I often wonder about the limits of my body. One point of concern is the amount of food I need to maintain health. And health I also struggle to define. What level of strength and endurance, resilience, and mass do I need to be well?
Wellness is, of course, an ever controversial measure. I was born and have been living in the United States. It’s the twenty first century A.D. Wellness to our society means something so far from what it first meant when Homo sapiens first walked this earth. And the earth was different too. It is still different from country to country, region to region.
So when I think about food, I think about hunger. I think about energy. Ultimately, it’s a matter of happiness for me. I’m not going to be hungry long enough for it to kill me. But I want to feel great. Part of that is being physically strong.
The thing is, there’s not going to be a barbell loaded with 315 lb.. lying around for me to test my strength every day. So what does it matter? If my shirt is a bit looser than it was a month ago, am I any less healthy or happy? Only when I compare the two instances of myself and label the larger better. Then I’m using a measure apart from my self.
I have nearly bursted at the seams with happiness on an empty, groaning stomach. And I’ve been melancholy, angry and suffering on a belly bursting at the seams with food. What I would really accomplish for this world with a few more pounds of flesh on my bones, I don’t know. Not much more than if I had twenty pounds less.
Food to me is for nourishment and enjoyment. In excess of either it’s not needed. I’ve somehow come to believe that I should eat as much as I can. That whatever is not needed will be excreted at no cost. But excess is definitely cost. What more I could have done with the resources saved from eating too much food.
The more I look at food with gratitude, and see myself as one creature amongst countless others on this earth, the less I can desire food for food’s sake.
I want meals to be a prescription for each day. For the state of my mind, body, and soul, there may be a particular food. And there may not be. I’m trying to learn what state I’m in each day. And with that knowledge, to figure what and how much I really need to eat to fit that state.
Rather than follow ill-conceived standards, and suffer the consequences of malnourishment, I would like to focus on the actual benefit nature has in store for me. What good is it to eat eleven servings of bread, four servings of fruit, five servings of vegetables, and to “use sparingly” fats and oils, when we are plagued with diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune maladies on that very diet?
Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Workweek that “things in excess become their opposite. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. In excess, most endeavors and possessions take on the characteristics of their opposite. Thus… more becomes less.”
I’ve been learning recently that the sun is a source of nutrients as much as a wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon can be. If I continue to eat meat and grain from unwholesome sources and fail to step outside into the sunlight, what am I really doing for myself?
Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, requests, “let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it”.
So I’m shedding the constant, nagging chant of “how much food”. When the question is wrong, the answers are confused. Shortage of food is not my problem. If I don’t eat for a day, perhaps more, I am still well. I might really learn what food is in that time. And that food doesn’t only consist of meat, vegetables, and starches. That there is a whole world of nutrition that never passes through the belly that we do not pay attention to.
Sure, you will say my body will deteriorate without sufficient food. My aim is not to starve or become emaciated or limit myself physically even to a small degree. I want to know instead what I really need for wellness and happiness. Sometimes it’s as simple as less. Having less than I would normally have can be good for me.
I’ve told you I’m a wheat addict. If you haven’t read that letter, please do, and join me if you feel the same. The past few weeks have been an interesting study of abstinence. I’ve been consciously turning down wheat-containing foods and treats. In doing so, I feel humbled. I am not entitled to all the food in the world. And actually, even food that is presented to me is not necessarily mine. Not if I am looking out for my wellness.
Not having has led to a quiet happiness that I haven’t felt since I was a child. This quiet contentment with just what I have, and with what I don’t have but don’t need or want. Withholding from every pleasure allows me to savor the pleasures I do have. The ones I’ve designated for myself through careful curation.
Onward with the calibration of portions.