Monday, September 23, 2013

Let's talk about food: Abundance vs deprivation--where's your focus?

"Diets don’t just reduce weight, they can reduce mental capacity. In other words, dieting can make you dumber."

That's the beginning of a fascinating New York Times article called "The Mental Strain of Making Do With Less." Its author, Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan, is coauthor (with Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir) of a just-released book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. I haven't seen the book yet, but the article ties in well with the conversation we had at St Barnabas this morning about food as celebration.

Mullainathan writes:
Psychologists find that dieters have spontaneous self-generated cravings at a much higher rate than nondieters. And these cravings are not the dieters’ only distraction. Diets force trade-offs: If you eat the cookie, should you skip the appetizer at dinner? But that restaurant looked so good! Many diets also require constant calculations to determine calorie counts. All this clogs up the brain.
The result of diet-induced brain clogging? A measurable decrease in "logical and spatial reasoning, self-control, problem solving, and absorption and retention of new information"--which tends to lead to self-defeating decisions.

If we want to relate to food wisely and joyfully, we need to start with abundance, not deprivation. That's true even if - especially if - we really should be eating less, or differently.

A couple of years ago two of my family members were living with major dietary restrictions. When I realized I'd be cooking a week's worth of meals for both of them, my first reaction was panic. But then I found a website that listed all the things they could eat. To my amazement, the list was long, and it included a lot of delectable foods. My attitude changed just as soon as I printed the list and displayed it on my refrigerator door. I no longer had to think about deprivation--what they couldn't eat. Here was abundance--far more than we could eat in a mere week. Four whole pages of abundance, with color illustrations!

Next Sunday at St Barnabas we'll be talking about hospitality. There are a lot of hospitable people in my parish, and I'm eager to hear their stories. I'll write about my experience of St B's abundant hospitality tomorrow.

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.

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