February 20, 2006

If it feels good, do it.

Here's a NYT op-ed by Harriet Brown, writing from Madison, Wisconsin. It's about those recent reports showing there's not much point in trying to eat less fat. She cites a study that shows benefits from enjoying whatever it is you eat:
In the 1970's, researchers fed two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, a spicy Thai meal. The Thai women — who presumably liked the meal more than the Swedish women did — absorbed almost 50 percent more iron from it than the Swedish women. When the meal was served as a mushy paste, the Thai women absorbed 70 percent less iron than they had before — from the same food.

The researchers concluded that food that's unfamiliar (Thai food to Swedish women) or unappetizing (mush rather than solid food) winds up being less nutritious than food that looks, smells and tastes good to you. The explanation can be found in the digestive process itself, in the relationship between the "second brain" — the gut — and the brain in your head.
Perhaps doing what you enjoy -- not just with respect to food but everything -- is the key to all sorts of physical benefits. We can get so abstemious and puritanical about our bodies. Food, exercise, sex -- we make all these things into health prescriptions. But what if the benefits only flow when you are doing what you really enjoy? Then the health secret would be to ignore all the nannies who chide you to follow instructions and open your mind to its own information about what you love. It may not be that easy to do, because you've been infected by years of advice about what you should like, what is considered good. How will I know what I love? How will I know that it's not just what I think I'm supposed to love?

Am I the nanny now? Maybe you think I'm just giving you one more instruction, and it sounds like that most horrifying parental order: You'll do it and you'll like it. If we have have to like it too, won't it only be harder? Well, yes, it will be harder. It's much easier to follow the rules. Since it's harder, you can feel virtuous as you follow the old hippie advice: If it feels good, do it.

15 comments:

vbspurs said...

If it feels good, do it.

Somehow, I don't get the implied correlation between eating General Chang Chicken...

And porking out of your mind, because it feels good too...

...especially when one results (amongst other things) in heart burn and the other (amongst other things) in AIDS.

Although if we're on a general foreign food kick today on Althouse, I'd like to mention my recent blogpost where I talk about hosting a Peruvian family next week.

The menu is set but any cheese, wine, and music suggestions welcome. :)

Cheers,
Victoria

Evan said...

Sounds like a dangerous duty of delight to me. (The phrase is not mine.) I think the key is here is moderation in what is pleasant, not excess in either the pleasant or the forced and prescriptive.

Ann Althouse said...

Once it's a duty, it's not delight anymore, so you'll have a hard time achieving the goal I've stated. Enjoy!

reader_iam said...

Maybe you can have at least your chocolate and eat it to:

"Mars Inc., maker of Milky Way, Snickers and M&M’s candies, next month plans to launch nationwide a new line of products made with a dark chocolate the company claims has health benefits.

Called CocoaVia, the products are made with a kind of dark chocolate high in flavanols, an antioxidant found in cocoa beans that is thought to have a blood-thinning effect similar to aspirin and may even lower blood pressure. The snacks also are enriched with vitamins and injected with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols from soy.


That news flash aside, Ann, your point is very well taken. The whole mind/body/self thing is so tied together and so uniquely individual that all these blanket proscriptions, especially, seem to a prescription for getting people away from where they should naturally be (in a lot of areas).

Nice post.

knoxgirl said...

The USDA changes its guidelines so often, it's ridiculous. And the latest version of the food pyramid.... it's like something they made up as a joke on SNL Weekend Update.

I agree with Evan, the secret is moderation. And if you exercise you probably don't even have to be all that moderate.

Marie said...

In general I agree with the observations by Harriet Brown, but she misses one point: Good eating habits increasingly have less to do with nationality but more with earnings power. The higher the income the healthier the eating habits. Most French people eat less healthier than in the past. As real disposable incomes decline especially for the younger generation it is hard for them to follow the old eating habits.
Similar to other industrialized countries jobs in France are more and more in the large urban areas, where eating on the run is the norm. I advise Ms.Brown to visit the supermarkets in my home country and take a look at the dizzying selection of frozen food not to speak of the many fast food outlets dotting our urban landscape nowadays.
Marie St.Pierre
www.provence-hideaway.com

PatCA said...

This is a great book on just enjoying it all.

Endangered Pleasures

Judith said...

I read a book about menopause in which the author - who has counseled menopausal women on nutrition for many years - says that the ones who kept their weight in the normal range:
- ate breakfast
- ate what they liked, but in moderation (including ice cream, steak, etc.)
- exercised moderately 4x/week
- made lunch their biggest meal
- drank water throughout the day
- did not use a weight-loss program

Maxine Weiss said...

There have been studies that thin people, who eat the least amount of calories, live the longest.

People that restrict calories, and eat only beans, grains, fruits and vegetables......have increased their lifespan.

But they are not the happiest people.

The choice is between a long life, or being happy.

Pick your poison.

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

Maxine: I think the better studies these days show that being somewhat "overweight" is correlated to better health in older persons.

Nigel Kearney said...

Is it because they liked the food or because they were accustomed to it?

If the former, then the solution is to eat food you enjoy. If the latter, then the solution is to eat food that is healthy but unpleasant all the time until you get used to it.

In order to know which, it seems like they needed to include some Swedish women who really liked Thai food but rarely ate it.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ann: I think Maxine is referring to the studies on more extreme calorie restriction.

I have a friend who is a doctor and does this. He says his big meal of the day is a can of tuna fish.

No thank you.

Ann Althouse said...

Freeman: I know, but I am referring to the more recent, better studies that refute those rat-based starvation theories. People, you don't need to do that. Be happy, and enjoy what you like. But seriously, if you get too fat, you're going to look awful. That's the real problem. Why not confront it straightforwardly instead of spreading health myths?

shake-and-bake said...

Excellent! I love booze!

HowGreatADebtor said...

Another aspect of the "eat-what-you-like-to-be-healthier" philosophy is that when I love what I eat, I am satisfied with less food. I am satisfied with a little vichysoisse, a little fresh salmon, a little fettucine alfredo, a little grilled pineapple w/honey sauce. Scarfing down a whole box of cheap cookies doesn't even touch my craving for real food.