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One of the keys to sustaining improvements in the way we eat is the ability to practice moderation in our diets. As a society, we tend to take an all-or-nothing approach to food - eating too much of something or trying to eliminate that food or category of foods altogether. That tendency towards extremes becomes even more obvious when we look at what’s happened to the food on the shelves of our local supermarkets. On the one hand, we’ve supersized everything, and on the other hand, we see claims like fat-free and sugar-free everywhere in the supermarket. And these claims attract us because they're absolute. But, if we can master the skill of eating with moderation then no single food needs to be forbidden. We can eat the foods we enjoy – as long as we don’t consume too much of them.
Michael Pollan: how much we eat is a very important question, and how to regulate our appetite, or moderate our appetites, is very hard for people. We are socialized to eat until we're full. That's not a natural thing. And it's not a universal thing. In France, when you're hungry you say “je faim,” I have hunger. And at the end of the meal you don't say I'm full and you don't ask your children, are you full? You say, “je n’ai plus faim.” I'm no longer hungry. That's very different than being stuffed. The moment at which you're no longer hungry is many bites before the time when you're stuffed. And we ask our kids the wrong questions. We say are you full? We should say are you satisfied? Are you still hungry? So you see, there are cultural ways, and norms and manners that help us deal with quantity in food. And so, we have to look at things like portion size. We have to look at things like the way we talk about food. And because are people really looking for lots of calories when they eat? I think they're looking for lots of food experience, an intense, satisfying food experience. And if you look at the French and many other cultures as well, they get more food experience with less food. And they do that partly by eating more slowly, eating socially, eating better quality food. There is a trade off between quality and quantity, and the American food system is very much organized around quantity.
Michael Pollan: If we can shift the emphasis to quality, if you're buying say, fish, and the salmon is really expensive, and the tilapia is really cheap. But what about having less of the better food and approaching it that way so that every bite is enjoyable? You'll notice, everyone will notice that whenever you're sitting down to eat, the first bite is the best. And the Chinese have a saying. The banquet is in the first bite. And every subsequent bite goes downhill from there. So let's focus on those first few bites. Smaller portions of better quality food. So all these, and I wrote Food Rules, my book of rules about eating, to examine how different cultures deal with this question of moderation. And many cultures have a rule that basically says stop eating before you're full. The Japanese say hara hachi bu, eat until you're 80% full. That's such a foreign concept to us, but you find this across the board. The Chinese say eat until you're 75% full. In the Quran, it says you should eat until you're two-thirds full, everything but 100%, which is what most of us do.
Next time you’re going to eating something, ask yourself a few questions about it: “Will this food bring me pleasure or am I eating it because it’s a food that I feel I’m allowed to eat?” Eating foods that don’t bring you any pleasure is another form of taking in empty calories, because they’re empty of enjoyment. The very next question to ask about a food you’re considering eating is this: “Is this food worthy of me?” And by this, I mean, will this food support me in achieving all of the things I want to achieve in the long run, including good health? If the answer to this questions is “yes” then the very next question is how much? “How much of this food do I really need to eat to feel satisfied – knowing that I can have it again tomorrow or later this week, because I’ve mastered the art of moderation.” Each day should include moderate amounts of food that bring us pleasure. Moderation allows us to live at peace with our food, knowing that subtle variations won’t be enough to destabilize a healthy relationship.
Course by Maya Adam, MD
Directed by William Bottini
Editing by William Bottini & Tamsin Orion
Special thanks to Michael Pollan, Tracy Rydel, and David Eisenberg