Food Rules

02 February 2010 · 8 comments

Tonight I read Michael Pollan’s latest book, Food Rules which is a short list of 64 guidelines for eating right. These are based on the findings in his last book, In Defense of Food, the thesis of which was:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Pollan’s food rules build on these three main points to create a sort of blueprint for right eating. “Think of these food policies as little algorithms designed to simplify your eating life,” he writes. “Adopt whichever ones stick and work best for you.” (This sounds remarkably like my personal motto: “Do what works for you.”)

After spending an hour reading Food Rules (I told you it was a short book!), I’ve decided to try incorporating the following policies in my own life. Some will be more difficult than others:

  • 3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.
  • 4. Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
  • 5. Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed in the top three ingredients.
  • 11. Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
  • 12. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
  • 13. Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
  • 17. Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans.
  • 22. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  • 23. Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.
  • 27. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.
  • 30. Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.
  • 35. Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature.
  • 39. Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.
  • 43. Have a glass of wine with dinner.
  • 44. Pay more, eat less. (By which Pollan means pay for quality.)
  • 45. Eat less.
  • 46. Stop eating before you’re full.
  • 49. Eat slowly.
  • 53. Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds.
  • 56. Limit snacks to unprocessed plant foods.
  • 59. Try not to eat alone.
  • 60. Treat treats as treats.
  • 64. Break the rules once in a while.

For me, 2010 is the year of fitness. While writing my book, I sat at my desk all day, ate junk food from the minimart next door, and as a result gained 20 pounds. (And I was none too healthy before that.) As a result, I started this year at 213 pounds, chronic insomnia, and a complete lack of physical aptitude.

I lost five pounds last month, and I have good momentum moving into February. My breakfasts are good right now (1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill whole grain cereal with flaxseed, 1/2 ounce of raisins, pinch of salt, 2 packets of Sugar in the Raw, and 1/4 cup of skim milk), but I haven’t found a routine with everything else. I want to work on that. In particular, I want to move toward eating far more fruits and vegetables than I do now. (Which shouldn’t be too difficult since that number is near zero.)

This ought to be interesting. I’ve never actually had rules for my eating before. (Have you? Do people actually set food rules for themselves?) Maybe I should print out my policies and carry them with me!

Note: I remember reading the article(s) Pollan wrote while prepping for this book. One of the rules that didn’t get included here (because it’s not about eating) is “don’t yuck somebody else’s yum”. I’ve really tried to adopt this. I’m a notorious yucker of other people’s yums. But I’ve also had fun scolding others for making faces at the food I like…

1 Lauren February 2, 2010 at 07:22

Great rules. I know most people hate ‘rules’ but maybe there’s a reason they are recommended suggestions- maybe they actually work. For the people who hate [food] rules, perhaps it’s time to look again why to hate them. (Hint: it’s usually about patterned, habit responses, which people hate to break… but may not serve anymore from its original purpose).

I had an interesting thought about the wine suggestion (#43). I realize that I eat less when having a glass of wine with food. Maybe it makes me drunk and sleepy – and don’t eat more ;)

I also agree with the “yuck/yum” statement. I love cottage cheese but many people yuck it. (So what? It’s good for me and it’s nutritious) So why diss me? I won’t yuck theirs…

2 Dan Owen February 2, 2010 at 10:22

In one of your blogs, you wrote that you spent 8-10 hours a day working on your book. This, of course, is the length of a typical work day. Have you thought at all about why this work schedule prevented you from eating a healthy diet? I assume that healthy prepared meals from Whole Foods are as easily accessible to you as Sno-Balls from the Mini-mart. You can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure: I know from your GFS posting before writing your book that you had an excellent understanding of healthy nutrition before you set out to write your book, and the resources to provide healthy food for yourself. Is a new set of rules the key to changing those eating habits?

I live by two rules: I eat almost no processed foods, and I stop eating when I feel full. I give myself permission to start eating again as soon as I feel hungry: on some days that means that I eat 15 or 20 “meals,” but a meal is often a handful of almonds or some dried peaches. This stuff fills me up fast, and with unlimited permission to eat again just as soon as I feel hungry, I don’t feel so pressed to eat past the point of feeling full.

Pollan is great: is there anyone who gives such practical advice about eating? Ommivore’s Dilemma is a book I’ve given as a gift close to a dozen times; I think it should be assigned reading in schools, right around the eighth grade.

3 bethh February 2, 2010 at 12:39

wow, that’s a lot of rules. I agree with all of them and think that “Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans” sums up several of them well. Do you subscribe to any food blogs? They’re a great way to dip your toes in the real food waters. I’m sure if you put out a call for suggestions you’ll get a lot.

4 ClaireTN February 2, 2010 at 16:34

I love Pollan. One of my rules is that I won’t buy a food product that has ingredients that don’t sound edible themselves. I also try to eat a snack of a raw fruit or vegetable with either a glass of water or a pot of green tea about an hour before dinner. Just munching on some carrot sticks or an apple keeps me from getting hungry and helps me come to the table not feeling starved. Plus, I get in an extra serving of fruit/vegetable. Okay, one more: I always eat a serving of fruit (usually berries) with breakfast. Getting that first serving in right at the beginning of the day makes it much easier to get at least five a day.

5 Pam February 2, 2010 at 19:57

Great post, JD. It reminds me of this one fitness blog that I really like. ;)

Good luck with your quest this year. It has truly made Mac a different person.

6 Tyler Karaszewski February 4, 2010 at 00:06

As idealistic as the pro-natural-ingredient rules are, they don’t make that much of a difference in terms of weight loss. Fewer calories eaten = more weight lost. Rule 45 is king, everything else is just details.

I’ve done this — eat less, surf more, bike more. I’m 5’11” and I weigh 162 lbs.

7 Kristin February 6, 2010 at 23:25

Rule 65: Celebrate bacon on prime birthdays . . .

8 Michele | aka Raw Juice Girl February 10, 2010 at 14:31

I love the simplicity! I’ve decided to simplify my life (all aspects, not just eating) and am working toward that goal. I recently blogged about shedding labels I’ve limited myself to and creating a more peaceful, forgiving approach toward my eating habits and health in general. It’s already lifted a huge load from my shoulders and many readers are able to relate…..

I followed over from Work Happy Now, by the way – so glad Karl mentioned your post. :-)

Congrats on the weight loss!

*smiles*
Michele

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