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Stuck on "Should"

May 8, 2011

I’ve been having fun watching Six Feet Under (courtesy of Netflix), and a recent episode contained a brief discussion about food that caught my attention. Rico asked his wife what was for dinner, and she said she couldn’t decide.

“We’ll just have some beans and rice,” he suggested.

“The kids had rice with lunch.” She said it almost hopelessly, the implication being that the kids shouldn’t have rice twice in a day, even if it would be easy.

Rico reminded her gently, “That’s okay, it’s just one day.”

It struck me because it was so emblematic of how we can drive ourselves crazy with food choices. We have all these ideas about what we “should” be doing. And even if we’re not on a particular diet, or don’t think of ourselves as the sort of people who follow fads, it’s practically impossible to get away from these ever-changing and ever-growing rules.

Don’t eat too many carbohydrates, and try to make the ones you eat whole grains or fruit. Don’t eat the same food within a twenty-four period. Try not to have the same thing for a given meal every day. Avoid processed foods. Get enough fat, but only the “good” fat, and not too much. Have the right mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates every time you eat.

It goes on and on, making us feel like we’re not in charge, that we can’t be the ones to actually make a choice about what we’re eating. We have to weigh all of this external information and somehow find a way to walk that path.

The problem, of course, is that this makes food a subject of stress and worry and preoccupation, as well as a source of guilt if we make the “wrong” choice. Yes, it’s good to maintain balance, variety and moderation in what we eat, but with the reminder that we’re only human. We’re not perfect, and we’re never going to be perfect. If we occasionally eat something that may not be ideal, that’s okay.

That’s why I loved Rico’s response: “It’s just one day.” One day of the kids having rice for two meals won’t hurt them (particularly since that’s the norm for some countries, and the kids there haven’t collapsed or become invalids).

What I try to remember is that when I eat what I love, and eat when I’m hungry, I naturally gravitate towards balance, variety, and moderation in my food. Even better, it’s my choice what to eat, not what someone else says. It allows me to eat without feeling paralyzed by this sense of “should”, and without that nagging guilt if I deviate from the list. And what a wonderful feeling that is.

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