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The hunger games. June 14, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, and I’m starving. It’s already 10:12 a.m., and I haven’t had anything to eat since a few mouthfuls of leftovers around 6:30 last night, just before rushing off with our friend Ben to watch “The Hunger Games” at a nearby theatre.

Watching the movie made me think about the nature of hunger, and what it meant for those of us with unlimited access to food on demand. With so much food, such a huge variety of food, and food within such easy, convenient reach at all times, how can we ever know if we’re really hungry or just tempted?

One thing I think we all know is that eating just because the food is there, because we’re bored, depressed, or nervous, because a coworker brought in doughnuts or Mom’s urging us to have a second helping, because we just saw an ad for something that looked really yummy, because our kids’ plates are still half-full and we hate to waste food, or even because it’s “time” for breakfast, lunch or supper is a bad idea. Unless, of course, you’re trying to bulk up to try out for “The Biggest Loser.”

The opposite is just as self-defeating. Pushing off meals because we’re busy, rushed, or stressed, skipping meals to try to lose weight, ignoring our bodies’ cries of “Please! Please feed me!”

These behaviors tend not just to unbalance our blood sugar and bodily functions, leading to weight gain (as the body desperately attempts to conserve every calorie in an instinctual response to starvation) and metabolic disorders. They also push our weakened bodies towards high-fat, high-sugar foods, trying to make up for the lack, resulting in overdoses of chips, fried chicken (or fried anything), candy, ice cream, doughnuts, soda, and the like. Ahhh!!! Blessed relief. But at what cost?

Over the years, I’ve come up with a few tricks for taming hunger, satisfying my body’s legitimate needs without sliding down the slippery slope of endless indulgence. Here are some that work for me:

* Stay hydrated. It’s so easy to mistake thirst for hunger. I take a big glass of water with me to bed and drink it throughout the night, then begin the morning with a second glass, followed by several cups of green tea. Whenever I start craving food, I ask myself if I really want something to eat or just need something to drink. It’s surprising how often I just need to get rehydrated.

* Eat only when you’re hungry. When and how often you’re hungry varies with your metabolism, how often you eat, what you eat, and how much you eat. Listen to your body: Do you feel a vague ache in your lower belly? Has it been hours since you last ate? Sounds like you’re genuinely in need of some food.

* Eat just ’til you’re not hungry. Sure, that portion on your plate could feed a herd of elephants. But, hey, you paid good money for that food, or you’re at Grandma’s and can’t bear to hurt her feelings. So you keep shoveling it in until you feel like a contestant on an all-you-can-eat competition. Suddenly, bulimia starts making sense. Instead, back away from the table! Eat until you feel satisfied, but are tempted to take just a few more bites. That’s the time to stop, while the food still looks good but you know you’ve had enough. This is why God created doggy bags, so you can take those leftovers home and have them for two yummy lunches or a second supper. And Grandma’s hardly likely to be offended if you tell her you’re full now, but her food is so delicious you’d be so grateful if you could take the rest home and eat it later. After all, it will remind you of her. 

* Snack sensibly. It happens to all of us: It’s not yet mealtime, but we realize we’re ravenous. This is where epic disasters can happen, when the “Oh God there’s nothing around here to eat so let’s go out and get something hugely caloric” impulse strikes. To fight it, make sure you have healthy, low-cal snacks with you at all times, and make sure you exert portion control. Eat a handful of almonds, pistachios, pecans, or walnuts, not half a bag. If you need more, pair them with half a banana or a small apple. Or pair a cheese stick or cheese square with your fruit and/or nuts.

* Listen up. If you listen to your body, you’ll know when you’ve had enough, and then it’s easy to avoid mindless eating. Just because there’s a bag or a plate or a giant cup of food or drink before you doesn’t mean you have to eat or drink it. If you pay attention to your body, it will tell you exactly when enough is enough, down to the last sip or forkful. Honor that knowledge and you’ll never be overstuffed again.

* Make healthy choices. Give fresh fruits and veggies a chance. When you really taste them, you’ll wonder what all the chocolate volcano cake and Hollandaise sauce hype was about. A delicious slice of ripe cantaloupe, with perhaps a squeeze of fresh lime juice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper; a perfect tangerine; fresh-picked asparagus cooked just to tenderness, with a squeeze of lemon and some melted butter.

No elaborate, heavy salad dressing could possibly compete with fresh Romaine or arugula leaves dipped in a little salted olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. No chocolate-covered strawberry could ever compete with a delicious, perfectly ripe, perfectly plain strawberry. No cherry pie, clafouti, or jam with a bowl of beautiful, ripe cherries. Keep it simple, enjoy the flavors and textures, and know when you’ve had enough.  

Would Katniss Everdeen approve of these ideas of moderation? I think so. You can find out more about Katniss’s menu preferences in an amazing book, The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook (Emily Ansara Baines, Adams Media, 2012). “Live simply that others may simply live” never seemed more timely.

             ‘Til next time,



All you can eat. July 31, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I am so fed up (sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun) with our society’s dualistic approach to overeating. I can’t turn on the computer or pick up a paper without reading yet another group announcing that all the world’s ills are caused by fat people, from plane fares to health care. I’m waiting for some group to announce that the world’s supply of fossil fuels is being depleted, not because we squander it driving huge SUVs and trucks we don’t actually need, dump shiploads of oil into our oceans in so-called “spills,” and waste horrific amounts of this nonrenewable resource on unsustainable business practices, but because it’s all being used to make polyester for fat people’s oversized clothes. In an era when you can’t open your mouth without fear of offending someone, it seems that the overweight are the final frontier for every kind of public abuse and socially approved loathing.

And yet, it’s our very society that has created the “obesity crisis.” In the selfsame papers in which the self-righteous announce their latest condemnations of the overweight, I’m barraged by ads for “all you can eat” buffets. The very thought of this makes me sick, I have to tell you. Maybe it’s because all I can eat amounts to a salad and half a baked potato or something on a good day, but I’d so much rather order from a menu and take the leftovers home to reheat for another meal. The cost savings of two meals for the price of one more than equals those “bargain” buffet prices.

It’s especially disappointing since I love Indian and Asian food, and it seems as if every single Indian and Asian restaurant that’s opened in this area in the past few years is a buffet-only restaurant. Then there are those restaurant chains our friend Ben and I encounter on our road trips, the ones where you’ve barely sat down with your food before the wait staff appears with a stack of four plates so you can go back for refills. Yuck! I’m not even going to start on the fast food thing here; surely everything that needs to be said about that whole discouraging phenomenon has been said already.

Mind you, I’m not a fan of the opposite approach, epitomized by nouvelle cuisine, either. Being served a two-inch cube of something with 57 unrecognizable twigs sticking out the top of it and the rest of the vast, empty plate taken up by drizzles of god-knows-what is definitely not my idea of a good time. I’d rather look at art than be expected to eat it, thank you. My eyes may be bigger than my stomach, but I’d like to see a plate with ample food, and then be left to decide when I’ve had enough and am ready for the doggie bag. But not two (or four) plates full of food, please, unless you plan to let me and our friend Ben take home enough leftovers to feed us for the rest of the week!

This, though, is what really gets my goat: the rise of the all-you-can-eat competition as a national sporting event. Hot dogs. Pies. Ice cream. Even jalapenos. These gorgefests make news headlines in our local paper, often with several followups as the contest draws near. People flock to see competitors shovel down 37 hot dogs and buns (or whatever) with all the trimmings.

In the same section of our paper that featured the latest dire official warning about how the overweight were destroying our entire country was a big feature on an “Eat Your Way Through Musikfest” competition with lots of prizes. (Musikfest is a huge musical street fair and concert event that runs for ten days every summer in nearby Bethlehem, PA.) If you could eat all ten required items during a day or over the ten days, you’d win fabulous prizes! Of course I realize that the whole point of the contest is not really to get people to stuff themselves to the point of  explosion but to boost attendance at Bethlehem’s premier annual event and promote sponsor sales, but sheesh. MUST it be a bellybuster competition?!

What I’d really, really like to see on everyone’s part is a little moderation. And maybe some common sense and common decency. Could we please stop blaming everything from global warming to the crash of the housing market on people who are overweight? And could we please stop popularizing these all-you-can-stuff events as entertainment? What’s so entertaining about watching people shovel in food? It’s just another manifestation of the conspicuous consumption that really has led us to our present crisis. A little restraint, in terms both of dishing out abuse and dishing out food, would be more worthy of us. Our hero and blog mentor, Ben Franklin, who promoted moderation as the route to health, wealth, and happiness, would certainly agree.

          ‘Til next time,