When a client comes in reporting that they veered from their nutrition plan, my first question is generally “was it worth it?” You see, to me there’s a difference between a treat and a cheat. Treats are worth it. The best pizza Chicago has to offer, your grandmother’s famous holiday dessert, the Bi-rite ice cream I had on my birthday are all treats. Treats are savored and special. I wish I could take credit for this concept but it’s not mine. While I have no recollection of my mother dieting when I was growing up (ironic maybe when you think of my profession) she certainly had a rule system. When she tasted something ordinary she would often remark “that’s not worth it” and she’d immediately put her fork down. This was a woman who loved wine and cheese and bread so none of this was restrictive. I’ve always liked this mentality as it shifts the focus of food from calories and food groups back to taste.
Sadly, much of our eating is governed by factors other than taste and sometimes taste doesn’t even come into play. The LA Times reported on a recent study conducted on moviegoers. Participants were given either fresh or week-old stale popcorn. Results showed people consumed the same amount of popcorn they usually do at movies regardless of freshness (or taste). Those who weren’t regular popcorn eaters were somewhat less likely to consume the stale stuff. In a meeting room, people did eat less of the stale popcorn than they did in the dark theatre.
While I’d like to think most of us don’t regularly eat stale food, habits can be very powerful. How many times have you gone to lunch at 12:30 simply because you always do? I’ve talked about dessert and it’s very common to have a sweet after dinner purely out of habit. Habits also come into play with portions. Oftentimes we finish what’s on our plate or what we cook without regard for when we’re sated or if it really tastes good.
I’m asking you to jettison those old tendencies and take a page out of Elli’s playbook (funny I feel no need to respect my mother’s privacy). Embrace your inner food snob and to pay attention to how your food tastes. Ask yourself if its worth it and if not stop. You can use #TIDEI (tweet it don’t eat it) @Foodtrainers and we’ll give you a virtual gold star. Another thing we should glean from the study is that only things that are “worth it” should be done in the dark. When it comes to eating, the brighter the lights the better.
When do you find yourself eating sub par food? When you commit a cooking flop do you eat it anyway? Any treats you want to report?
*If you’re now craving freshly popped popcorn, tune in Friday for some Pop Secrets.
I read this study, and while I was pretty grossed out, I have to admit I've probably been that person before! I mean, especially at the movies, after paying $10 for a small popcorn, who wants to not eat it?! YOu know? Habits really are powerful, and I thought this study showed that very well. Right now I'm working on kicking the late night eating habit. I need to cut those eats in half…
Interesting you brought up $ Gina, I'm sure there is the connection you mentioned "I paid for it so I will eat it" in the same way sometimes we say "I cooked it so I may as well". For this study it may be the expense, the habit and the distraction that all came into play.
I think the 'treat' concept is important – being able to indulge occasionally is important. I personally am not a member of the clean plate club and never have been. Ever since I was little I simply stopped eating when I was full. Luckily, I had parents who were supportive of this. I think a lot of the eating until it's gone goes back to being raised a certain way. My grandmother was around during the Great Depression and went without a lot. Now, it's psychologically difficult for her to waste food – leading to some weight gain and potentially her type II diabetes.
I find myself eating subpar food when I go home to visit family. I tried to curb this my last trip by making a trip to the store to stock my mom's fridge with foods and snacks I like and enjoy but are healthy
I love your mother's concept! I need to employ such thinking in my own life. I honestly don't know if I eat anything that tastes good because I am always thinking of food as medicine or fuel first and taste second. Example: I have been eating a concoction I created primarily for health reasons – it TASTES like cat food: canned wild salmon, sardines, kidney beans, celery, and chopped zucchini mixed with hummus, Braags aminos and chili pepper sauces. WTF is that? I like it because I know the macros are good, it has a ton of protein and is brimming with the omegas and vitamin D which I need desperately as I wean off my SSRIs. Debating on putting this recipe on my blog and deeming it "Happy Head Cat Food…For Humans" what is your professional opinion?
Love your mom's method of deciding whether or not to continue eating something! I grew up in a "clean your plate" household — not the healthiest of eating environments. So I've had to learn to slow down and actually taste the food I'm eating… it's so hard to do when you grow up with the opposite of eating fast and finishing everything on your plate irregardless of hunger.
Kind of off the subject but I also think of taste in a "primitive" sense where the sense of taste is needed for survival. If something didn't taste right then you didn't eat it because it might be bad or spoiled. Now there's so many preservatives in food people have learned not to use their sense of taste. Mindless eating!!
Cameo, it's an interesting question. When I posted a day of my eating, one reader/friend said "I find your eating unappetizing." I can see how green juices, avocados etc can be rather plain and "healthy". I think treats need to be excellent tasting and I think healthy with herbs and spices should taste at least like human versus cat food. I draw my line at canned sardines. I just can't.
Lisa evolutional example is a good one. If we used taste for survival now we'd be totally screwed. It's hard to change those basic habits, some say by 9 food habits are formed….but that's a depressing fact.
My first manager ever once asked me that in the office when someone brought in bday cake "is it worth it" I replied "not really" and she didn't bother getting a piece! since then I definitely changed my attitude about office treats(slash cheats).
The $ point definitely hits close to home. I always feel like I should finish my meal at a restaurant if I paid good $. I have lately gotten better about asking them to wrap up even small portions left.
lauren, excellent point! I can't tell you how many times I think like this! If I eat a cookie and it tastes only sub-par…I don't finish it! It's SO not worth it! However, I am guilty last night of eating sweet potato caponadas I made. They tasted very bland but I ate 2 plus a salad…at least they were healthy and not fried!
Sounds good though (sweet potato caponadas). I guess that if something is healthy at least, as cameo said, you get the health benefits even if taste isn't fantastic. Food with poor taste and no nutritional benefit should not be consumed. Elli would question the healthy/tasteless though.
Interesting post, and definitely makes me think about what I eat. I think I might have been guilty of this in the past, but I'm definitely a lot more mindful now about what I eat. I just bought some gluten-free cookies from the store. While not horrible, they taste pretty "bleh", so I had to toss them.I hate to waste food, but, like your mom says, they're just not worth it!
Great post – I know I am often guilty of eating out of habit — and sometimes out of not wanting to waste it, although if I screw up cooking I am the first to toss it.
I think, like EA said, it all comes down to being more mindful of food in quality and in taste. Takes practice, though.
Of course today I have a head cold and can't taste a damn thing- Nothing like that to remind you of how important taste is!:)
I remember reading that study. So interesting how we don't focus on taste at times. I wish I was more similar to your mother in that If I doesn't taste good, I can stop myself. Although I splurge only occasionally, I need to be more mindful of this fact.
I just read that study today. I was kind of surprised, but then not. The sad fact is that I've been known to eat candy that tastes great at first…but keep eating it to the point where my mouth feels uncomfortable and I start to get a headache. I definitely fall prey to mindless eating.
I really like your mom's approach to the decadent food!
Stephanie, i love "surprised but then not". Isn't it crazy that staleness is ok? it shows how self-soothing eating is.
I will often say that the taste-to-calorie ratio isn't good enough. I'll throw away subpar food. I can eat a few bites of a candy bar, then staple the wrapper shut and throw it in my drawer because I only wanted a bite. And I like basic food such as a meal of tuna and peas. For instance, I will look at a recipe for tuna casserole and think, why bother when I can just cut out all the "stuff" and eat the tuna and peas? This may come from not liking my food to touch on the plate! On the other hand, I can eat sugar cookies until I'm in pain…
Very interesting study. I think a lot of eating is done out of habit. How often is the bread before a meal truly amazing? Or the birthday cake? Or the dessert? More times than not, I think it's not, but we are often so used to eating it without questions…
I really like the idea of a truly amazing treat. I think it's the way to stay satisfied, yet by eating only the things that are truly worth it, we can eat a reasonable amount. I really try to eat this way now. Unfortunately, it has taken me a long time to get to this point as my parents were very much against "wasting food," etc…
That is interesting. I am sad that I am not surprised by the results though. So much of my client's eating habits are mindless. In relating that to the stale popcorn – it's in front of them and while they may not even be hungry appetite unfortunately takes over.
The dreaded "seefood" diet.
Food fuels the appetite.
I've grown up in a household where we were always taught never to waste food. So yes, I do eat it anyway if I have committed a cooking flop! Most of the time I end up eating sub-par food if I am vacation, on the go, and I just need to quickly fuel so I end up looking for the most convenient and quick option. This is usually neither healthy nor tasty unfortunately!
Like Sam I was brought up not to waste food. Ever. So I used to eat sub-par meals just because I felt like I had to. But now I send that stuff to my husband's office and I only eat meals that are worth it.
People eat stale popcorn? Really? That just confuses me since popcorn is already just…not that good??
What I find interesting is that once I changed how I ate, I started feeling turned off by the sweetness of a birthday cake or the "butter" flavor of movie theatre popcorn. Money is a factor for me too — except I can't afford those treats — eating healthfully is expensive enough!
I definitely try not to waste food, though — I make sure to eat any left overs, but save them for snacks or incorporate them into meals the next day.
I definitely think my tastebuds have changed and that's totally affected my cravings. Now I crave dried fruit or carrots with hummus – or super dark chocolate, and when I linger over the taste, I find I don't need to eat as much. being present while eating is hard but so important!
I believe it matters. I can't stand stale popcorn… but I can see that a lot of people would just munch away at it regardless. It's sort of programmed to just eat what's in front of us and convenient.