Janet Sheridan: We are what we eat
June 7, 2018
I flipped a page in the March 2014 issue of "Outside" and saw an article that made my happy meter jump all the way to the right with its title, "Focus on Quality Foods," and its list of 10 food groups. I adore food and find reading lists in magazines as irresistible as buying shoes on sale.
As I quickly read the brief piece, I felt the same ecstasy I experienced in kindergarten when the graham crackers and orange juice appeared — my prayers had been answered. According to the article, all the foods we consume fall into ten categories that can be ranked for their nutritional value as follows.
- Nuts, seeds and healthy oils
- Fish and lean meats like turkey and chicken
- Whole grains
- Refined grains like white-flour pasta and dinner rolls
- Fatty meats, such as steak and bacon
- Fried foods
An accompanying paragraph explained that a nutritious daily diet should include more of the first food than the second, more of the second than the third, and so on until you're too full to even think of eating number 10. This information made the jet to healthy-eating heaven take off, and I was in a first-class seat.
After years of studying food pyramids that changed before I understood them and partitioned plates that seemed too small and simplistic, I'd finally found an approach to healthy eating my list-making mentality could handle. Perhaps this uncomplicated scheme could hold my attention beyond tomorrow's breakfast.
Striving for honesty, I evaluated my eating habits as I reread the list and found reason to congratulate myself. During my middle years, my food preferences had changed, and my food choices had drifted toward the top half of the list. I'd reached the age where an orange tasted better than a soft drink and a handful of nuts satisfied my snack addiction better than a bag of M&M's.
I seldom have the opportunity to feel self-righteous, so I took a minute to bask in smugness. But my self-satisfaction faded when I finished the paragraph and learned I should eat from the first five categories the majority of the time, making only "occasional dips" into the last five.
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I was OK with the adjective occasional, because it's open to interpretation. Stringent eaters might define occasional as enjoying fried steak with a side of pasta followed by an ice cream sundae only when the moon is blue; indulgers could interpret occasional as eating the first five foods for breakfast, then zipping to the basement for the rest of the day. I fall somewhere in the middle.
But the dips part of occasional dips discouraged me, because it implied a quick visit to the bottom and immediately back to the top. Who can do that when faced with a dessert buffet?
Fortunately, I learned a skill long ago that guides me back to the top half before I drown in a sea of chocolate and caramel: self-forgiveness. When I careen into multiple slices of pepperoni pizza or eat all the dessert items I keep in the freezer in case an unexpected horde stops by for dinner, I wake up the next day and forgive myself. I've found when I don't feel guilty, I don't give up on my goal of healthy eating. So I know if I dwell too long at the bottom of the list, self-forgiveness will allow me to slowly return to the top rather than letting feelings of worthlessness motivate me to continue my binge.
Still, if I am what I eat, I'd guess three-fourths of me dwells above ground and one-fourth lives in the cellar — an image that makes it difficult to feel self-righteous.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.