10 Food Resolutions for 2012

Fast food only at rest stops and other ideas for eating better in the new year.

About two months ago, my doctor told me the last thing anyone wants to hear with the holidays nigh and visions of turkey, stuffing, Italian pastry and gingerbread men dancing in one’s head: “Lose weight,” he told me. It wasn’t a request.

Though I’m not the kind of guy people look at and think “lard ass,” the truth is, I’ve been carrying around, depending on whose numbers you go by, 30 to 50 extra pounds for quite a while. And that number had been creeping up steadily. As struggles with weight run in my family, I’d always felt powerless to do much about it. I’ve always biked a lot, and with the sense that if I biked enough, it wouldn’t much matter what I ate. It worked so long as I was putting in two or three long rides a week, which is to say, it didn’t really work.

Four years of a college dining-hall diet (three square meals of Lucky Charms!) followed by 16 years of a journalist’s diet (rushed stress eating, late-night deadline snacking, and takeout, takeout, takeout), had conspired to wipe out pretty much anything my mother had ever taught me about eating healthily.

Having just read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, I’m fully aware that most Americans—thanks to the rise of fallacious nutrition science in the 1970s and the flood of cheap corn products on the market in recent decades—have lost all touch with the traditions that kept their native cultures healthy for millennia. Sadly, I was one of them. I decided that, at age 38, I needed to relearn how to eat. I signed up for a year-long weight loss study with Drexel’s School of Public Health that has already taught me to keep a record of everything I eat, and I’ve been actively applying the food rules Pollan outlines in In Defense of Food.

Since right around now is when most people’s “get in shape” New Year’s resolutions go out the window, below are my food resolutions for 2012. What are yours?

1. Master unit bias.
Unit bias is the phenomenon where people tend to think that whatever is in front of them is the “right” amount to eat, and they’ll eat that amount, whether it’s a finger sandwich, a head-sized Chipotle burrito or a surreptitiously refilling bowl of soup. To that end, all hoagies, burritos, breakfast sandwiches, hamburgers or other abnormally large foodstuffs will be split in two, King Solomon-style, with the second half either saved for later or discarded (starving children don’t feel better knowing that the food they didn’t get to eat made me fat).

2. Size matters: Retire the dinner plates.
With regard to resolution No. 1, I’m using small plates whenever possible. A little bit of food on a big plate looks like not enough. The same amount on a smaller plate suddenly looks like plenty.

3. Share.
Have you noticed how unreasonably large portions are at just about any restaurant you go to? Have you wondered why? Compared to the 1970s, American farms produce 500 more calories per day per person, and Americans are consuming 200 of them. That means it’s ultimately in the best interest of the food industry to get us to consume more, so we’ll get fatter, and consume more still. When my lovely girlfriend and I go out, we’ve taken to ordering just one entree and splitting it rather than trying to cram two full entrees down our gullets. It makes dates more fun, because sharing is fun, and feeling too bloated to move afterward defeats the purpose of going on a date.

4. Go meatless.
While I’ve experimented with vegetarianism, it’s never quite worked for me (I just like brisket too much). What I have learned is that it’s not that hard to go meatless, whether it be for a day, a week or even a month. Going meatless even just one day a week has huge health and environmental implications. As Pollan says in the opening salvo of In Defense of Food: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

5. Join a CSA and/or a co-op.
The girlfriend and I are soon getting the first delivery from Lancaster County Farm Fresh inaugural winter CSA (community supported agriculture). And we’re now founding members of the nascent South Philly Food Co-op (learn more tomorrow at the Cantina). Eating food grown locally and in season is better for you, and better for the Argentinians who miss out on eating all that wonderful produce they’re shipping up here. And having more control than big, bottom-line-first agribusiness over the food that’s available in your neighborhood is better for everyone (okay, maybe not better for big, bottom-line-first agribusiness).

6. More pickles, less fries!
I’ve recently rekindled my love affair with pickles. Pickles are awesome, almost devoid of calories and tap into a rich history of preserving summer’s bounty; fries, when you think about it, are rarely awesome, almost devoid of everything but calories and tap into an unsavory tradition of monoculture.

7. Fast food only for when you’re actually going fast
This is my friend Char’s rule: No fast food unless you’re actually on road trip. Are you at an interstate rest stop? Go with god to Arby’s. Otherwise, don’t eat in a car or anywhere with a drive-through window.

8. Two at a time.
Two beers, maximum, at any sitting (Friday the 13ths notwithstanding). Beers, especially good beers, are essentially calorie grenades, ~200 a pop. I don’t want to be getting a third of my daily calorie intake from suds. This resolution will be difficult to keep. (Also, I resolve to drink canned beer: It’s lighter and more compact, which makes it less resource-intensive to ship, and the opaque cans mean no light can infiltrate the brew.)

9. Table it.
One of the things Pollan talks about is how Americans are more likely to eat in front of the television than in front of each other. As a result, we get our cues about when to stop eating from the television (i.e., we stop when the show is over) rather than from our stomachs. Eating at a table ensures you’re focused on the meal, and will be more likely to notice when you’re full.

10.) Boxes, bags and bowls.
Where snacks are involved, I’m resolving to never sit down with a box, a bag or a bowl full of crackers, chips, etc. Circling back to No. 1, I know from experience that I’m about 1,000 percent more likely to house an entire bag of of Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos if the bag’s in my lap than if I’ve got a single serving in a napkin and the bag is safely back in the kitchen.