In the February 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, Jessica Berger Gross wrote “An Honest Meal,” about how yoga changed her relationship with food. It’s a neat summary of her memoir, enLIGHTened, which I reviewed in my second blog post, “Do yoga, lose weight,” last August. (I recommend reading the whole book, which more satisfyingly details her backstory and personality.)
While I was a bit underweight in high school and college (being thin had its own stigma, by the way), I was so thin that I could model for pills to lose weight, I’m not sure that’s how that works but you get my point. I could relate to eating hangups. During stressful periods in my 20s, I’d occasionally eat for psychological comfort rather physical need (granola, with its vague portion size, was particularly easy to abuse!). I’d also go through stages of health-nut zeal, eschewing not only meat, butter, and chocolate, but even olive oil and egg yolks! (I’m still vegetarian but on affectionate terms with dairy, eggs, and the cacao bean.)
The issue for me was not weight but control, whether too little or too much. Essentially, I was eating unnaturally. In her book, Gross’s then-infant son and pet dog exemplify natural food regulators. They eat when they are hungry. They stop when they are full. On active days, they eat more. On sedentary days, they eat less.
But even animals can have food hangups. My kitty, Gingy, couldn’t seem to self-regulate her intake. I had to portion out limited servings twice a day to keep her weight in check. She spent her early kittenhood as a feral cemetery stray, which perhaps taught her that food is scarce. In retrospect, I might’ve underfed her and contributed to her compulsion to clean her bowl.
Whether we’re human or feline, eating in sync with our physical needs is key. Our obsession with food has spanned generations and cultures. Food journalist Michael Pollan is just the latest chronicler, oracle, and advisor on our eating habits. He’ll forever be remembered for his seven-word prescription: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
His latest book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (see New York Times interview here) contains catchy tips on what and how to eat. Have we so lost touch with this basic act that we need a guide to say, “It’s not food if it’s served through the window of your car”? Or, “Don’t buy cereals that change the color of the milk”?
Even those seeking healthful diets can go overboard. I’d heard the phrase “eating like a caveman” to mean avoiding grains and eating primarily plants and unprocessed foods. But, according to “The New Age Cavemen and the City,” also published in the Times, wackos are now trying to go prehistoric by alternating gorging on meat (as if after a kill) and fasting (between kills).
I might pick up the Pollan book. But my current favorite food book is eating my words, an engagingly witty collection of essays by Vancouver-based food writer and yoga teacher Eve Johnson. She captures the way food is family and history, sensory pleasure and scientific experiment—and shows us how a true foodie appreciates food.