Food Experiment: The Setup

bread food toast breakfast
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Last year, a friend used the term “radical living” when she said she doesn’t drink. She is neither an alcoholic nor a teetotaler by conviction, but because of experiences in her past and her own self-knowledge, she doesn’t trust herself to make good choices around alcohol.

So she eschews it entirely. Radical living.

I immediately thought about my relationship with food. But there’s a problem: I do need to eat food. That’s how bodies run–and it’s a good thing! God made us to fuel our bodies with things that are delicious and can bring us together with others around a table. Food is so much more than fuel, and it is God’s kindness to make it so.

But when our fallen nature rears its ugly head, things can become complicated. That “environment that’s bursting at the seams with highly rewarding foods” that I mentioned yesterday makes it complicated.

The Hungry Brain mentions an interesting study. In 1965, researchers ran a study that (accidentally) looked into how much reward would affect adiposity (fatness). They used a machine that delivered (and measured) bland, liquid food.

The researchers first fed two lean people using the machine–one for sixteen days and the other for nine. Without requiring any guidance, both lean volunteers consumed their typical calorie intake and maintained a stable weight during this period. (pg. 59)

Next, they repeated the experiment with patients weighing around 400 pounds, who were told to get food from the machine whenever they felt hungry.

Over the course of the first eighteen days, the first (male) volunteer consumed a meager 275 calories per day–less than 10 percent of his usual calorie intake. The second (female) volunteer consumed a ridiculously low 144 calories per day over the course of twelve days, losing twenty-three pounds…

This suggest that people with obesity may be more sensitive to the impact of food reward on calorie intake. (pg. 59-60)

In setting up my own experiment, I also found the discussion of nonindustrial peoples and their diets helpful. These peoples experience higher mortality rates from accidents, infectious diseases, etc., but rarely suffer from heart disease, metabolic disorders, or other hallmark diseases of industrial life.

And much of their diet is repetitive, coming down to two things: limited variety and lack of flavor enhancement.

1. Limited variety.

Discussing the !Kung San of the Kalahari Desert, Guyenet points out that though they

recognized at least 105 plants as edible, only 14 formed the bulk of their plant food intake, and only a subset of these 14 plant foods was available at any given season and location. Throughout the year, half of their calorie intake came from a single food, the mongongo fruit/nut. Over the course of the entire year, the !Kung San diet was quite varied; yet over the course of a day, it may have focused on only a few foods. (pg. 73, emphasis mine)

2. Lack of reinforcement through flavor enhancement.

With only the most basic processing methods at their disposal, nonindustrial cultures…are forced by necessity to eat food in a less calorie-dense, less refined, less rewarding state. Most don’t have the ability to add refined starch, sugar, salt, or concentrated fat to their meals…none boasts all the enhancements of the affluent industrial diet. (pg. 74, emphasis mine)

So, less variety and less doctoring up. Sounds…boring.

But I want boring. I want to retrain my brain to think of food as delicious fuel rather than entertainment–I want to eat to live and not live to eat because food will never fill a hole or satisfy my deepest longings.

Only Christ can do that. I don’t just want to eat less or get thin or fit in my pants better (notice I said I don’t just want those things; I definitely do want them). I want to delight less in food that I might delight more in my Savior and the good work he has put in front of me.

So, from today until the end of February, here’s the plan:

  • Breakfast: peanut butter toast x2 (optional: piece of fruit)
  • Lunchtime: piece of cheese
  • Early afternoon: Eggs or hot dogs, baked potato, green veggies
  • Dinner: whatever my family is having

This is an extraordinarily personal plan, based on my preferences and food needs. These are foods that taste okay but don’t excite me, and that I think I can eat over and over. They are the closest I can get to the bland liquid diet without actually doing something that drastic.

I’ve done a lot of experimenting over the last few months, and peanut butter toast is the only thing that seems to fill me up in the morning for the long haul.

And no matter what I eat at lunch time (low carb, low fat, high veggies, whatever I feel like…), I always get sleepy and want a nap. The cheese is optional if I truly feel hungry; otherwise, 2-3pm is when I feel the hungriest anyway and eating then energizes me rather than making me feel lethargic.

Oh, and making myself a separate dinner to avoid any high-reward foods? Or, on the flip side, making very specialized dinners that are only slightly appetizing for my family? Ain’t gonna happen. #compromise

Apparently, I like big dramatic challenges in order to think through a thing. (Wardrobe Fast, anyone?)

So, there it is. My attempt at “radical living” to get my tastebuds and brain box back in line. Food is fuel; hopefully, someday soon I can once again revel in its goodness with a right heart–and appetite.

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