Take Me to the Cleaners
In fairness to the handful of you who venture to read this blog on occasion, I have in the past made a promise to forewarn you if I’m going to hurl a paragraph or two of unsolicited advice at your eyeballs, urging you to eat better and think twice about what you are putting into your bodies. Well folks, the day has come, on a Monday no less. This week we’re going to pump the brakes a bit, temporarily put away our Spaghetti Carbonara and Cheeseburger Spring Rolls recipes and focus on the right kind of fuel to best energize the magical machines we’ve all been gifted as living, breathing humans on the planet Earth. There will be plenty of time to taste and enjoy all of the wonderfully rich and fattening foods this fine world has to offer, but I would like to challenge you to take stock of how you are feeling on a daily basis and see if there might be a few adjustments you can make in your life to increase your chances of success in the lifelong quest of pursuing happiness.
Last week, my wife and I made the mutual leap of faith into the world of cleansing for the third time in three years. The program to which we subscribe is a 24 day long jaunt into a world that is generally the antithesis of what I’ve come to know as a “standard American life,” one chalk of full of meat, sugar, processed foods and enormous portions of whatever you want. First, let me be clear in my admission that I am a big fan and long-time subscriber of this way of life and that it can have its own place within a healthy and moderate lifestyle. You want to drink a giant beer and eat a bucket of fries covered in “cheese,” at the ballpark? Go for it, champ, you deserve it. You want to do the same thing during Tuesday’s lunch hour? Maybe not so much. The truth is, our bodies are pretty amazing at cleaning up our messes. You can virtually do anything once in a while and not see too much in the way of negative side effects. Our bodies can handle that. What our bodies can’t handle, however, is the repeated ingestion of stuff that doesn’t play well with the natural tools we’ve been given without any chance to recover and “take out the trash.”
It’s hard to remember exactly when it was that I had come to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, there might actually be something to all of the talk about moderation and eating right. If I had to guess, I’d say it was in the days following a particularly indulgent bachelor party weekend outside of Atlantic City where my body had been ridden hard and put up wet one time too many and finally rang the alarm bell loud enough for my dumb ass to hear it. Without going into too much detail, when you are getting woken up in the middle of night because of a backlog of “waste” needs to be evacuated from your body immediately, you can rest yourself assured you’re doing something wrong. And no, I’m not talking about the times when you accidentally drank a little too much water or iced tea with dinner and you wake up in the middle of the night needing to pee. I’m talking about the man-sized dumps that red necks brag about that would rouse me from my night-sweating slumber because my body was sick and tired of carrying around the partially digested Chinese food clogging up my internal highways. “Take me to the cleaners!” I thought, slumped over on the toilet, agonizing in pain and sleepy bewilderment. It’s not a good feeling. There is pain. There is shame. And most importantly, there is just no need for it.
Somewhere in between the second cleanse we did and the third one we are doing now, I had managed to forget all of the important lessons I’d learned from the first two. I had fallen off the wagon pretty hard and was back to eating a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich every morning and chugging down coffee after coffee, only to grab a massive plate of halal food from the street meat trucks for lunch and then eat pizza or sesame chicken for dinner. I was back up the body weight I was after that bachelor weekend. It became clear then that this would be a lesson that I would be continuing to learn throughout my life; a dragon that I would always be chasing. At first I was a bit deflated by this realization. I wanted to scratch this vice and internal struggle off the self-improvement to do list for good. As it turns out, it wasn’t that easy. My relationship with food is very heavily tied to my relationship with happiness. My eating is much less about its intrinsic nature, to provide nutrients and nourishment for my body and mind, and more about trying to find happiness, however brief, amidst mouthfuls of food. It’s a bit of a self-serving affliction. The worse I would feel, the worse foods I would seek out for comfort, and they in turn would make me feel like crap, and then I’d look for more comfort. Much like pursuing happiness is a moving target, so is finding a healthy balance and relationship with food.
While I will be providing a recipe this week, and likely several more to follow, for an example meal that is both good and good for you (shown below), the more important “recipe” I have to share is a fairly simple thought about the nature of hunger. When we pick up on the bat signal from our bodies or our minds that is telling us that it might be time to eat something, we have a critical opportunity in this moment to pause and take stock of what this message is actually saying. Sometimes, you’re right, you have decoded this message properly and you are legitimately hungry. Go ahead and chow down, weary traveler, it’s feeding time. Other times, though, it could be a wide variety of things that you are feeling that aren’t exactly hunger.
So how can you determine what is real hunger and what is say, boredom, or anxiety, or even thirst? There isn’t an exact science to it, but I start with drinking a full glass of water and trying to quiet my mind long enough to determine what it is that I am actually feeling. More often than not, I will find that I am trying to distract myself from restlessness or an unpleasant emotion. This is where the act of eating becomes a bit self-defeating. Chances are, if I reach for a snack in this moment to try to comfort myself about a negative emotion, I will end up feeling bad about myself shortly after doing so and will be left with having both eaten something I didn’t need and my body didn’t want, but the same crappy situation I was trying to escape from is now made a touch worse because I’m now taking swings at myself for not having better self-control.
At the end of the day, reaching for food when we’re not hungry is only “treating the symptom” of a larger issue at hand, something that we should spend more time confronting head on to process and put to bed rather than allowing to continue on and spill over into other parts of our lives (like our physical health). Instead of trying to fill whatever void that exists within you with food, alcohol, caffeine or whatever, try to first understand what it is that you are trying to be comforted from and change that scenario. This way, when confronted with the daunting task of trying to decide what to have for dinner, we can better weigh our options based on nutritional value as opposed to hoping tonight’s cheeseburger will fix the nagging issue that you hate your job. It is certainly no easy task, one we will likely struggle with for the duration of our lives, but every tool we acquire along the way can help and determining the difference between true hunger and hunger born of escapism will go a long way in finding balance and moderation in our lives. With a little effort, you may just find yourself a little happier and feeling a little more even-keeled before the day is done.