Sunday morning, Michelle and I ate ice cream for breakfast.
It gets worse.
We also ordered gluten-free pizza from Domino’s.
And yes, I’m telling you this for a reason.
As a nutritionist and health “guru”, I’m frequently looked at by my friends as the “food police”, a job I neither asked for nor want. People are afraid to order in front of me at restaurants. When I go to out to dinner, people are particularly curious about what I order. And if they do something they consider “indulgent”—i.e. order dessert, drink coffee, have a beer—they tend to look at me with guilt in their eyes.
So here’s the story: One, I’m not the food police. Two, I have food cravings and occasional lapses just like everyone else.
Which brings me to the topic at hand—trade-offs.
Kaja Perina, the editor of Psychology Today, recently wrote about trade-offs in her Editor’s Note column. “Trade-offs are evolution’s building blocks”, she writes. “All organisms arise from a series of cellular negotiations, and our brains are no exception”.
You want to live on a snow-capped mountain because it makes your heart soar? Cool, but the trade-off is you don’t get to walk on the beach every morning.
Or, as my father used to say, “You pays your money, you takes your choice”.
So what was the trade-off with ice cream for breakfast? Well, I sacrifice a few health points—big sugar influx, lots of calories I don’t need, little or no serious nutrition. But the gain? Well, a lot of pleasure, as everyone who’s ever curled up in a warm bed with a loved one on a Sunday morning watching “Orange is the new Black” and gorging on Haagen Daaz well knows.
And what’s the price of that pleasure?
Actually, not all that much.
Look, please don’t understand me too quickly. I’m not advocating junk food binges, and I’m not implying that what you eat doesn’t matter. That position isn’t even on the table. And I certainly recognize that when we have serious addictions, we can’t throw caution to the wind for a few hours of fun. If you’re an alcoholic, you don’t have the occasional drink because it’s “fun”.
As someone who’s been addicted to half the things in the Physician’s Desk Reference, I’m fully aware of what I can and can’t do. I won’t be having the “occasional drink” nor the “occasional line of coke”, at least not anytime in the next, oh, 100 years or so. But sugar, bad as it is, is something I can eat once in a while without going too crazy. I can get back on track pretty quickly—and that “track” for me is pretty straight and narrow when it comes to nutrition. For me—with this particular indulgence, at this particular time—it’s a case of no harm, no foul.
So am I recommending an occasional binge? Hardly. But what I am recommending is a little less rigidity when it comes to our attitudes about food.
Look, food is fuel. We get that. It’s nourishment. It’s vitamins and nutrients and phytochemicals and fiber and polyphenols and antioxidants and omega 3s and all the other good stuff that keeps our body running smoothly.
But it’s also taste, texture, pleasure and sensuality. And it’s a big part of many recreational and social events.
And once in a while—depending on the person and the situation—it’s OK to indulge, JUST for the considerable fun of doing so.
My friend, superstar nutritionist Oz Garcia, used to call this “recreational eating”.
And yes, my friends, there is a place for that.
The trick is knowing what works—and doesn’t work—for you.
I had a great time that Sunday morning. We binge watched “Ray Donovan” and “Newsroom”. We lounged around till noon. We talked a lot. We had fun. And we ate crap.
And Monday morning, it was back to eating the way I know I need to eat every day to stay in the state of health I want to stay in.
As the great, late nutritionist Robert Crayhon once said, “Pleasure is a nutrient”.
I think we all might do well to remember that.