Michael Pollan Diet

Like many women I know, I am trying to get back into a pair of pants.  Congratulations to those of you out there who are happily wearing their skinny pants from back in the day.  In the meantime, the rest of us try to make sense of competing nutrition information while simultaneously working to reform bad habits, and maybe while we secretly wonder if we shouldn't just screw the pants and eat the brownie.

At 16, I ate an uninterrupted stream of McDonalds, Doritoes, and Swedish fish, without so much as a ripple appearing where it shouldn't.  I remember the shock and sadness of the dawning realization over the following years that I would have to eat better, make different choices.  I mostly quit McDonald's (with an exception for hangovers), and skipped dinner in order to improve my wine buzz without going too far over daily calorie limits, a technique which also worked well for the budget.  Clearly, I still was not doing myself any great favors.

I have tried things, read things, quit things, and started things.  I have gone years without meat, and then returned to some meat.  I went almost completely without sugar for over a year once (for health but not diet reasons); I'm pretty sure I thought about sugar the entire time.  I have read books, spoken to doctors, had physicals, read articles.  I have been lean and skinny, and I have also been softer and more rectangular.  Looking back, I notice that some of the svelte periods coincided with times of great unhappiness.  In fact, the pants that I'm currently hoping to wear again one day were purchased during a situational depression of some magnitude.  That period of thinness is a total mystery, because I ate Cinnabon nearly every day.  In the nutritional math of my body, depression melted enough calories to mask the certain havoc unleashed by daily gooey masses of dough and frosting.

I'm still not that great at eating fresh greens.  I'm making progress, but it has been long time coming.  I was a  salad-free vegetarian, which confused a lot people, but I just wasn't that into leaves.  They seemed cold and inhospitable; not suited for feeling satiated.  Finally, finally, in my thirties, I have formed a solid relationship with salad.  Even with meat back in the picture.

All of this is to say, I have some neighbor-friends who are on the Paleo bandwagon.  No sugar, no dairy, no flour, no starch vegetables, no oils, no beans, blah blah blah.  It's meant to be a caveman model; a hunter-gatherer blueprint for eating.  Proponents of this diet swear that the cavemen from the Paleolithic era had the nutritional plan we need, and that modern agriculture is a huge problem.  It's hard to explain, but I always find myself looking for ways to prove these two jokers wrong, even though I try not to be rude about it.  A philosophical anti-Paleo rebellion rages inside me.

I'm troubled by their willingness to be involved with a health fad even though they are doctors.  I can't shake the feeling that people are just looking for a free pass to eat lots of meat.  Additionally problematic is that the Paleo diet of today is much different than the true one of the past anyway.  Especially troubling to me on a personal level is that this caveman approach is a completely unsustainable way to feed the planet with any kind of hope for sustaining life.  Finally, let's be honest, it's just no fun.  I don't know how to live in a world without potatoes and beer and pretzels and eggs and cinnamon buns and rosemary-sourdough bread and beans and tortillas and wine and cheese.  I don't want to live in that world.  I accept that I am not permitted to eat those things endlessly, but I believe that they can be included, in moderation, and that we are indeed better off for having little bits of it.

I am in no position to judge the food choices made by others; food is a lens through which we experience and manage our world.  At least three times a day, if we are fortunate.  I have come to the conclusion that we restrict and control food not just because we hope to be healthier or thinner, but also because it feels like one of the few things that we can control.  I feel sad that I rarely invite the Paleos for dinner; they are fun guys who are great friends and who appreciate dining with friends.  I just don't know how to cook what they want, and as much as I enjoy their company, I've noticed that cooking for them, and even just eating with them makes me a little anxious.  I remember that some people felt this way around me when I was a vegetarian, and now that I cook more, I understand the pressure on my mom and other hosts by my selective ways.  I love my friends and support their choices, but sometimes I miss eating with them.  I'm grateful that when I'm invited somewhere, I don't worry if I will be able to eat what's there.

We have responsibilities to make different, and continuously better, choices if we hope for a long, high-quality life.  There is no doubt that much of the physical illness we face in developed nations is largely of our making and that as a result, is at least partially preventable.  However, most of us could also improve our health also by walking a few more blocks per day, reaching out to friends more often for laughter and conversations, or even just sleeping a little bit more.  Evidence is mounting that anxiety causes us more physical harm than any other source of disease, so lately I've been working on managing that.  When I catch the anxious wheels spinning, I work hard to stop them in their tracks.

I know that I can't speak for everyone, but I can say that the single greatest health achievements in my small universe have come from small daily changes, rather than large sweeping ones.  Being around my wonderfully moderate husband helps enormously.  He wants the extra hour of sleep, the banana while he's on the go, and he even wants to leave the party before, instead of after, the extra beer.  It drove me batty the first few years, but those small and frequent considerations of health are shifting my formerly cemented habits of gluttony more than any other method.  Small, daily moments can change our lives.  I know this because since I met him, I eat more fruit, sleep longer and more soundly, and want that one final beer much less frequently than I used to.

In short, I'm on the Michael Pollan diet: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.  Try not to eat things that contain ingredients that you can't pronounce.  I love that he says, 'sure go ahead and eat some French fries or a cinnamon bun...but try making them yourself.'  He doesn't say not to have these things, but his work helps put into perspective what they truly are.   Know how rare oils and sugars and fats really are in nature, how valuable animals are, and and then enjoy them in moderation.  Even better, enjoy them with loved ones at the table.  Hopefully, that's a great way to be healthy.