Hey, I’m at a table! NO? You’re not falling for that? Sigh.)

He has an amusing way to test the concept that we eat more if we are eating mindlessly while doing something else: He suggests putting a bowl of fresh vegetables in front of a child watching television, and he says the child will often eat more than usual, even things he or she normally won’t touch. I’d love to see someone try this!

Additionally, studies have shown that we eat more when we are distracted. If you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, check out this take on how eating while distracted can increase your desire for food — all food.

And one thing you should not distract yourself from by eating is driving a car. A study published last summer found that 80% of car accidents and 65% of near misses are caused by eating while driving. Burgers and coffee are the worst culprits.

Rule 59: Try not to eat alone.

Pollan has two arguments for this rule. He says those tempted to overeat will often eat less in the company of others, and we might eat more slowly when there is more going on at the table than eating by itself. (Although this somewhat goes against the logic of the rule above, doesn’t it? That we might vacuum up our whole plate of food if we’re distracted?)

More holistically, Pollan also notes that eating with others makes a meal more than simply ingesting fuel, and turns it into a social ritual.

In terms of health, while I can’t find studies saying that people eat less with others, some evidence seems to exist that people eat less when they eat more slowly. If eating with others helps you to slow down, it can be a healthier way to eat, because you might feel fuller sooner and be more in tune with your body’s signals of what it needs.

Rule 60: Treat treats as treats.

Pollan has a great point here: Our outsourced-food society makes a huge array of formerly once-in-a-while treats available easily and cheaply. Therefore, similar to rule 39 (“eat all the junk food you want, as long as you make it yourself”), you should eat treats with a natural frequency. If you make your fried chicken at home, you won’t make it very often (and it will be a little better for you than if you buy it at a fast-food restaurant).

This is similar to something I read last night in Health magazine, that suggested you treat yourself to a rich cookie or a scoop of ice cream a couple of times a week. In our society, it’s all too easy to treat ourselves a couple of times a day, isn’t it?

This rule comes with another good guideline — the “S policy”:

No snacks, no seconds, no sweets–except on days that begin with the letter S.

I think that’s a great policy — and I think a key way to enforce it would be to build yourself a life where you have fun and relaxation built in, because so many of us reach for the “S” foods mentioned in that rule out of boredom, exhaustion, or seeking comfort.

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