“You must have a really high metabolism,” my dinner guest commented as I served my favorite pink pasta plates, piled high with a pound of steam-fried farmers’ market veggies and tofu and topped off with lightly toasted sesame seeds.
“No, not really,” I assured her. “That gigantic plate of food only has about 300 calories—and every one of them is loaded with health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants!” I exclaimed excitedly.
Not to be overzealous, I ended the nutrient-density lecture there. But I really wanted to explain about how, when any food is metabolized (even really healthy stuff like kale), waste products are produced, and that’s one reason why “empty-calorie” food is so dangerous. You see, those antioxidants that come prepackaged with kale, collards, cauliflower, strawberries—you get the idea—those trendy, hyped-up little molecules help clean up the cellular waste generated by processing the food you eat.
Without those antioxidants, the accumulation of cellular waste starts a cascade of chemical reactions culminating disastrously in free-radical damage, which leads to aging and disease. Yuck!
But I digress. Back to the conversation with my dinner guest.
“But you don’t have to count calories. You’re so skinny you can eat anything you want,” she mistakenly asserted.
“Well, actually it’s precisely because I follow a high-nutrient diet and don’t eat everything I want that I’m trim,” I explained.
The truth is, I still occasionally covet SAD foods, and I could easily overeat on some of the delicious nutritarian recipes I concoct. Luckily, I now have the psychological skills to deal with those urges. For instance, when faced recently with the prospect of peanut butter cheesecake, my mind generated all kinds of meretricious rationales for indulging.
“I never get to have that! Besides, I’m a few pounds underweight right now, after my scoliosis surgery, so a few extra calories would be beneficial. Everybody says I’m too thin.”
Now, our minds produce pretty much endless content—some valid and some not so much. But the real question to ask when determining whether to hop on board with a thought or not isn’t, “Is it true?” but “Is it helpful? Does this thought move me towards my values?”
For the situation at hand, it might be true that I need to put on some weight, but since health is my number one value, haphazardly indulging in peanut butter cheesecake clearly will not move me in the direction of what’s most important to me. So that night, when I arrived at that fork in the road, I told myself, “Oh, my, that sure would be yummy! But the pleasure would be so brief while the remorse would spill over into tomorrow. I’ll be so happy as soon as I walk outta here if I don’t eat that.”
So you see, I don’t just eat anything I want to eat. I maintain a low weight—not due to a spunky metabolism—but because I frequently utilize a number of behavioral, psychological, and mindfulness-based skills to help keep me on track with nutrient-rich eating.
When you find yourself vis-à-vis your next dietary crossroads, notice the rationales your very clever mind produces. If you have trouble putting words to the desire, try finishing this sentence, “It’s ok for me to eat this [peanut butter cheese cake] because ___________.”