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Stop overeating: switch to eating simpler meals using fewer ingredients

I recently wrote about how so many people opt for sugar-laden tasty foods in preference to vegetables, in large part because their media-shrivelled brains crave constant hit after hit, and sweet tasty foods is one big way to get that hit. People have forgotten that food is really just fuel, it is there to sustain us living and breeding and functioning. But for far too many people, food (and the art of creating a meal) has become a leisure activity in its own right.

To many people, eating has become a hobby, a favourite pastime, and a distraction from the many areas of their lives that are less than fully satisfying. In my opinion, (and you must remember that everything on this blog is just that, a collection of my personal opinions) food is just fuel, and it is not meant to be a hobby to indulge in every day.

I have nothing against preparing a delicious meal for a gathering of friends. The ‘tribal feast’ has surely been a part of human culture since long before we developed language, agriculture and society. No doubt tribes would gather and feast after a successful collaborative hunt millions of years ago. I too enjoy cooking a feast for visitors and enjoying a tasty meal with several courses as the centre of such a social gathering…but I’m talking once or twice per month, not 7 days per week. Too many people treat their evening meal as the highlight of their day, and they focus their attention and energy on preparing that meal and making it as tasty, fancy and satisfying as possible.

Given choice, we all overeat

Living the MND lifestyle, I am trying to practice making meals with as few ingredients as possible. I believe that the more ingredients we use, the more flavours we enhance our food with, and the more flavours and textures available in any one meal, then more we are inclined to overeat.

It is worth remembering two points now.

  1. Humans evolved from our more ape-like ancestors over the last 5 or 6 million years, becoming the anatomically modern Homo Sapiens we are now, just 200,000 years ago. Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The little bit of time we have been around is a ‘blink of an eye’ in Earth-time. We invented agriculture just 12,000 years ago. We invented supermarkets about 100 years ago. In Earth-time, the ‘age of plenty’ has happened in like a millisecond, and Mother Nature has had NO time at all to genetically adapt us to cope with the abundance we are now surrounded by every day. 100,000 years ago, caveman would have had to work in teams, expending thousands of calories between them, to hunt, capture and kill a large animal, offering a reward of tens of thousands of calories of food. This kill would then have been used to feed the hunters, and the rest of their tribe. In Mother Nature’s world, this is an equation, a BALANCED equation: thousands of calories expended = roughly equal to = thousands of calories earned/consumed. In our modern world, a person can push a wheeled (yeah, it has wheels, you don’t even have to carry that stuff, how easy is that?!?!?!!) trolley around a supermarket and expend less than 100 calories in an hour, yet gather tens of thousands of calories into that trolley, most of them nutritionally hollow calories, made from processed grains, refined sugar and artificial additives. The energy equation is all screwed up, and the environment is ‘picking up the tab’ for that unbalanced equation. All those calories reach your dinner plate and you haven’t expended energy to get them, but the environment swallows the carbon footprint associated with processing and refining and delivering those calories to you. This equation is totally screwed up and our obese, weak, diseased Western bodies are the end result. Homo Sapiens have had NO time to genetically adapt to ‘plenty with no effort’ as a standard state, and our bodies, chemically, biologically, simply don’t know how to cope. For most of the last 5 million years, calories were always in short supply, not in over-supply, and so we are biologically designed to store surplus energy when it is available. We store it in the densest, most efficient way possible – as body fat. If our modern trend of overeating was balanced out by sustained physical exercise, and periods of fasting, all would remain in natural balance, but in a world where everyone lives ‘by the clock’ and they use a time piece to tell them when they are hungry, instead of listening to their bodies, ‘3 square meals a day’ are making far too many inactive people extremely fat.
  2. Researchers have proven that people eat more, in total calories, when more variety is available. They have done tests where 2 lines of people took turns to go into identical rooms, one at a time, and in Room A there was a bowl of Smarties all in one colour, and in Room B there was an identical bowl of Smarties, but in multiple colours. Almost every single person took MORE from the bowl offering multiple colours. Then they tested the rooms again, with a large bowl of Smarties in one room, and a small bowl in the other room. Almost every single person took MORE from the LARGE bowl. Such research has shown that when we have more (a big plate full) available, we eat more, and when we have more variety (lots of foods in one meal) we eat more. This is genetically programmed into us as a survival mechanism – if there is ‘plenty’ (seen as quantity, and variety) available, we gorge on it, to fill up in anticipation of times when there will be a lack (which would always naturally occur, in Natures world, where there would always be periods of feast, and periods of famine). But in the wealthy modern human world, times of ‘lack’ (the famine) never come. The supermarket is always open, the home-delivered take-away is only ever a phone call away, the 24-hr drive-thru Mickey D’s is never far away…so we overeat, constantly.

Cook using fewer ingredients

So we know that when too much choice is available, we overeat. I regularly experiment by restricting the availability of food in my diet. I often have meals with only 1 or 2 things in the meal. No matter how tasty roast lamb is, when there is nothing else on your plate but roast lamb, you eat less than if you also had 4 or 5 types of vegetables on the same plate.  I sometimes have days where I cook near enough the same thing for breakfast and lunch (some meat and 1 green veg) and by dinner, believe me, if the only thing on offer is the same thing a 3rd time, it’s amazing how my appetite disappears!

Of course, I am testing myself in order to learn, so it all sounds a little extreme. But it is perfectly possible to make meals that only use very few ingredients but are still tasty. For much of ‘our’ development as a species, (us being Homo Sapiens but also the many earlier variants of ‘archaic humans’ stretching back over the last 5 or 6 million years to our ancestral roots up in the trees of Africa with the chimpanzees), we hunted big game and supplemented this meat-intensive diet with a ‘salad’ of roots, leaves, berries and fruits as was available at different times of year. I believe that back then, for the bulk of the years between 5 million years ago, and 200,000 years ago, meat and fish formed the bulk of our ancestors diet, and it certainly did them no harm, as during this time they grew big brains and rose to prominence as the #1 dominant species on the planet.

From a calorific point of view, I would guess they took more than 50% of their calories from animal sources, but living MotherNaturesDiet, I am trying to get about 50% to 55% of my calories from animal sources, and the other 45% to 50% from plant sources. My rationale for turning down the amount of meat is simple – today’s meat is fattier than it was 3 million years ago, because we raise it captive in a field, and it doesn’t get to run away when we chase it – humans are making the animals lazy and fat too you see!! So in order to keep my fat consumption from going too high, I try to get 50% of my calories from plant sources.

Everyday simple meals - save the feasts for the weekend

So in my attempt to emulate this primitive diet, I think I should be eating meals where I have a bulk of my calories coming from meat, and the rest from a supplement of green plants.

The attached picture shows one such meal, and this entire meal contains just 4 ingredients. This is free range goat, stir fried in a drizzle of olive oil, with a leek, a handful of fresh kale and a couple of green beans. There is nothing else in this meal. JUST those 4 things. No seasoning, nothing. This meal was perfectly tasty, but not so delicious that I craved more. It was healthy, nutritious, natural, organic, and healthy.

I am obviously a keen follower of the paleo diet movement, but I do take issue with many of the big names in the current paleo / primal movement, who insist on publishing recipe books full of hundreds of ways to cook complex delicious meals that are made using ‘paleo approved’ foods. I question how much these guys are sticking to the true essence of ‘caveman nutrition’ and how much they are trying to make money from selling recipe books.

I have no issue with the recipe books, I realise that the reading public want them, people want to be told in precise detail what to cook, what to buy, what to eat. I get that. But for those interested in really learning about good health and natural living, I would encourage you to experiment with making meals that fit the MND Core Principles…and then who needs a recipe book?

It’s easy – take 1 type of meat or fish, combine with 2 or 3 vegetables, heat for a few minutes.

Note: my meals are rarely ‘cooked to oblivion’ except my slow roast meats which go in the oven for hours. Meals made on the hob are usually flash fried in minutes, the veggies just warmed and softened, not cooked for so long they damage the nutrients. I support the raw food movement, but personally, I have tried a raw food diet and I find it unsustainable as a way of life in Northern Europe in Winter. Living up here, we need hot food, it’s just too damn cold to eat only raw food all winter.

So that’s it…there are thousands of way to vary that one simple recipe, and you can make every meal up as you like.

Not ‘spoilt FOR choice’, we are becoming ‘spoilt BY choice’

My ‘Core Principle 12’ advocates applying the 90/10 rule – which is fine, that means once a week or once a fortnight invite friends or family over and cook up a feast using as many ingredients as you like…but the other days, stick to MotherNaturesDiet and the advice written here and stop overeating. Humans are not ‘spoilt for choice’, we are becoming ‘spoilt BY choice’ as we over-indulge ourselves all the way to early graves.

In a world where over-indulgence has become so easy, restricting one’s intake becomes a mental control exercise. You have to remember, that just because the local supermarket stocks 40,000 product lines, they are not all good for you (85% are not, in my opinion) and the manufacturers produce those foods to make a profit, not to make you healthy. Regular readers of the blog will have read my thoughts on this before.

Refer again to some of my previous blog posts: it ain’t sexy and exciting to have a meal of just ‘lamb and broccoli’ and nothing else, but it’s healthy, it’s natural, and it’s the fuel your body was designed to run on. Quite simply, it’s better for you that way.

With food, as with so much more in life, we are better if we exercise a little self-control. Don’t always give in to temptations, practice showing restraint, work those mental muscles and have some control, hold yourself back. These are good skills in all areas of life: don’t fly off the handle, control your aggression, control your appetite, control your orgasm, control your anger, control your mouth, your temper, your jumping to conclusions, your skill at resisting addictions…it’s all the same process. It’s all about having some restraint and self-control among the multi-media frenzy of modern living.

There are days you can eat for pleasure, but they should be treat days, making up no more than 10% of the time, once per week absolute maximum. Enjoy the Sunday roast as a family gathering, that’s not a problem. The rest of the time, food should be fuel for living a more fulfilling life, not food as a pastime or food as therapy or food as comfort. It’s all about how you think and how you control your own mind.

If you think I am right, or you think I am wrong, I welcome your views and comments.

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