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 Healthy Kitchen: Foods, Diets, and The Environment 

Breakfast is a more open question. The word breakfast means to ?break the fast? after not eating overnight, often for nearly twelve hours. Some traditional schools of thought feel that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?that a big breakfast consisting of fruit, starch, protein, fats, muffins, and so on is what gets us going. Clearly, if we finish eating for the day by 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., the next morning we should be hungry again and need a wholesome, nourishing breakfast. However, many adults eat later in the evening. Thus, there are many, myself included, who think that our fast should be broken in the morning very lightly, with fruit, for example, and that we should progress through the day with more concentrated foods. The best-selling nutrition book, Fit for Life, suggests that the ?natural hygiene? of our body cycle wants to cleanse the previous day?s food from 4:00 a.m. until noon and to want only cleansing fruits in the morning. At noon, we may begin to eat vegetables and use more concentrated starch, protein, or fat food per meal. We consume most of our food from midday until 8:00 p.m. If we are early risers and workers, our food intake cycle can begin earlier, though it should probably end earlier as well. When it is very cold, or if we do a lot of physical work, we may need a more warming and fuel-oriented breakfast, though many people can do very well on fruit alone in the morning. With this system, fruit is eaten by itself, not with or after other foods (see the section on Food Combining later in this chapter).

Often, we do not know our own needs unless we experiment. By eating different amounts at different times of the day, we can see what will work best for our work and energy schedules. If we get very fatigued in the afternoon after lunch, we may need to shift things around. A big dinner and light breakfast may be best for us, or it may be the other way around. We won?t know unless we try it. Just because we have been doing things one way for a long time does not mean that it is the best way.

Where we eat can be particularly important for people who are overweight because of poor eating habits. With our concerns about time, convenience, and comfort, it is easy to find places to eat or snack away from our usual ones, such as the dinner table. Eating in front of the television, in the car, or while walking around leads to an increased intake of food, especially of the more highly caloric snack foods. This can become an extra assault on our digestive tract, which gets no chance to rest. While eating, avoid ?techno-traps,? such as telephones, television, and computers. Choose foods which will reduce electrical interference in our digestive, assimilative, and mental abilities (see Electropollution in Chapter 11).

I suggest to people on weight-loss programs or to those who have developed poor eating habits that they pick one or two places to consume their food, usually one indoors and the other out. Eating outdoors, especially in a natural setting, can contribute to the relaxation and enjoyment of the meal. The dining room table is usually the best indoor spot, so that eating is mainly centered around meals instead of snacks. Restaurant eating involves another place we may need to include, but, for a variety of reasons, restaurant eating is best done only occasionally.

People who are overweight tend to snack or eat while watching television or become ?prowlers? in their own home, checking the refrigerator and cupboards for treats even after a good-sized meal. Retraining ourself to eat in a limited number of places, those that are in our best health interest, may be difficult, but it is a good habit to develop. Where do you usually eat? Do you like quiet meals, with nice music, or social meals?

Why we eat is definitely an interesting question. We should basically eat to nourish our being?our organs, our tissues, every cell in our body. Food is the main human fuel for life; it provides heat and all of the specific nutrients that we have discussed so far in this book. It helps the body function. For a period of time when we rest or fast, our body can use stored nutrients to run itself, but eventually we need to refuel.

As my associate Bethany ArgIsle suggests, we have many more mouths to feed other than just our oral cavity. Our eyes need to be nourished with color and beauty, our ears with music and the sounds of nature, our nose with the natural fragrances of the world, our hands and body with the touch of another, and, of course, our heart and spirit with the love and friendship of other living beings. Nourishment comes in many forms and on many levels. Many people feed their bellies but not their souls, and this will not lead us where we are meant to go.

There are, of course, many other reasons why we eat?loneliness, frustration, reward, and punishment to name a few. Some of us use food like a drug to sedate or numb ourselves to our life situation. We should be aware of this aspect of eating.

Most of us at some times eat for social reasons. Sharing food is a custom of friendship. When we are asked to join someone in their creative cuisine or for a drink or snack, it is often taken as a rejection or even an insult if we decline. I have learned through the years, especially since my diet has usually been so different from those around me, to share what I was or wasn?t doing and why, as a means to educate or inspire friends or relatives to other possibilities. But it is often difficult not to succumb to their temptations. If we are planning to go to a social gathering for eating, it would be wise to eat lightly in the hours prior to your arrival; the extra hunger will allow us to really enjoy the meal, though we must be careful not to overeat. We all, on some level, want our friends or family to be like us. Still, individuality is the beauty of our species and one of the most important aspects of nutrition.

How we eat can also make a big difference in our nutrition. Eating slowly and chewing our food well are very important. Starting the digestive process in the mouth saves a lot of wear and tear on the stomach (which does not have teeth) and digestive tract. We can then more easily break down the food and utilize the nutrients contained in it. When we rush through meals, we are doing our body and digestion a disservice. Our emotions influence our digestive functions as much as any system in our body, so getting into a peaceful and receptive state is important to healthy food consumption. Allotting enough time to nourish ourselves is also helpful.

How we get the food from the plate or bowl to our mouth?what utensils we use?is also an interesting topic. The choice of the Western world is silverware (or other metalware). Personally I do not like to eat with metals. (Forks are sharp and hard, and if the metal hits the metal fillings in our mouth, well, that?s no fun.) Those of us who enjoy Eastern influences prefer chopsticks, especially the wooden (not plastic) variety. My favorite utensils, though, are my God-given chopsticks called fingers. My mother and my more ?proper? friends have never been very supportive of this habit. Whether with fingers or chopsticks, eating can be a very primal and personal experience. Many foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, adapt easily to hand- or finger-eating. Soup may be drunk, and soft foods such as mashed potatoes or oatmeal may need a little creativity and practice. If we adapt to the individual characteristics of the food and the individual dietary needs of our body, we should do well.

Habits to Change

Overeating is one of the most common and dangerous dietary habits. It is natural, on festive occasions such as holidays or parties, to eat more than usual, but many of us have turned up the level of our satiation state so that we need to eat a large amount of food to feel satisfied all the time. This is contributed to by a great many emotional and psychological factors that may have started in our early years. It is often influenced by our parents and family members and by our own insecurities and self-image.

Overeating often leads to obesity, which is a factor in many other diseases. The overconsumption of food also causes stress to the digestive tract and other organs and can lead to the overworking and weakening of those areas. Congestion or stagnation occurs more easily with overeating.

These problems need to be dealt with at the level from which they arise. If they stem from a nutritional deficiency, so that the body is craving missing nutrients, that should be discovered and corrected. If they are of recent onset, stress may be the source. More often, though, overeating is a long-term and deep-seated problem that needs to be dealt with on both the psychological and nutritional levels.

Moderation in eating is a very important habit to develop. Eating small meals several times a day instead of one or two large meals is probably better for most people. Balancing flavors as well as types of food will help satisfy us and may lessen our desire to eat more.

In recent years, there has been growing concern over problems associated with undereating, such as the medical conditions known as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Undereating usually has a strong stress or psychological component, which can range from being too nervous or concerned about an upcoming event or relationship, to part of a full-blown psychosis.

All forms of undereating, skipping meals, or eating only limited foods will lead to poor nutrition and eventually, to problems from protein, calorie, vitamin, or mineral deficiencies. Other symptoms include lack of energy and subsequent weakness, malnourishment of internal organs, skin problems, and hair loss. Severe weight loss in spite of regular eating may indicate an underlying medical condition and warrants an evaluation by a doctor.

People who undereat are often overly concerned about obesity or have a distorted self-image. This is more common in women and in teenage girls who become very body conscious or are concerned about becoming too shapely. Often, being very thin is similar to being fat in that it makes us less attractive and is a protection against intimacy with others. These issues may come up during sexual development?that is, in adolescence.

Anorexia means ?loss of appetite,? and anorexia nervosa means not eating because of ?nervous? or psychological problems. The majority of people with that condition are young females who want to be trim, or to be models or ballerinas, which require a long and lean body. This may not be the natural body shape of many people, who literally need to starve themselves to maintain that weight or shape. Bulimia is voluntary vomiting by people who wish to get rid of food just eaten so as not to absorb the calories and add weight. Many ?bulimics? and ?anorexics? also use laxative pills or take regular enemas to clear out the intestines more rapidly. All of these problems have strong psychological bases and usually require counseling as well as a lot of support from loved ones. Occasionally, these situations become extreme and, as with overeating, can be fatal. Fortunately, these conditions are often short-lived, and those troubled by them see their way clear to begin a new balanced diet and create a newly shaped body and self-image.

Eating Late
This is a common problem among people with busy daily schedules. Food often acts as a sedative and helps us to physically relax. After a meal, more blood goes to our digestive organs and away from our areas of physical and mental activity. So eating lightly during the day, getting hungry at night after work, and then eating our main meal in the evening is a convenient pattern for most schedules. However, going to bed on a full stomach is not necessarily helpful for digestion or sleep. The food may just sit there, undigested through the night, so that we wake up full and sluggish. Eating late can become a habit that robs us of our vitality.

It is best to try to eat earlier in the evening, ideally before dark, and not too heavily; to engage in some activity, both mental and physical, after dinner; and to eat very little in the two or three hours before bedtime. When we have not eaten enough through the day, it is wise to eat lightly in the evening also and sleep well to awaken energized for some exercise and a good, hearty breakfast.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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