How does eating with others both help and harm your health?
When we sit down with family or friends or relax in a restaurant dining room, it is hard to be disciplined or conscious that what you are about to eat could either shorten or conversely extend your life. The old phrase “You are what you eat” has never been more true. When dining with friends it is hard to say no to the waiter when a second glass of wine is offered. And it’s even more difficult to choose a chef salad over a juicy steak.
This is a culture problem. We have become an obese nation (one of out of every three adults is obese) because food is plentiful, we eat more fast food in our busy lives, and the marketing of leafy greens is no match for the power of the sugar, meat, or alcohol industries.
We as individuals, families, and communities are the primary solution to this bad food epidemic that leads to heart disease, diabetes, soaring health costs, and shortened lives. Government, schools, academic studies, and public service announcements can help but it is ultimately up to each of us.
It starts in the supermarket aisle. If we purchase fresh vegetables, plant based proteins, dairy substitutes, and low sugar, low salt products, then we won’t have the tempting but unhealthy food in our homes. If we explicitly seek out easy to prepare recipes with healthy ingredients, then the meals we share with others benefit us all. If we select restaurants or menu items that are known for heart friendly eating and stay away from the cholesterol, sugar, salt, and chemically-laden food offerings, then we are doing our body good.
Dining with others is a core behavior of WiseTribers. And in that communal effort, spirited dialog is on the menu. This dining together is a terrific opportunity to address the impact of unhealthy food selection on our communities.
Now it’s never easy to be the know-it-all at the dining table but with a gentle prod or sly humor you can suggest the tasty Brussels sprouts rather than French fries, or the fresh-caught fish rather than the juicy steak. Also portion sizes can be managed by splitting an item with someone else at the table or ordering two appetizers rather than a full meal. Even alcoholic drinks can be selected with care to reduce calories by low cal beers or hard seltzers.
Systems thinking is a tool to achieve this shift in food consciousness. If we think in terms of the whole, consider linkages between food and its consequences, we begin to realize the enormity of what is happening. Our earth is being plundered by factory farming techniques, our hospitals are expanding to cope with the increase in food related diseases, and our social safety net becomes more expensive every year.
We can train ourselves to be more responsible around food, to make good decisions, and cultivate our palates to crave healthy food. Our bodies will quickly show their gratitude and maybe even your table mates will come around to following your example.