My New Year’s resolution

A new year! Time to celebrate and wish each other all the best for the future. For 2012, I wish you all the time to enjoy moments together with friends and family, good health and much joy in your endeavours, whether those are work, hobby, studies… And it goes without speaking that I wish you all the time and opportunity to enjoy great food!

The start of a new year is more than a time for wishes, for most of us it’s a time to make resolutions. Some may decide to find a worthy charity to donate to, some become a vegetarian for a year, hopefully all of us will resolve to make some small changes in our daily lives to stop pollution and reduce global warming. But the number one New Year’s resolution (besides contributing to World Peace, of course) has to be to do something about our waistlines! How many of us have decided that this time, in 2012, we will finally reach our desired weight, or fit into that tiny – but oh so flattering! – dress. I know I’ve been there, several times.

It usually goes like this: at the beginning of the year, I’m fed up with the second chin that’s sneaking up on me and my ever-expanding waist and decide to take some action. A few years ago, I did Start to Run – 5K in 10 weeks and really liked it. So I kept on running and went on one of those protein bar-and-shake diets. It worked really well, until I went back to normal meals, and fell into bad habits again, you can guess the rest. I haven’t lost my love for running since, although it’s hard to stay on track during the winter months (rain! darkness! no way I’m getting up to run before work!). Last year, I went at it again and joined Weight Watchers. Their program is absolutely great, and it really works. But then, once I’ve achieved an acceptable weight loss and don’t want to keep on paying for their expensive weekly pep talks, the bad habits come back. It’s only human, I guess.

So this year, it will be different. I will stop counting and tracking and cheating with grams of chocolate and I’ll also stop dreaming of having a figure like Jennifer Aniston (Beyonce, more likely). In 2011, I read Michael Pollan’s book ‘In Defence of Food’. Pollan is a journalist/food philosopher. In the book, he explores the Western world’s relation to food during the 20th century. It’s intriguing to see how things like politics and lobby organizations have helped shape the way we think about food. Pollan’s main point is that we’ve stopped thinking of ‘food’ and have replaced this by ‘nutritional thinking’. He points out that our grandparents (or at least great-grandparents) had no idea what antioxidants, monosaturated fats, omega 3-fatty acids (I’m not sure these exist) and other ‘nutritional building blocks’ were, yet they were usually healthier and less overweight than our own generation. Our grandparents used their common sense and ate food that was available during the season; we eat E-numbers, hydrogenated things and constantly have a huge amount of cheap food (or edible foodlike substances, as Pollan calls them) readily available at the supermarket, the train station vending machine, work… No society in history has ever been so obsessed with eating and dieting, yet no society has ever had so many problems with obesity and all modern diseases that follow from it. I could go on about the contents of the book – it’s well-written and utterly fascinating, but if you’re interested I suggest you read it yourself (or borrow it from me). It’s the end of the book and the book that follows from it that’s the most important.

Pollan explains how damaged our relationship with food has become and suggests ‘rules’, based on common sense, food tradition and scientific knowledge to follow in order to repair this relationship. These rules are: Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Pretty simple, huh? He elaborates on these three basic rules in his next book, ‘Food Rules’, which contains 64 rules on how to eat. They’re mostly common sense and if I evaluate my eating habits, they’re not so bad. I do mostly eat real food and not too many highly processed foods and as a vegetarian, I probably eat more plants than many of my friends. However, the ‘not too much’-part is where I usually get off track a bit – especially at rule 60: Treat treats as treats. And when I delve deeper into the ‘eat real food’-part and started looking at labels of the things I munch on throughout the day, there’s a lot of ingredients I can’t really picture in my kitchen – or that I can’t picture at all.

So, here’s my New Year’s resolution: I will try to follow Michael Pollan’s Food Rules as closely as possible (luckily, the very last one is ‘break the rules once in a while’) and restore healthy eating habits. By doing so, I’ll probably reduce my sugar, fat and calorie-intake without really paying specific attention to it, which is exactly what most diets try to make you do. It won’t stop me from cooking as I like, since Pollan recommends cooking for yourself as much as possible: when you realize how much work it is to bake Devil’s chocolate cake or make deep-fried chicken yourself, you probably won’t want to eat it every day (oh, the poor man hasn’t met me yet!). I especially like the S-rule: no sweets, snacks or seconds, except on days that start with an S. Sounds like a good way to start! Hopefully, my other yearly resolution, running the 20K of Brussels in May, will also help me get healthier (if only it would stop raining so I could go for a run though!). It will require some adjustment, a lot of discipline and perseverance and occasionally others to take the cookie jar away from me but I’m convinced that I can do it!

For those who are interested: you can find more information on Michael Pollan and his books at http://michaelpollan.com/

And oh yes, food posts will resume very soon – I still have a wonderful culinary day to report on!

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