I return now to thinking about “food rules” (see January 31, below). These recent guideline sets, like those offered by Michael Pollan and others, aim to help us eat more healthily. And, I would add, to relate to food and eating in a healthier, happier way than is often possible in today’s world.
Pollan’s book Food Rules, in particular, contains 64 small bits of wise advice to keep you focused on eating real, unprocessed food and avoiding fads, dubious health claims, and unwholesome habits. Every single one of these bits makes sense: from “avoid foods you see advertised on television” to “eat well-grown food from healthy soil” to “eat slowly” to “treat treats like treats”. I frequently encourage people to choose one or two such guidelines to start with, knowing that this will most likely open the door to further changes and more improved habits in the future. The process of changing how you relate to food often starts that way.
If you have weight to lose, though, will following these kinds of rules be enough? Don’t you have to stick with low-calorie, low-fat, or low-carb things to get those pounds off? Once you’ve lost the weight—isn’t that a better time to think about this other stuff? I think the answer is, “Not really”. In fact, changing your thinking and habits in line with these kinds of rules is probably the best insurance you can ever have for getting to and keeping a good weight.
For most people, the kinds of changes encouraged by newer food rules will lead naturally lead to the kinds of food choices and eating habits that will allow the body to shed excess weight (maybe not instantly or within two weeks), to maintain a weight that is comfortable for your particular physiology, and to minimize food obsessions.
I think, too, that making changes for the greater purposes addressed in a book like Food Rules—your health, the health of the soil, the health of our food system overall for everyone, etc.—sidesteps the worst pitfalls of following typical “diet” guidelines. For we know for sure that once you start thinking of depriving yourself, eating in weird or unnatural ways, eating this way for these weeks, and then that way for others, you’re in trouble. Whatever changes and weight loss you may temporarily enjoy will soon crash. And chances are, you’ll then feel worse than when you started.
In the end, then, a book like Food Rules is not meant to be a diet book, but it could be the most effective weight loss blueprint on the market.