You could say that the opposite of sane eating is food craziness.  That certainly describes  what we see around us.  That is, more and more people struggle with eating disorders and obesity–while at the same time, the foods that worsen things call out to us at every turn.  “Eat it! Eat lots of it!…. But stay slim!  Here’s the perfect diet!”.  No wonder people stress and strain on the diet treadmill, or else give up trying.

After years of working in eating disorders treatment, my focus shifted to how we, the masses who may not have eating disorders, still struggle with this food craziness.  This is what Michael Pollan calls our “National Eating Disorder”.   And it points to the need for what I call sane eating.   Our food environment needs this change, and so do we.

For in the midst of the food craziness people have begun to complain about our food environment.  Lawmakers and businesses respond to these complaints.  However, widespread change can take many years to trickle down to us in our homes and markets.  In the meantime, each of us must learn how to live in our current environment and maintain our health nevertheless.

In many ways, you can compare today’s food industry to the tobacco industry.    People note how laws and businesses needed to change for the public good when it came to tobacco.  They now call on food producers and marketers.  Nevertheless, smokers have always had to figure out how to quit, even if smoking policies change in the meantime, just as we need to care for our weight and health even as the food environment is changing.  In other words, the problems caused by bad food, or cigarettes, may not be your fault.  And it may make sense to push hard for changes in the wider world.  But you’re still responsible, in the end, for changing your own behavior.  Otherwise, your health and quality of life, and maybe those of others around you, will suffer.  There’s no one else to do it for you.  There may not be a completely comfortable or painless way of doing it, either.

Quitting smoking and changing how you eat share some striking similiarities.  Both can be very hard.  But there are so many good reasons to do so, even if the road to success is bumpy.  Here’s where sane eating comes in.  I describe sane eating this way:

Sane eating is defining, and sticking with, the diet that maintains a healthy enough weight for your body.  This will be a diet you can maintain without frequent worry and guilt, and that you can follow for good, not just for the course of a “diet”. 

And what are those good reasons to aim for this goal?  Well, we know of the many health risks involved.   The diseases strongly linked to poor diet and obesity continue to affect more and more adults and children, at alarming rates.  Weight loss and better eating can drastically change a person’s health status, even if they never reach an ideal chart weight.

In addition to physical health, weight and diet instability affect emotional well-being.  And psychological distress can affect those who have a few pounds to lose as well as those who are obese.

Losing and then regaining weight, sometimes over and over, affects the metabolism in ways that almost always lead to greater regain.  This is not only counterproductive in terms of health, it is demoralizing, stressful and saps motivation.  We read very discouraging statistics about diet success.  But people can and do find ways that work to lose weight and keep it off.   A variety of paths seem to help people learn how to start and keep on eating sanely.   Finding your path, and learning how to stay on it, is the goal suggested by sane eating.  What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.   A variety of factors affect what that way will be.

The important thing is to get started.  We all deserve to feel the best we can, enjoy our food, and be free of food obsessions.  We must recognize this very difficult project for just what it is—a difficult project—yet one we must engage in for our health and sanity. 

NEXT:  Sane Eating – Part 2:  Hard But Not Impossible

Sane Eating – Part 3:  A Road Map

EatSanely:  Get Off the Diet Roller Coaster for Good,