Having just finished a somewhat disappointing takeout meal, I wish to share a few thoughts on what the rules of engagement for food and eating should be. This is not, of course, what they are, but the way they would be in my ideal world. Those of you who may have seen the Diet Rules that made the rounds maybe ten or fifteen years ago will recognize some of them—they were good then, they’re good now. Here we go.
If it wasn’t good, it doesn’t count
The lunch I just ate was from my favorite Japanese restaurant, but I think the regular chef was on vacation, because it was not up to their usual standard. I got the seaweed salad instead of the pickled cucumbers that usually come with my lunch (I think they may have run out of the cucumbers, because there was a guy in the bar eating a bento box, and he had the cucumbers, the bastard), and I hate the seaweed salad. It’s too fishy, or something. Then, the grilled beef short ribs I usually get that are supposed to come basted with a kind of sticky sweet soy-based sauce tasted as though they’d been grilled with no sauce at all. In short, the whole thing was a disappointment. But it still had the same number of calories, the same number of fat grams, the same degree of fillingness (if you will) that it would have had if it had been their best. The problem was, it wasn’t emotionally satisfying. Therefore, I propose that if a meal wasn’t good, and didn’t provide a significant emotional satisfaction in addition to filling me up, the calories, fat, etc do not count. I can go eat something that does satisfy and not have to be concerned that I’m eating twice as much.
If I wish I hadn’t eaten it after I finish, it doesn’t count
This is kind of related to the rule above, except that it also includes things that were fulfilling and satisfying, but that I just wish for some other reason I hadn’t eaten. If, for instance, I eat a big plate of amazing something-in-cream-sauce, or an incredible dessert, but later feel remorse over all the bad things that might have been in there and are now in me, doing their damage, I get to not count it. Any ill effects of what I ate are automatically negated.
If I split it with someone, it doesn’t count
If my husband and I split a huge dessert, neither of us has to count the calories, fat, etc. The same diet rule went around years ago as “If you split it with someone, the calories cancel.” Right on.
If no one knows I ate it, it doesn’t count
Again, and oldie but a goodie. This also carries over to Weight Watchers and other weight loss techniques that require a food journal. If you don’t write it down, it didn’t actually count.
Things that are really delicious are automatically good for you
And I’m not saying “I think Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese is really delicious, therefore it should be good for me.” It’s that something that is truly wonderful, a really high quality food, is good for you, no matter how bad it actually is for you. Things that fall into this category are really outstanding homemade mayonnaise (and by extension, anything made with it), homemade (or excellent quality bakery-made) cinnamon rolls, a fantastic blue cheese, homemade fruit cobblers or tarts. In fact, anything homemade should automatically be good for you, no matter what’s in it. If I undertake to make French fries at home, and go to the trouble of cutting them, soaking them, and deep frying them on my stove, then by God, they should be good for me. Things in really expensive restaurants, no matter how much cream they contain, should be good for you, too.
Everyone should get one day a month when nothing counts
We should all be allowed to choose one day in a month when we can eat any damned thing we want and nothing will contribute to weight gain, or health deterioration. Wish you could eat three large orders of McDonald’s fries? Wish you could drink five Appletinis and not get drunk (or wake up hung over)? Wish you could eat four fried chickens (bonus points to anyone who recognizes the movie reference)? There should be a day each month when we can do that. We could use it for a holiday—this month, for instance, I might choose one of the days of Memorial Day weekend as my “nothing counts” day, so I can eat everything. Or the month of my birthday, I might choose my birthday (difficult, since I have a November birthday, but I’d have to pick between that and Thanksgiving).
Foods from childhood should not count
Maybe that’s a little much, on reflection, but ok, how about this: We all get to pick three favorite foods from childhood that don’t count. I could pick potato chips, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and…Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Then I could eat as much of those things as I wanted, whenever I wanted, and they would be completely neutral. The only catch to this one is, you can’t switch to a different childhood food when you get bored with one (or all) of the three. You must pick them and stick with them forever.
If it’s a beverage, it doesn’t count
Beer, wine, soda, shakes—they’re liquid, for pete’s sake. They shouldn’t contribute to weight gain. They shouldn’t be bad for you. They go with food. They’re necessary. They shouldn’t count. I remember in high school I truly did not believe that Coke could cause weight gain. How could it? You drink it, you don’t eat it. Ah, youth [takes sip from can of Diet Coke next to computer].
If I don’t realize I finished it, it doesn’t count
Despite the countless warnings and cluckings from diet gurus, I insist on reading while I eat. Sorry, I just do. Reading contributes to the pleasure of eating, and eating contributes to the pleasure of reading. The majority of the time it’s not a problem. While I might not be “eating mindfully,” I do derive sufficient satisfaction to feel full when I’m done with my meal. However, every now and then I take the last bite of something, and realize that, hey, that was the last bite and I didn’t get that “last bite” feeling after taking it. When that happens, the whole thing I just ate gets zeroed out. This is kind of a companion to the rule about things not counting when they’re not good, or when I change my mind about having eaten something, but it applies even when the thing was good.
If the jury is out on the detrimental effects of a food, it doesn’t hurt us
There have been so many swings of the pendulum as regards what foods are good for us, bad for us, totally neutral, that I feel like if they haven’t determined with an absolute certainty that something is bad for us, it shouldn’t have a negative effect on health or weight. Butter, for instance. We started out with butter being good for us; I remember the old “four food groups” and butter counted as a dairy product. Then butter was horrible, horrible, horrible for us. You might as well eat rat poison as eat butter. In fact, rat poison was probably better for you, because it didn’t have any cholesterol or saturated fat. Then someone started poking around in the margarine formula (which I’ve read is one molecule removed from plastic, but that could be an urban legend), and realized that margarine had trans fats, and that those trans fats were way worse than anything in butter. So the word went out that maybe butter wasn’t the Antichrist after all. I say, if the experts can’t decide, it just doesn’t hurt, period. And naturally, as far as I’m concerned, “they” haven’t actually proven that any one thing is bad for us. So guess what?
If I eat one “bad” thing along with a specified number of “good” things, the good things cancel the bad one
This is kind of the “good behavior” rule of food consumption. If I eat a big salad, loaded with vegetables and low fat protein, but eat it with regular Ranch dressing, the positive aspects of the vegetables and low fat protein cancel the negative ones of the dressing. This rule could apply to elements within a meal, or to the overall meal. If I eat a small, lightly dressed salad as my appetizer, then have grilled fish over sautéed spinach, and then finish off with a buttery slice of lemon tart, the first two “good” components negate the “badness” of the dessert.
I think that’s a pretty good start. I might add on to this in the future, but I think this set of rules, if adopted by…pretty much everyone, would serve to make my life much happier and easier. So, let’s eat!