Food is nutrition, not entertainment
August 11, 2009 11:03 AM   Subscribe

How can I change my mindset to think of food as sustinance and not food as entertainment/reward?

I've searched and was shocked to not see this question come up before, but if I missed it, links?)

I am turning 35 in a hair over a month, and I'm trying to get my life in order. A big part of this for me is losing weight and getting fit. However I have a mindset that is ingrained from the past 34 years that I need a way to get around.

I am quite the foodie. I've traveled across the US and some other countries and love to try the culinary delights there. To me, food is entertainment. When traveling, the food is part of the tourism, and when home food is part of the entertainment. Special occasion in the family? Eat out! Going to a movie? More fun with popcorn!

Worse is after a hard day at work (long hours, stressful work environment) my wife and I turn to "comfort food". This is not emotional eating, it's just that after a hard day we can relax a bit better with a pitcher of margaritas and some hot wings (for example). The enjoyable eating experience is a good amount of the enjoyment, and the relief of not having to cook and do dishes, two more chores at the end of a long, hard day, are rewards to ourselves. Instant gratification is the downfall of many an American...including us.

So yes, like dogs, we are food motivated. But to achieve our fitness goals, we need to stop thinking in those terms. How can we do that?

(And hint: as part of "getting my life in order" I'm also cutting back a lot of spending in order to pay off credit cards, so the option to replace the food reward with some monetary reward won't work).
posted by arniec to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the easy answer is "eat things that taste terrible". But that's probably not a very useful suggestion.

I don't think you need to stop thinking in "those terms". You just need to stop doing it as often. Ultimately there's no substitute for will power.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2009

Cooking yourself preserves the reward aspect of it without compromising your health and wallet as much.
posted by mdonley at 11:10 AM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Not to be a contrarian, but I think this might be the wrong way to consider things. I think the best way to judge whether eating a particular (unhealthy) thing is worthwhile is to think about whether, in three months, you'll remember this meal.

So when you travel, absolutely enjoy the hell out of every culinary experience you can. On special occasions with your family - indulge! These are memorable occasions.

But the buffalo wings after a hard day of work? Maybe if you did it once every few months you'd remember the special time with your wife, but I doubt you're limiting yourself to that. Same for picking up fast food on the way home, or whatever.

Anyway, that's how I try to think about food, maybe it'll work for you.
posted by downing street memo at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2009 [18 favorites]

It sounds like you eat out a lot, and you only mention cooking in a pejorative sense. Try changing your perspective on this; cooking a kickass meal isn't something you have to do, it's a pretty amazing privilege. Cooking is typically cheaper than eating out, and you get to know how dishes are put together, etc.
posted by cog_nate at 11:12 AM on August 11, 2009

The Hacker's Diet has section about thinking of your body as an input output machine that worked pretty well to re-orient how I interact with food quantity.
posted by edbles at 11:13 AM on August 11, 2009

Seconding downing street memo. Don't stop doing what you want, just do it smarter. I don't think you "need to get around" the mindset of food being enjoyable, but you do really have two things (entertainment and reward) that should be separated more completely.
posted by setanor at 11:18 AM on August 11, 2009

i would replace food as entertainment with other interests - advisably those that involve moving more, like hiking, biking, walking, swimming. once you start cutting out the bad foods and break yourself of the addiction of it (typically it takes 16 weeks to form new habits) you won't crave those foods as much or use them as entertainment substitutes. definitely attack this project with your wife as a unified force. instead of eating wings after a hard day's work, go for a long walk together and talk about your day. also, track everything you eat - everything....reduce salt, and substitute at every opportunity less fattening foods for fattening foods. (i.e. low fat mayo instead of regular). when i changed my outlook on food as fuel rather than entertainment, i really started to lose weight and save money and now i have a kickass body and money to buy new clothes. life is good in your 30s!
posted by dmbfan93 at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Start smoking. Your sense of taste will be dampened down, you'll never be as hungry, and (in my case at least) eating will sometimes be more of a chore than a pleasure.

But honestly, I think much of why Americans get so fat (especially as they age) is that eating ends up being the strongest hedonic force in their lives. Especially for people who are well-behaved/moderate regarding smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.

So what you need is something in your life that can, hedonically speaking, overshadow eating. I know from experience that this happens to people who get seriously into running, cycling, or other endurance sports. Other sorts of entertainment is great too - so long as it keeps your hands busy. I do recommend exercise (but ease into it or else you might prematurely give it up), but more than anything, get into something! Find something you truly love doing, that you can't stop thinking about, take the plunge, immerse yourself, and you might find that food stops being such an outlet for you.
posted by ripple at 11:25 AM on August 11, 2009 [13 favorites]

And hint: as part of "getting my life in order" I'm also cutting back a lot of spending in order to pay off credit cards,

These are two projects that work great together. Same deal -- if you spend more than you earn, you'll go into debt. If you eat more than you burn, you'll get fat.

So what I think you want is to have an appropriate lifestyle for your income, and eat an appropriate diet for your activity level. So I think you want to surround yourself with a notion of 'appropriateness'. It isn't appropriate to have a pitcher of margaritas at the end of the day if you have a desk job. It's not appropriate to buy new shoes (or whatever) if you're already in debt.

Anyway, that's the kind of thinking I try for. I used to be pretty chronically self-indulgent and sort of greedy, and I got fat and had money problems. Those problems have been addressed, but it did require that I think differently, develop a careful accounting of calories and money, and I take measure of both those things pretty much daily. That didn't happen naturally. I had to force it. But you cannot argue with math.

The other thing that I find helpful is to expose myself as much as possible to media that reinforce that kind of thinking -- like I get the RSS from Get Rich Slowly, and it's just kind of a little daily dose of thinking about money, so I can't put my fingers in my ears and go la la la everythings okay. Is there a sale on Fluevogs???

So much of how we relate to money and food is below our own consiousness--I am continually amazed by how much pizza I can eat. Five slices later I'm like, WTF? But it's gone and I barely knew it happened. It's like sleep eating.

The other thing is, there's a time and a place. That little tableau of wings and margaritas sounds freaking awesome to me right now. Don't try to design your life so that you never get to do that -- maybe do it every Friday or something, and be more thoughtful about the other twenty meals you eat each week.

But a life without some self-indulgence now and then isn't worth living.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2009 [6 favorites]

Another approach is to think about whether you really are appreciating the whole meal. Is the last bite really as good as the first bite, or are you just eating it because it is there? You can eat the first bite and then cut yourself off at some point, and still eat healthier.
posted by smackfu at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2009

I think there's a way to sort of come at this sideways, by focusing on the quality of what you're eating. If you give your body better fuel - more balanced, more nutritious - it will perform better. This doesn't rule out a special occasion meal once in awhile, as downing street memo suggests. There is a social function to food, and if you're wired that way, I suspect it's going to be challenging to change entirely, so modification might be a more achievable goal.

What helped me shift my mindset about food was reading SuperFoods Rx, because it was (what seems to me to be) pretty commonsense advice about nutrition. And there are tons of other resources about nutrition, of course. That's the mind set that finally helped me grasp that a balanced meal is a better reward for my body than carryout. Cooking at home at the end of a long day is still a challenge, though. I'm trying to expand my repertoire of one-pot meals, since I really can't be fussed with extensive cleanup when I'm just cooking for myself.
posted by EvaDestruction at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are plenty of foods which are both healthy and very enjoyable -- fresh fruits in the summer, for instance. I'd think that working to take more pleasure in the foods which are good for you will make you a much happier person than cutting out the pleasure aspect entirely.

Another thought: pay attention to the way your body feels after a meal. Try to incorporate that into the whole experience. If you've eaten well, you'll feel good as a result: add that anticipation into the pleasure you're taking from the meal. If you eat poorly, you might feel bloated or uncomfortable (I know I do); try to consider that when choosing what to eat.

In short: you can still have great pleasure in simple, healthy foods which will make you feel good in the short and long term. Put energy into finding those foods and making the habit of preparing, eating, and enjoying them.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:39 AM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

I separate eating into two kinds of meals:
(i) meals that are experiences and meant to be savored as an activity on their own (cooking something new, interesting restaurant, food tour with friends, etc.)
(ii) Dog food - meals that are just meant to sustain you in the healthiest way possible, with the least calories and the minimum amount of flavor you need to prevent a pig-out later (e.g. if a biscotti prevents you from eating a bag of cookies later, it's a good caloric trade).

Lowering expectations this way prevents me from thinking that every meal has to be a gustatory experience. Also as a foodie, regarding extra fat as "cheating" in recipes helps to prevent eating stuff that tastes good only because it's insanely caloric (e.g. chicken wings, fast food, cheese). Making low-calorie food delicious is the real challenge - any bozo can use duck fat or brie to make a dish delicious.

Seconding all the exercise/hobby advice above.
posted by benzenedream at 11:52 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I concur with the exercise suggestion. My good health goes in waves, but one thing I've found is that when I'm working out 3 to 5 times a week, my meals fall into line, too.

Following a good workout with a bad meal feels pretty awful, only because you realize you'll have to burn it all off tomorrow. The best part about working out is making progress and feeling leaner, stronger, healthier.

I agree with others, too, in that it's definitely not a cold turkey type situation. Hell, I work out for 45min a day and enjoy a beer or three worth of empty calories at night. I try to eat smart enough to continue making progress and not feel like I'm moving backwards or fighting with myself.

Going out to dinner a lot though is a bad idea, IMO. I could never control my food intake if I ate out all the time. Food is just too good. I pack my lunch everyday and cook at home 4-5 nights a week.
posted by BirdD0g at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I have a policy of one junk meal per week, with few exceptions. Most restaurant/takeout meals count as junk, but a few don't - if a restaurant meal contains lean meat, fresh veggies, and whole grains instead of processed carbs, and isn't covered in batter or heavy sauce, then it's usually okay. Sometimes it feels a little restrictive, but mostly it makes me appreciate going out to eat that much more.

In the meantime, we still enjoy food - we just enjoy healthy stuff. Apples and oranges keep for ages in the fridge - figure out your favorite variety of each and stock up. We started buying whole-grain breads from a local bakery, and sandwiches seem almost luxurious now.

As for cooking dinner, sometimes it's fun, but sometimes I just don't feel like doing it. Nothing wrong with a turkey sandwich or cereal and fruit for dinner. I think people are accustomed to big "dinnery" dinners that require more preparation than breakfast or lunch, so it might feel weird to sit down with something small. In that case, you can replace the ritual value of a big dinner with a different relaxing ritual, maybe watching a DVD or playing some video games while/after you eat.

Additionally, once you get into a good workout habit, it gets easier to notice food's effects on your body, and you'll start to avoid the foods that make you feel bad. Going for a jog after eating a double cheeseburger and fries feels pretty terrible, as does being active the morning after a night of drinking.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:59 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you get food from somewhere, make a habit of only eating half of it and saving the rest for later. This is way cheaper than getting more food later, and the first bite is always the best anyway, so you get the "first bite" experience from the same meal twice.
posted by Nattie at 12:02 PM on August 11, 2009

I'm in the same situation. My indulgence would be cookies though. After a hard day's work, I would eat (too much umami soulfood like meatballs and tomato sauce - home cooked, though!), work some more, and then unwind with a beer and I would grok down a pack of cookies.

For the last few days, I'm trying to cut out the cookies, and to eat less during my regular meals. I try to eat to the point where I feel almost satisfied ("two spoonfuls less than satisfied," Salman Rushdie calls it), and I try to stop at that - rather pleasant - moment. It's the moment where I would delve into the lasagna dish for the third time because it's just so deliciously tasty.

Then I eat a piece of fruit, which I don't like overly much, but I'm trying to train my body to accept fruit as an umami experience. I don't buy cookies any more.

I've also began eating breakfast a while ago. I didn't eat breakfast before (too much soulfood in the evening + a pack of cookies with a beer = no appetite in the morning). So I started to force myself to have breakfast. I am hungry earlier for lunch, I sneak in a piece of fruit right when I get home, and I do the light meal + fruit in the evening.

In essence, I'm treating my food indulgence like I did my addiction to cigarettes: it's psychological more than anything, and your body gets used to just about anything if you stick to it long enough. I'm hoping it will work, because I want to lose a pound or ten. Good luck to you (and to me).
posted by NekulturnY at 12:21 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tony "The Anti-Jared" Posnanski has changed his thinking about food and has lost a lot of weight as a result. Read his blog and see if you can get some inspiration.
posted by studentbaker at 12:30 PM on August 11, 2009

I love food a lot, too, and I don't think it would be worthwhile to stop loving it. What you can do is make healthier choices that you also love most of the time. If you're maintaining a workout schedule and have a calorie deficit in your diet, you'll lose weight; if you break even on calories, you'll stabilize your weight. So you just have to find foods you love that will fit into your calorie budget. You can also do that by working out more or for longer sessions.

When I was training hard a few years ago I lost a lot of weight and felt like I was eating and enjoying food all the time. I just went for really big bright flavorful salads - lots of bulk and flavor variety. I sprinkled them with nuts and goat cheese. I made yummy roasted sausage with root veggies and delicious soups like black bean with jalepenos and sour cream, lentils, etc. Baked my own pita chips and tortilla chips. My promise to myself was to eat real, whole foods and make sure I was getting nutrition and bulk with my calories. Cooking from scratch is a great way to handle this - whenever you eat out you're not getting the best, healthiest food. Treat yourself at the grocery store and produce market and meat market, by buying wonderful special ingredients that you can't wait to cook with, and great healthy snacks, not out at a restaurant.

There was still room to splurge every now and then on ice cream or a burger or nachos or something. In fact, to tell the truth, I'm kind of slack right now and have gained some weight. Oddly, even though I'm letting myself eat out a lot, and having heavy stuff like nachos and burgers and stuff more often, I find I enjoy them quite a bit less than I should. They don't represent a special treat, and they go right by without drawing my attention the way high-resource-intensive foods really should. They are not a delicious and rich departure from my daily diet, they're just that much more work for my poor body to deal with. So I actually found I loved eating and loved food MORE when I was choosing healthier food more often.

So, enjoy your food. Just replace the unhealthier choices with the healthier choices, and figure out where it's really important for you to splurge and where you don't mind restricting. But I don't ever expect myself to stop enjoying food - as you do, I see it as one of life's great pleasures, simple, full of variety, and part of daily life. I just have to think about what I eat and try to make the absolute tastiest choice that will also give me the best health.
posted by Miko at 12:36 PM on August 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

You need to keep a food journal and to observe how you actually eat, and make decisions based on that data. Dietary research for the past 40 years is rooted in evidence based medicine, not changing how people think about food. The mindset shift is something that comes along with eating differently, and experiencing how it makes you feel, then comes a shift in what foods you desire and find comforting/relaxing to eat.

There are plenty of websites that faciliate this, i just keep a simple pen/paper log.
posted by zentrification at 1:06 PM on August 11, 2009

Honestly, thinking of food as sustinance sounds kind of horrible. Food is one of the great pleasures in life. Even animals take pleasure in their food. I think you should just discover new, healthy kinds of food to be entertained and rewarded by. Making a point to eat in-season fruit is a good start. Summer sweet-peas and broth pureed into soup! Kale chips! Really good cherries! The perfect peach! A really good spit-roasted churrasco chicken! Poached salmon! There is so much healthy food that's really delicious and fun to make.

Maybe make a point to change where you shop- try using the produce section and a really good butcher instead of packaged stuff, for instance? Become interested in healthy foods and cooking methods and take pleasure in finding good iterations of those. Look for the healthiest cooking methods- steamed, poached, grilled instead of fried or gratinee, for instance. Try the healthiest items on the menu wherever you eat- green mango salad instead of spring rolls. Shrimp cocktail instead of fried coconut shrimp. Grilled asparagus instead of buttery potatoes at a steakhouse.

It makes me sad when people think food should only be a calories-in/calories-out experience, and while that may help them lose weight, the cost of never really savouring anything or thinking food is "bad" doesn't seem worth it, at all!

I do think you can probably learn to enjoy water (tap or fizzy) and unsweetened coffee instead of sugary pop and juice- that'll make a dent in the weight for sure, though. And maybe make a point to drink with friends or for real pleasure, but not alone "just because", to keep the booze calories down.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:30 PM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Aww, hell... I'm not a nutritionist but a bit of a nerd about this stuff.

What worked for me was to start by keeping track of everything I ate (and drank, other than water or black coffee), and to ask myself in which of the following four categories it belonged:

1) Nutritious stuff consumed at meals;
2) Nutritious stuff consumed between meals;
3) Non-nutritious stuff ('empty calories') consumed at meals;
4) Non-nutritious stuff ('empty calories') consumed between meals.

In my experience, improving your eating habits (and I'm very much a believer in creating healthy habits) may require different actions for each category.


Usually not your biggest problem, though portion size and getting the right variety / combination of nutrients may be areas to work on.


Ditto. Though if a sizeable part of your calorie intake is between meals, it's advisable to keep track of what you consume and ensure that your intake doesn't exceed the number of calories that you burn by too much.


(Note: some of this can be hidden. For instance, there may be surprisingly large amounts of butter or cream in food that's served in restaurants.)

Occasionally eating a less than healthy meal isn't a problem. Being in the habit of regularly eating meals that contain a sizeable amount of empty calories may be a problem. The first step towards improving your eating habits is to get a basic understanding of what healthy eating is, and to understand why you're not always doing it. Getting into the habit of eating healthy meals may require changing your lifestyle. (For instance, I now leave for work at 6:15 in the morning so I can be home from work early enough to cook and eat my dinner at a reasonable hour. Also, when I know I'll be eating out in the evening I make sure that I have plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables with my lunch.)


Occasionally doing this isn't a problem, but if it's something you're doing every day or several days a week it's worth looking into.

Denying yourself things is probably not going to work. What worked for me was understanding when and why I did this (for instance, I was in the habit of buying a greasy snack at the railway station on the way home from work when it was late and I was hungry, tired and frustrated). The thing to keep in mind is that your needs and experiences are real and valid, but that empty calories aren't necessarily the answer. How to deal with this category depends on your specific needs. One approach is rationing (I used to have a can of Coke and a small bag of paprika-flavoured potato chips each day at work, and I decided to limit myself to a can of coke and a small bag of chips a week), another is substitution (buying a coffee or a magazine rather than a greasy snack while waiting for my train to arrive).

One last thing (I promise...) in my experience improving your eating habits helps you to healthy food, which makes it easier to keep it up. Also, in my experience cooking my own food is a lot cheaper than eating out.
posted by rjs at 1:45 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding several others, above. If you're a foodie, then make that your strength, and get more picky. What's the line from 'Ratatouille'?

"If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff."
posted by LN at 1:57 PM on August 11, 2009

I'd say you don't have to eliminate food-as-exploration or food-as-travel-goal -- these are things that might happen once per week or even more rarely; you could even save money by doing this less frequently but more fancily. Have really awesome food experiences, but maybe every month or every seven to eight weeks. If you're in the habit of eating less, then you might even be more likely to have leftovers. If you throw a dinner party after focusing on eating healthy for a few months, you might even find that your own tastes are more aligned with your healthy-eating friends.

So, you can keep these more artistic experiences, but give up the habitual comfort eating. That's what will really get you. Come up with dinner menus and/or routines that are fun and that connect you with others (playing cards or Settlers of Cataan with your wife and/or friends? Evening walks? Fostering 16 cats? Building birdhouses?), and I'd suggest that if the food ends up boring you - you'll need to make it take less time so that you have the time to spend on your other activities.
posted by amtho at 1:58 PM on August 11, 2009

You've fallen into the same pattern that so many people who have full work days and disposable income have. Let me break it down how I now view the way I spent a number of years:
1. You have a stressful work day, which leaves you drained of energy.
2. You go home and need to eat, but it seems like a lot more work to prepare food for what you view as an inferior result. Too much energy, not enough reward.
3. You go out, spend money, and buy food that is pleasing but takes more energy to digest. You wash it down with drinks that, again, sap your energy.
4. You go to bed having not accomplished much outside of work that day, making work seem like the large accomplishment in your life. This makes you view work as even more of a drag, since it is an eight hour block of work-to-goal activity.

If you're like me, you need to start seeing your work day as just a part of your life. Your evening is not wind-down time from work, and cooking is not an activity that should drag you down. Eating shouldn't be a primary form of recreation.

See if you can kick off your evening earlier for a couple weeks. If that means taking a short lunch, arriving a little earlier to work, or reconfiguring your commute, then do it if at all possible. Eat an afternoon snack (like a granola bar or some yogurt) a couple hours before heading home. Now, you have a new primary timespan in your life: the evening. You're not going to be crashing from hunger due to the snack. If you can, try to schedule a workout right after work, so that it breaks your day into two pieces..

Plan ahead for meals. I'd recommend any cookbook that has easy-to-make stuff, but you might be able to look into signing up for a session at one of those places where you make a bunch of meals at a time to freeze. They seem to plague suburban areas. Since you're in Illinois, it's summer now, so another quick alternative is grilling -- you can throw a couple cuts of meat in the fridge to marinate then you get home, cut up a zucchini in five minutes, and throw both on the grill. Within fifteen minutes, you have dinner.

More importantly, try to plan some late-evening activities. In the time when you'd be watching tv after eating out, plan to go for a walk, meet friends at a park (or even for a quick drink, if it's occasional), or at the least, plan to watch specific things on tv or netflix. The difference between watching a couple hours of television with no specific plan and watching a specific thing and then turning the tv off is amazing. It's no longer a time filler for downtime, but a specific task that you'll feel some sense of accomplishment for that has a start and end time. Because of that, you'll have time free up and realize that the small things -- doing dishes, cleaning up -- are not that much time in the grand scheme of things.
posted by mikeh at 2:20 PM on August 11, 2009 [7 favorites]

Black beans. Eat them. You'll thank me next year when you're in Athletic health.
posted by baggymp at 2:20 PM on August 11, 2009

Response by poster: Baggy...I grew up in a house of black beans...can't even take the SMELL of them..... LOL
posted by arniec at 2:25 PM on August 11, 2009

It sounds like you get a lot (most?) of your joy from food. If this is the case, be careful about changing your food behavior in one fell swoop, especially if you feel like your new food regimen is restrictive and painful.

I have been heavy, and a foodie, most of my life. It was not until I discovered a new passion that could make me forget to eat that I was capable of changing my relationship with food. If there's something that interests you, get involved in it before you change your eating habits too much, and it will be a much easier transition.

Also, is your wife on board with all of this? If she's also getting most of her joy from food and food-related activity, don't take that away from her without both of you being aware of what's going on.
posted by catlet at 2:52 PM on August 11, 2009

Actually, focusing on quality will help you savor your food even more. (For instance, there's an enormous amount of pleasure to be had in seared tuna, poached salmon, and fresh blueberries.) Surely there are some high-calorie, low value foods you're eating that you could cut out. White bread, rice and pasta can be easily swapped for tastier, more nutritious substitutes. Maximizing the "tastiness per calorie" ratio helps.

When you do eat out, portion control goes a long, long way: I usually take away 1/2 to 3/4 of what I ordered in a paper bag. You can enjoy whatever you like without getting hung up on the "clean plate club" thing. Giving half your meal to a hungry homeless person is always a great way to spread your good fortune.
posted by aquafortis at 2:53 PM on August 11, 2009

I'm going through some of the same thing right now.

I had limited what I was eating, 4-6 smaller healthy meals a day and going to the gym and had lost a lot of weight. Then I bought a house and started working at a stressful job, I stopped going to the gym and started stress eating instead and gained weight. Now for the last three weeks or so I am back on the healthy eating/working out path and it's going well, and just starting to feel normal.

I also have free day one day a week to eat two unhealthy meals and drink some wine.
posted by Melsky at 3:33 PM on August 11, 2009

But food is entertainment. Do do quality over quantity. I plumped up last year, and have had great success whittling it off wih a small breakfast, a small lunch, and no sense of deprivation because my dinners are superb. I go to a lot of specialty food stores to get the makings for the superb dinners. I think about my damn dinner all day; it's total reward, enjoyment, comfort. But it doesn't have to be a whole damn pizza -- it just has to be really good pizza.

After a few months of this my body sort of stopped expecting big meals, too.

The 'really good' can be expensive, but here and there there are ways out of that; I have been teaching myself how to cook real Indian food rather than just "a curry," and can now make lovely things out of 27c worth of lentils, and a trip to a farm sometimes means a week of fantastic salads for $15.
posted by kmennie at 5:16 PM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

One trick is to habitually remind oneself that the fatty, greasy, overly-processed, overly-sweet, overly-salty indulgences are typically gross if viewed from another perspective. This type of re-framing has been so effective for me, that I sort of gag a bit now when I see someone eating McDonalds, or wings, or HFCS soft drinks.

Another trick is remind oneself that over-eating is strongly correlated with poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and chronic stress. So, get 8 hours of sleep, supplement with vitamins, make your own food, and remove yourself from the people and situations that cause chronic stress.

Another trick is to rely on a partner for motivation. This trick doesn't work for me as much, but I've been able to coach several of my friends out of many, many pounds over the years.
posted by TheOtherSide at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

Look at the French and Japanese: their populations are astoundingly healthy compared to the US and they don't go through bullshit diet fads like we do. Their respective cuisines have whole ingredients U.S. diet-fad-followers would frown on, like white rice and butter (and butter, and more butter, and then maybe some foie gras). They key is that both cultures have high respect for fresh produce and high quality cooking, which keeps the price of food higher and, thus, the portions smaller.

What's really killing Americans is dirt cheap, plentiful, dense calories in the form of government-subsidized corn. Corn in all our cheap processed foods and breads, and corn to raise our fatty factory grown animals.

tl;dr: Eat real, tasty food; not too much; mostly plants.
posted by chalbe at 6:02 PM on August 11, 2009

My only suggestion is to eat beautiful food as we eat first with out eyes. Don't eat things you hate the look/texture/taste of. That's punishment. For instance, eat a small, perfectly cooked steak, not the biggest one on the menu. Eat one perfect piece of cake, not a tray of store bought junk. Learning to cook helps, esp if you get one of those books that has great, full colour pics, like the old The Little Book of (shellfish, cakes, beef, drinks, etc.) series which shows you what the finished dish looks like and exactly how to cook it. Nthing the eat real advice. Nothing tastes better than real food, and it's usually much better for you. And, eat lots of veg/salad with your perfect steak, taking your time to savour each bite. It's helps.
posted by x46 at 6:22 PM on August 11, 2009

You can look into try Mark Bitterman's diet. He calls it the vegan before six diet. He discuss it in the book Food Matters.

"Everything pointed to a simpler style of eating. I started following a diet that was nearly "vegan until six." Until dinner, I ate almost no animal products and no simple carbs (no white-flour products, junk food, or sugar-heavy snacks). At dinner, I ate as I always had, sometimes a sizable meal including animal products, bread, dessert, wine -- you name it -- or sometimes a salad and a bowl of soup. I also took several long walks each week.

I detest overly prescriptive diets that are impossible to follow, and the point was to eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains and less meat, sugar, junk food, and overrefined carbs, without giving up foods I loved."
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:59 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Start noting calories, fat, protein, and vitamin content of your food. You'll start to see food as fuel and less as entertainment or reward.
posted by madh at 1:28 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

A big part of this for me is losing weight and getting fit.

Concentrating on the getting fit part helps. It especially helps if you're method of getting fit is at all competitive (even if that means personal best.) I always found going to the gym somewhat boring and not motivating. When I got involved in sports, I found that the desire to get better (less embarrassing) a strong motivator to be in better shape, which led to eating better. But don't ask me to live without a chicken wing. That's just cruel.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:07 AM on August 12, 2009

I'll add my two cents, mostly to back up the folks saying that you should aim to move to cooking it yourself, and perhaps getting better ingredients at a farmer's market. I not only cook but generally make up my own recipes, too. I've been cutting out highly-processed foods, and have even started doing my own soda, beer, pasta, and mead. I do almost all my shopping for day-to-day foods at the local farmer's market, and a lot of the vendors recognize me. It's an interesting challenge to get a week's worth of food at the market, varying what you get with the seasons. It can be trying to do a dinner after a long day at work, but I've always got the ingredients for something I can throw together quickly.

There are few things as satisfying as sitting down at the table with friends and seeing that you were personally involved with making every bit of food there.

Making it, for me, also doubles the entertainment value. Once when it's made, and once when it's eaten.
posted by caphector at 10:53 PM on August 12, 2009

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