2.16.2011

Learning to Eat


I find this humiliating but, at 41, I'm still not sure how to eat. But I am much better at it today than I was.

In college, I would cook these enormous meals for myself. And, for some reason, I'd eat it all. I equated that feeling of pain as being full and so, moron that I was —and, in many ways, still am — I ate until it hurt. Sometimes, I'd take a nap mid-meal, wake and pick up right where I'd left off. Night after night, it was the same thing. I simply did not learn. It was if I assumed eating should be self-evident so why should I consider it — even when my stomach was aching every freakin' night.

There's a metaphor here for lots of things. Anyway....

I was not alone. When my friends and I would cook meals together, collectively we would enact this same stupidity: we'd eat until all of us were on the ground moaning in pain.

Several years ago, I began actually to heed how I ate — amount, yes, and content. But getting this right — eating so as to maximize the system that is my body — is easier said then done. How do we know how to eat? How do we decide what to eat?

We can go by what we crave. And, often, this is effective. But, for many, craving and health are at odds. Nietzsche says that an ill constituted person instinctively craves that which makes him sick. The strong man does the opposite: he craves what makes him healthy. All you have to do is go to one of these monster supermarkets – surely, Safeway is one of the most depressing places on the planet, all flourescent glow of indigestion, mass processed death — and see what people are eating. It's horrifying.

So if craving alone cannot be trusted, how do we make these decisions? Well, experience, of course. I've eaten this before and, well, I felt good so I'll eat it again. This generally works very well. Only it's not that easy as a) one's body changes so what was once good may not be anymore; and b) we don't eat in isolation: multiple foods, multiple factors, come into play. So perhaps that one food fed my vitality but perhaps it was that food in combination with another or with my mood or with the time of year. There are dozens of variables, each varying. And, anyway, it's not really a matter of a food but of how to combine them, when to eat them, how to eat them.

There's outside knowledge — what people tell you, books tell you, science reports tell you, nutritionists tell you (and everyone these days is an expert on food; it's unsettling: from whence their knowledge?). But this can be quite confusing. Eat raw, says my friend, that way you get all the nutrients. Cook everything, my acupuncturist says, make sure it's warm and grounding. Who you gonna believe?

We are, at last, alone with our bodies. We make these decisions in the moving, morphing lab that is our bodies, that is our lives. Each decision is a temporal fold, a calculus of past experience, present craving, opportunity, future predictions, outside knowledge, and gut instinct (as it were).

Alas, this is really the way of all decisions, conscious or not. They are impossible but actual. Heeding the everyday ain't easy.

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