I began my wellness journey during college when I moved down the street from Evanston’s Whole Foods. I explored new foods (aka vegetables and fruits) and bought countless health books. I became instantly drawn to Dr. Andrew Weil’s masterpiece Spontaneous Healing. I read it over a blissful weekend in Napa Valley, CA and it completely changed my life. In his follow-up, Eating Well for Optimal Health (non gimmicky dietary advice), Dr. Weil excerpts an article entitled, “Camaraderie Is the Best Diet,” by Ronald Koetzsch. In his article, Koetzsch, a health food junkie, retells his “aha moment.” While in attendance at a lavish Russian banquet in St. Petersburg, he writes:
“I held to abstinence, though, with a slight sense of self-righteousness. While everyone else, including Martha (his wife), ate, drank, and was merry, I sipped juice and water and waited for the moment when I could politely excuse myself and go to bed. After an hour or so, I did, but the eating, drinking, conversation, and laughter continued long thereafter. One of my last thoughts before sleep was: ‘Well I, anyway, will be clear and energetic tomorrow when we tour the city.’ Alas, such was not the case. I was groggy and out of sorts, and I felt alienated from the others. And they, despite going to bed full of food and vodka, were cheerful and brimming with energy.”
Soon thereafter, he traveled to Germany, where he attended a local holiday celebration and writes:
“As soon as I sat down, a large mug of frothy beer was placed before me, and my immediate neighbors—red-faced and smiling—raised their mugs in salute . . . it did not seem a time to ask for peppermint tea . . . . [I] took a sip of my beer. It was thick and delicious. I took another sip and started talking to my neighbor, a policeman from the town. When I finished my mug, another appeared in front of me . . . Eventually, breakfast was served. It featured a deep-fried pork cutlet about the size of a Frisbee. To one who has eaten little meat and no pork for over two decades, it seemed “The Mother of All Pork Cutlets” . . . what was I to do?—ask our Walkyrie of a waitress to bring my hummus and alfalfa sprout sandwich instead? I dug in, eating the cutlet, potato salad, and everything else on the plate with relish. It was delicious.”
The moral of the story is “when food is blessed by being shared, by being eaten in fellowship amidst conversation and laughter . . . all food is ‘health’ food.” Remember that motto the next time you’re celebrating with friends and family. Cherish the moment and share in the camaraderie. We all need to make room in our lives and diets “to be bad once and awhile.”
In addition, if you’re trying to work some strategic “cheating” into your diet, here’s a few suggestions:
- Schedule a “cheat day” every week. It can be helpful to set aside one day (or a meal or two) each week to be less stringent about your diet. Having said that, don’t go overboard!! I personally like to plan a night out each week to share some Italian food (my favorite) and vino with my family and friends.
- Give yourself a bite of dessert. If you’ve got a sweet tooth have a small piece of dark chocolate (it’s very anti-aging), a “skinny-cow” variety or bake your own healthy treats. Canyon Ranch has some wonderful recipes online.
- Use vegetables as fillers. For example, if you love pasta, have ½- ¾ cup of whole-wheat pasta and 2 cups of vegetables with a little protein. You’ll still get your pasta fix without all the extra calories.
- Only eat the best quality! If you’re going to splurge on pizza or a cheeseburger don’t go for fast food. Even better, make it yourself at home.
- Don’t beat yourself up. The most important thing I’ve ever learned about healthy eating is if you overindulge one day just start over again the next without judgment. None of us are perfect and your overindulgence served a purpose whether it was social, stress or filled an emotional void. Recognize this and love yourself enough to let it go.