To lose weight and stay thin, you must change the way you eat. Changing your eating pattern temporarily is easy. You go on a diet. But to stay thin, you’ve got to do more: You must change the way you think about eating. For many of us, eating is a pleasurable ritual performed more often than any other. We begin each day with the eating ritual we call breakfast. We enjoy a “get-away-from-work” eating break in the middle of the day. And we place the most importance, usually, on the “get-together-with-the-family” eating ritual at day’s end.
Those are the three most popular eating rituals. But for many of us, there are also other times of the day when we take a break and have a bite. These may include the midmorning meet-you-at-the-coffee-room rite, the midafternoon tea-and-biscuit rite, and the post-dinner nobody’s-watching rite. And let’s not forget the truly sinful eating pleasures — candy and a soda at the movies, chips and beer while watching sports on television, cocktails before dinner, cognac with cigars, birthday cakes, Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas ham, etc.
For many of us, all the most important activities of life center around food. It wasn’t that way when we were children. For children, life is about playing. Coming home to dinner is not something they look forward to. On the contrary, it is an unpleasant obligation. (Do you remember how often your mother had to call you when all you wanted to do was to keep on playing tag?)
In your early years, eating was something you liked to do as quickly as possible — the very idea of sitting down seemed cruel and unnecessary — and as seldom as possible. But your parents insisted, and you learned to slow down at dinner and spend more time eating. During your dating years, eating became involved with the ritual of romance. You went out to restaurants and nightclubs.
The amounts of time and money you spent on food indicated the level of your romantic interest in a girl. When you went to clubs at night, you spent hours upon hours imbibing liquid sugar and equating the experience with having fun. Now, in adulthood, it seems as if virtually all our social, family, and relaxation rituals involve food. That is not a good thing.
In fact, I think it’s one of the main reasons we get fatter as we get older (metabolism notwithstanding). And though ritual is a wonderful and necessary part of a well-balanced life, we don’t need to center most of our rituals on eating. Think about your own eating rituals. Do you eat at certain times, in certain ways, three or four times a day?
If so, you are a probably a foodite — someone who can’t seem to completely relax or enjoy himself without eating. If that describes you, your chances of getting slim are slim indeed — and your chances of staying thin if you ever reach your ideal weight are virtually nonexistent. To stay lean like you were when you were a kid, you have to eat as little as or much less than you did as a kid. And you’ll never be able to do that if you are eating three, four, and five times a day ritualistically.
Here’s what I recommend:
1. Think of food as fuel, not as entertainment.
2. Eliminate unnecessary ritualistic eating habits, such as business breakfasts and lunches. Limit yourself to no more than three ritualistic meals a day, only one of which is — by any standards — large.
3. If you have a family, make that large meal the one you have together — and make talking as important a component of the meal as eating.
4. Don’t plan to eat anything at all otherwise except if you are hungry. Don’t eat just because it’s “breakfast time” or “lunchtime.”
5. When you do get hungry, don’t (a) go to a restaurant, (b) eat a big meal, or (c) eat while working. If you can, eat something very simple and good for you — such as a vegetable salad or a can of tuna –and do so standing up. Spend no more than five or 10 minutes eating.
Remember, the purpose is to fuel your body, not indulge your emotions. Eat your fuel and then do something healthy and enjoyable — such as walking or stretching or singing or smiling. You might even substitute some non-eating-oriented healthy rituals to replace the eating rituals you will be giving up.
By lowering the level of importance you give to the pleasure of eating, you allow yourself the chance to find pleasure in other, healthier activities. By eating ritualistically less often, you give yourself the chance to find new pleasures that will make you smarter, happier, and healthier — while you are losing weight. By learning to eat only when you are hungry, you will bring your body back into the healthy balance it had when you were younger.