Every year I’m flabbergasted watching the media package and present U.S. Thanksgiving in this “split personality” tone that it always does. What bothers me more is the way YOU THE CONSUMER end up internalizing this stuff; since much of it is irresponsible journalism that doesn’t even have its facts straight.
And there are some things I’d like to point out to you here. Why is it the country that obsesses most about thinness and calories and food – is the country that is the most obese, is the country that has the most anxiety and depression issues over food and body-image, and is the country with the most eating disorders? Well when I watch media coverage of U.S. Thanksgiving, and its helter skelter approach to the Thanksgiving feast – this whole “enjoy, but be scared” – it is so obvious to me why “food and diet” are a schizophrenic relationship in the minds of so many of you when it comes to Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
As usual I couldn’t get away from all the news-stories yesterday that focused on “Happy Thanksgiving” message on the one hand – and subtle and deliberate “fear of food” messages on the other. It went something like this:
The very first “news” story I was confronted with after the headlines was the typical “Do you know how many calories are in a typical Thanksgiving meal?” The story did the usual comparative nonsense and made the point that the “typical” U.S. Thanksgiving meal is the equivalent in calories of eating 7 Big Macs when all is said and done. Then the story continued with the equally nonsensical comparison of how many hours of specific exercise activity it was going to take to burn those calories off – being weeks and weeks of working out of course. The only problem with this and the reason why it is “nonsense” is because your metabolism just doesn’t work this way in linear terms. This is part of the North American Diet Mentality MADNESS reductionism that clearly doesn’t understand metabolism is a non-linear process. And there is a lot more to the understanding of metabolism than mere calories equations. (You should read my book “Beyond Metabolism: Understanding Your Modern Diet Dilemma” which explains this in great detail)
Where do they get these “experts?”
The next segment of the news this Thanksgiving morning has on a “nutrition expert” to help deal with the “holidays dilemma” – already creating in your minds that there is a “dilemma” to be dealt with. It was also clear this “expert” was anything but an expert – likely no better than a “personal trainer” understanding of “nutrition.” She used the usual industry buzzwords “du jour” – like frying “kale” in “coconut oil” and that somehow sautéed veggies were the answer to this “dilemma” of the holiday feast. What a croc. Then she commented on how you can lose a few pounds by avoiding sodium. This myth has been debunked over and over again in the last several years; including my own article on sodium as the “unsung hero” in athletic training and physique development. Real “experts” know those first few pounds of water lost by avoiding sodium, are gained back with a vengeance down the road – another specific metabolic adaptation that is ‘non-linear.’ But I digress – I merely state what she was saying to point out she was represented as an expert who clearly was not! And that she also represents what is wrong with today’s “expert base” in that she did little more than what I call “professional vogueing” – of what is popular has little to do with true expertise. But her real message was -> “OMG you don’t want to eat the equivalent of 7 Big Macs – or do you?”
And yet ironically at the same time the “news desk” itself was elaborately decorated with the holiday theme that included pies, and cookies, and turkey – all beautifully presented. Later segments on the show had to do with “creative leftovers” and “non-traditional” desserts like pumpkin cheesecake. Talk about a schizophrenic presentation of the holidays –> fear it, but enjoy it too!
Connection to “Travel Day”
The busiest travel day of the year in the U.S. whether by air or auto, is the day before U.S. Thanksgiving. People are traveling “home” to spend time with family. This ‘drive for home’ is a very strong emotional drive in human species. As we saw this year, people braved storms and flight delays just to make it “home.” Part of this desire for home is embedded in memory. And it goes deep. And part of the positive association with that memory of “home” is sights, and smells and other sensory experiences of food. Food has been part of celebrating human traditions since recorded time. Beyond “taste” when it comes to holidays “food” can also represent “love” “comfort” “security” and “connection” in very positive ways. This is all a very normal part of human experience. People are willing to travel great distances to be ‘with family’ over the holidays and to “share holiday feast” as part of that agenda for connection so embedded in human memory. It is a disservice to pretend the Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukah meal should be about “calories in and calories out.”
I’m reminded of the famous study in diet-psychology, I believe by Paul Rozin – where he asked people of different cultures to say the first word that comes to mind when they were shown a picture of a chocolate cake – Europeans responded with the word “celebration” – Americans responded with the word “guilt.” And that is the travesty in the North American Diet Mentality MADNESS as it currently exists. In it's current form, this form of dieting just doesn't work. It is simply “unnatural.”
The deer eating in my yard this morning do not feel “self-conscious” about eating my grass and plants. The lions and wolves who kill wild game to feed the pride and the pack respectively – do not EVER feel guilt in doing so. The most intelligent mammalian species on the planet are the only species who fear their own food supply! Furthermore, no mother ever fed her infant with a slingshot! What do I mean by that? From birth, humans and other mammals are emotional nurtured through the feeding process. We become emotionally connected by being emotionally nurtured through infancy while being fed. It is how all mammals learn to socially connect with their own species. This means humans are “hard-wired” to have positive emotional connections with the eating experience – not with food per se- but to the eating experience itself. This happens from birth, but also explains why traditions across the globe and throughout history share in common that “feasting together” is deeply connected to celebrating traditions, and holidays. You can’t change that by telling people “to eat kale instead.” The fact people are willing to brave storms, take connecting flights to get home – all this shows how strong this innate drive is inside almost all of us.
Look: you exercise and eat right and follow a specific diet-strategy to take care of yourself. I get that. But these things should “enhance” your life; they should not “be” a life, or what your life is about. Being led to feel guilt or self-consciousness over celebrating traditions is the proverbial “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” And why I advocate an “anti-diet” approach, especially for those who find the North American Diet Mentality especially useless and even harmful during the holidays, which should be a time of joy.
If you don’t take care of yourself so that you can experience your life better, then what is the point? Celebrating cultural traditions with food should be something totally engaged in. It can be emotionally replenishing to do so!
Attaching self-consciousness or guilt to these experiences cheapens them, and dampens the level of emotional pay-off you can get from them as well.
In NFL football, among writers and pundits there is the expression “over-reaction Mondays.” The same exists among those of you who insist on “weighing in” the Monday after your Thanksgiving or Holiday experience. Really? Do you really need to weigh yourself to know you just went off your typical eating regimen and indulged heavily? The scale isn’t going to tell you something you don’t already know. But it can certainly mislead you. You need to know that no one can “get fat in a day” – whatever the weight scale says, it doesn’t tell you how much of that number is fat, water, supercompensation in the form of tissue saturation etc.
The fact is, if you just get back to your normal eating regime – your weight will return to normal as well; without you having to “do” anything specific about it. People who follow my Cycle Diet know that. Many of them can gain 10-15 lbs on a reefed day; only to see a loss of 12-18 lbs the following week.
Weighing in the day after a celebratory feast only creates “over-reaction Monday” and once again shows no understanding of metabolism. In fact it is also true that people who weigh themselves the most often – highly correlates to higher levels of anxiety and depression and eating disorders – regardless of whether these people are overweight or not!
The fact is the TRUE and RELEVANT biology of weight-control is known to play out over the accumulated period of time; as in one year – not in the immediate or residual period of time – typically known in the fitness industry as anywhere from a couple of days to 12 weeks. The metabolic reality of “the biology of weight-control” – is a much different thing than “the science of fat loss” – but they continue to be lumped together as being the same.
We are hardwired from birth to be positively emotionally connected to the eating experience. Holiday celebrations of “feasting together” are just an extension of this reality. To create self-consciousness and guilt over this – and worst – to reduce it to “numbers” as in calories – merely puts the mind at war with itself. There is a time for every purpose – a time to reap and a time to sow. There is a time of course to commit to healthy eating diet-strategy and regimentation. There is also a time to celebrate with food for enjoyment of the full human experience of abundance. Real fitness is in knowing the difference – and taking part in it!
As a side note: I also celebrate the U.S. Thanksgiving even though I am Canadian. I fully enjoyed my day yesterday having a whole apple pie with whip cream, some chocolate, several wobbly pops, back bacon etc. I don’t eat like this all the time – but I fully embrace it guilt-free when it is time to do so. It is not “irresponsible” to do so; as so many ‘fitness orthorexics and extremists” would want you to believe. Oh, and I still have abs at age 53. Fitness is more than how you look – it’s also about how you feel! Being free of self-consciousness and guilt over food – this is the NATURAL condition of all mammals. It should be for you too!