In regard to compulsive behaviour, I dislike the 12 Step programme thing because it contains that maddening sop to the junkie's love of conditional surrender- the acceptance that there is a greater power than you. But when it comes to food and health, there is a greater power- the only one that really matters- biology. Our biology determines what we can and can't eat without harming ourselves. What we eat becomes who we are. If you can maintain a healthy body and mood eating whatever, pat your phenotype on the back; I'm addressing this more to the people who can't. If you're not maintaining your health, you might want to consider your inputs.
Scaling back grains and dairy and concentrating on a lo-fi intake = Paleo these days, but I don't think a median Paleolithic diet was what many people seem to want it to be. And I really don't think it meant dancing around wearing haunches of beef. Certainly, extreme human niches might have required survival measures which would have included a focus on large prey and the resources they provided, but anyone who's handled livestock knows a ram can break your legs and horses and steers can kill you in an instant if you're careless at the wrong time. In general, where there were a plethora of other options, tiny communities of ancient people couldn't afford the attrition involved in pitting themselves against large wild prey every day, and I'll be damned if they actually did. Successful survival rolls the dice when the reward is greatest; migrations, spawning and seasonal changes would have yielded the best return for the toll on their hunters. So count me out of the paleo = mondo meat equation. It's hands down pants-thinking.
Let's dial that meaty, masculinized crap back. It's women who form the backbone of most, if not all, pre-agricultural and pre-industrial food economies. We knew where the good stuff was, we took it home and we processed it for the benefit of all. If someone dropped an aurochs on a lucky day, awesome; if no one died in the process, even better, but no one will convince me that the majority of food provision wasn't womens' collection of reliable, unglamorous staples. Masts, nuts, eggs, greens, shellfish, fungi, fruit, insects, wild grains, small game, birds and roots, with intermittent gluts of ungulate and fish meat. All of it is available now and that is probably what we should be eating, according to time constraints, seasonal availability, religious and or environmental directives. That's not hippiness, weirdness or rocket science. I think of it as grunge eating in that it is anti-fancy, egalitarian and concerned with the integrity of its components.
Pro-grain and pro-dairy interests may be able to point to the human herd ability to digest both substances and I agree that rates of mutation and expediency can easily account for the fact that most humans now rely on cereals; my partner can munch on wholegrain stuff all day without ill-effect. But there are still many of us who test the rule. If refined grain and dairy aren't your friends, shit can get real in short order; weight gain, inflammation and cascades of systemic disorders to name a few contraindications. Why do we persist with it? We are brainy omnivores and that is our golden spear; the ability to switch from one food stream to another according to circumstance is relatively rare in nature, confers huge advantage and we're mad to ignore our trump card in favour of mindless consumption.
Obligatory Paranoid Conspiracy Reference As an adjunct to all this biological exhortation, there is a political significance to grain. It's a 10 000 year old macro-commodity and central authorities love that shit, using it as a hammer to control their domestic situations and to assault and/or bolster other economies according to their fluctuating interests. Did you vote for that? I didn't. Ponder this next time you're loading up on sandwich sliced.
Moderation > Elimination That's not to say you need to scrub everything yummy or accustomed from your kitchen shelves. The current fundamentalist craze for avoiding anything ever smeared in a half-literate press release is frustratingly idiotic and plays directly into the hands of interests hostile to autonomy. I don't advocate or practice total abstinence from either grains or dairy myself, but reducing them to a small element of my diet instead of bulk inputs has been revelatory and immensely beneficial. Paying attention to your own reaction to what you're eating is what all this boils down to. Paleolithically, we either paid attention to what we were eating or it killed us, for any number of reasons. We need to reclaim that care and focus. Your body has a language; reconnect to this dialogue. The little corkscrew twist of hunger and the wordless fist-shaped surcease of satiety. The golden rolling wave of pleasure that means you're about to drop into the free fall of orgasm. The whiny little nag of transient discomfort at the start of every workout, the deeper pain of injury. Relearn your individual dialect; listen and react instead of munching over the top of it and drowning it out with convenience and force of habit.
Reacquaint yourself with satiety- the Japanese Confucian version hara hachi bu is very useful in that it encourages long-term satisfaction over the kind of precipitate gluttony that has become so acceptable. Embrace the idea of moderate, short-term hunger as a return to reality and an essential element in resurrecting your relationship with your body and its requirements. I generally don't eat more in one sitting than can cover the surface of my outstretched hand. That's been a convenient and effective guide.
Here's a quick true story about food volumes. My father's family suffers a lot of fatness, faulty digestive valves, acid regurgitation, bloating, irritable bowel and alimentary cancers. Many of them cannot get through a day without heavy antacids and proton-pump inhibiting drugs. My uncle died of bowel cancer and my dad of oesophageal cancer in their early fifties. My nephew had a stomach valve reconstruction procedure at 16. I suffered some of these things myself. These symptom clusters were declared idiopathic and even unrelated by most if not all of the clinicians I've consulted and no nutritional advice was ever given. I shit you not. So I left the medical establishment to their disinterested myopia, took the empirical route and after cutting down on bread and pasta, eating my main meal at lunch and, I believe crucially, reducing my portions, I don't experience any of these symptoms any more. None. Zippidy. No runs, no gut aches, no heartburn. Losing weight reduces liver fattiness and improves its ability to aid digestion and that will have factored into that process, but I lay this at the feet of eating less. Your mouth is not a clown car. We are not entitled to stuff our faces all day long with whatever takes our fancy. It is killing us with both excess and deprivation, defiling our planet and depriving our fellow creatures of their due.
If I'm feeling hungry at the end of the day, I go back mentally over everything I've eaten from breakfast onward, remembering the size and taste and appreciating what it's done for me. Visualising everything I've consumed plugs me back into an authentic consumption and satisfaction loop, retraining myself out of the idle/boredom/mindless munching program of yore. If I've eaten enough, I'll stop there. If not, I'll have something else. Or maybe I'll go to bed a little bit hungry. It's not the end of the fucking world.
Not all calories should be considered equal, and there's a lot of bullshit-flavoured confusion surrounding what we're supposed to be eating. After years of reading on the subject and battling through wildly conflicting science (as it is reported, not necessarily conducted), it seems to me that good nutrition boils down to natural, least-processed food.
Trust your eye. By consuming natural, beautiful food, we enjoy the physical, intellectual and emotional dividends of its consumption. I know I have. If all this looks distant and expensive, we feel your pain. But we are pretty poor by western standards, quite possibly less well off than you. Most of the stuff pictured above was or could be grown in our very mediocre garden, cribbed from neighbours or purchased at our crappy local supermarket. If we can get our hands on this sort of food, so can you, probably. Invest in yourself.
So hmm... decisions, decisions. The baguette is undeniably delicious. But it does not occur in nature. Yes, that is a tragedy, but then again I do not possess the digestive physiology of a granivore. I won't die right now if I eat one, but what doesn't kill us immediately doesn't always make us stronger and in fact can fuck us up in a huge way if we regularly submit to our la la la impulses. So... how lucky do you feel, punk? What I did- I cut down to the equivalent of one piece of bread a day or a few crackers or half a cup of couscous etc. Wholegrain where humanly possible. A muffin on saturday. No biscuits, no cakes unless there is an actual party to go with that party food. I replaced the starches that used to make up the bulk of my meals with an array of vegetables. I don't miss refined starch feasts at all; bye-bye bloating, the runs, mid-afternoon coma; hello satiety and sane, consistent energy levels.
Watch your binge triggers.
Do I like white chocolate? Yes.
Do I want to eat the whole block? No shit, Sherlock.
Do I like persimmons? Love them.
Do I want to eat twelve? No.
And there it is, in a convenient nutshell. You react to real food in a reasonable way. You react to white chocolate and its legion of guises like a junkie. Learn the difference; choose wisely. What I did- I'd probably kill anyone who got between me and that delicious shit to the left there, so I choose wisely.
Replace soft drinks and commercial juices with water and flavoured/fruit tea. I like vanilla black tea, chai and a range of tisanes. Go with coffee if you're one of those people. I won't lie- I don't drink much water.
Buy organic. Not just because it's ethical/beneficial- it's fucking expensive. You'll only buy what you need and won't be able to stand wasting it.
Like sandwiches? Me too. Ditch the bread and wrap your fillings in silver beet leaves. Oddly tasty. Go with wholegrain crackers, too. They're less calorific than bread.
Eat full fat, not 'diet food'. I have, the whole time; butter, full fat organic milk, cheese, eggs, steak fat, you name it. Lost heaps of weight, no cravings, no nightmare sugar roller coaster. Satisfaction is important. Natural fat is fine.
If you are seriously craving something, eat the damn thing. If you really needed it, you'll feel better for it. If you were just jonesing, that will become apparent too.
Your shopping trolley/cart should be full of colour and texture and not the kind that rolls off a printing press. Aim to keep packaged foods to twenty percent of its volume You won't always get there, but do try. Also keep in mind that...
Tinned and dried food can be great food. Pulses, fish, fancy mushrooms; all the shit that can be so expensive fresh awaits you in another form. Choose the least processed versions and watch the salt content.
Cook as much of your own food as possible. Inconvenient? Not as inconvenient as diabetes and stroke.
Climb out of the industrial sugar train wreck. Buy plain versions of the things you enjoy like yoghurt and flavour it at home with honey, fruit and home made conserves etc rather than eating commercial ice creams, puddings and other evil treats. Waaay less sugar and preservative shit. Once you've walked away from hypersugar, you'll wonder how you ever tolerated such insane levels of sweetness.
If your partner/flatmates etc. need more starch than you, serve yourself last and add less starch to your own portion instead of mixing everything up and then dishing out. Control is key. Plan ahead.
Stick to one medium potato per meaty meal. Spuds are cool, but you don't need three or five plus a steak.
Don't pretend you don't know what gross food is, but if you insist, here's some handy guidelines. If... You can't pronounce its ingredients. Can't assign it to a known food group. Don't know where it comes from. It needs lurid/excessive packaging to attract your attention. It doesn't grow in the ground, swim or walk on the legs it was born with. You couldn't produce/reproduce it at home. Your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it... Spit, don't swallow. Don't buy it, don't consider it food. When you stop thinking of junk as food, you'll stop thinking of it as a treat. Look at the stuff as though you're seeing it for the first time; tip a bag of frozen battered nasty yellow-grey onto the sink and ask yourself if that looks like something you should be putting in your mouth. Unwrap that greasy, wilted burger and stare hard at it before you suck it down. Beauty is truth. Ugly can and will hurt you.
Let go once in a while and eat a big gutfull of something disgusting that you used to enjoy. Really stuff yourself. See how far you get. When I overindulge these days I feel like someone kicked the living shit out of me, because I'm now a precious healthful petal who physically cannot tolerate the kind of alimentary abuse I used to deal myself. Well fuck me. That was the goal and I'm there. Okay, so if you want the whole truth, I still love my bag of sour cream chips and I do mean the whole thing. I do it once a month and skip a meal and it's no biggie. The more you eat right, the less you want to eat wrong and the more you see the evil stuff for what it is; corrupted, corrupting. Being well-fed and energised replaces and far exceeds the pleasure we got from pigging out on shit food. I never thought that would happen but trust me, it does.
Value yourself, believe in yourself, invest in yourself. We are all we'll ever really have.