Read Before Eating: Simple Ways to Educate Yourself about Food

You are what you eat, just like you are what you think. What you put into your body will be reflected by your body, and your mind.

Eating becomes an act of love as soon as you begin to educate yourself about what you’re putting in your body. (The food manufacturers don’t care about your health like you do. They care about making a buck – your hard-earned buck.) For a meaningful book about eating and emotions, I really like Geneen Roth’s When Food is Love – but, to be honest, I recommend all of her books.

Geneen Roth’s Eating Books

We all need to make changes to how we eat. That is a constant. The idea is to make small changes, nothing drastic. The idea is to succeed in adopting healthy habits. For example, if you don’t exercise and you want to start a running routine, then start walking fast first. Add the running bit by bit. If you want to cut your caloric intake to loose some weight, then make small changes (eat one cookie not two, eat half a sandwich, not a whole one, or skip dessert and have tea instead half the time, etc.)


I used to go on rigid diets from time to time. I would stop eating all sugar, for example. I would not make an exception for birthday cake, a special event, or sugar in my coffee. I would eat only raw vegetables. I would stop drinking coffee — not taper off, but go cold turkey and think disapproving thoughts about coffee drinkers I saw around me. I promised myself that I would “never” ingest any of the substances that I’d quit, ever again.

Rigidity was all I knew — I knew only how to make drastic changes. That’s how it was growing up — all or nothing, perfection or bust. Once in a while over dinner we kids would be told ‘we’re poor now’ over dinner. “That means no movies, no dinners out, no camping trip this year, and you have to bring your lunch. We’re poor.” Yet not two weeks would pass before we seemed to be back to “normal,” that is, receiving lunch money and dad and stepmom going out for a movie and dinner on Friday nights. That’s not because a check came in the mail to solve their financial problem, it’s because drastic changes are impossible to maintain. When the ideas come from an unrealistic, all-or-nothing place – the plan will fail. And then you feel a familiar ‘I can’t’ hopelessness.

For long-lasting results, the gradual, realistic approach wins. It sinks into the pores. It can go deeper, it grows roots. Speed and intensity just skims the surface like jet skis, can’t become a true, ingrained habit.

Know How Many Calories Are in The Food You Eat
Eating healthy requires self-education. Do you know how many calories a day we should consume just to stay at our current weights? Not many! (A calorie a unit of measurement – the measurement of the amount of fuel, or energy, that can be produced by a particular food.)

Take a look with this Calorie Counter — it’ll tell you you the number of calories (and fat, etc.) in common foods. Here you can find the calories contained by some foods served at restaurant chains — check out Applebee’s Fiesta Lime Chicken entree: 47 grams of fat! Holy guacamole.

This personal calorie calculator from the Calorie Control Council will figure your particular caloric needs based on your height, age, and weight.

In general, women who are over 31 years old require 1,800 calories per day to maintain their weight if they don’t exercise (2,000 if they do exercise). Women who are between 19 and 30 years old need 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight if they don’t exercise (2,200 if they do exercise).

In general, men over 31 years old need 2,200 calories per day to maintain their current weight if they’re not exercisers (2,400 if they are exercisers) and men between 19 and 30 years old need 2,400 calories per day to maintain their weight if they’re not exercisers (and 2,400 if they are).

An apple contains 50-80 calories (no fat). A turkey sandwich from Subway has 280 calories (4.5 grams of fat). A McChicken sandwich from McDonald’s has 360 calories (16 grams of fat). A turkey sandwich you make at home would fall somewhere between the two, depending on how much cheese or mayo you use: 2 slices of turkey = 45 calories; two slices of bread = 150 calories; 1 slice of cheese 113 calories; mustard = 5 calories; 4 teaspoons mayo = 360 calories. (Most of the calories of your homemade sandwich will come from mayo and cheese.)

Do You Know When You’re Full?
If you are the average Western-culture-inspired eater, you’re eating too much and too often. Stop doing other things while you’re eating. Pay attention to whether or not you’re getting full. It takes 20 minutes, they say, for your stomach to send the message it’s full to your brain, so slow down — don’t shovel food fast, c.h.e.w. that food and realize that you’re chewing, eating, tasting, and feeding yourself.

Be present when you eat.

You will be healthier if you cook your own food. By eating out, whether take-out or in a restaurant, you will consume TWICE your day’s calories in ONE meal. And chances are, you’re not going to just eat that one meal, so you are likely going WAY over the number of calories you need for that day when you eat food outside your home.

Prepare and cook your own food as much as possible – your breakfast, your sandwich, your dinner, your snacks.

Start Reading Labels
That is, read the back of the package, not the front where it says, “All Natural.” Read the list of ingredients on the food you buy. Don’t rely on on-package marketing claims that something is good for you, organic, wholesome, hearty, or natural. Do rely on the list of ingredients — that is the only truth on the packaging. That’s the only part that isn’t clever. If the list of ingredients seems long, that’s a bad sign. If the list is short and you know what the ingredients are, recognize them, that’s good.

There’s a vast difference between the ingredients in loaves of bread sold at the store. Compare two different loaves’ ingredients and you’ll see that some have a lot of extra crap in them, and some…just don’t. When I make bread at home, it contains just flour, water, yeast, salt. I’m hard pressed to find a bread that pure anywhere in the bread aisle of a supermarket.

Eat Organic & Local Food
Eat more organic fruits and vegetables. Eat more locally-grown food. Find a farmer’s market and buy fruits and vegetables there. They are delicious. You will taste the difference between those and the old, well-traveled, sprayed fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. You’ll taste what fruit actually tastes like when its in season, too!

Take Vitamins
Doctors now recommend we take multi-vitamin and mineral supplements because fruits and vegetables do not contain the nutrients that they used to; the soil on which our food is grown has been over-planted and depleted.

Food isn’t what it used to be.

Lack of vitamins in mass-produced food is another reason to buy from farmer’s markets – local farmers are more likely to rotate their crops and their fruits and vegetables will contain more nutrients than those from the supermarket. (While some local farmer’s aren’t “organic,” you’ll discover that they’re just as good because most of them do not use pesticides or herbicides (it takes several years and lots of money to become certified organic).)

Take Care of Yourself, Take Charge, Take Responsibility
Go to the doctor, get a check-up: check your blood pressure, check your cholesterol, your weight, and talk to your doctor about any health concerns you have. Don’t let the fear of bad news prevent you from getting educated and taking action to care for yourself.

Let the doctor know that you come from alcoholic parents and that you know that children of alcoholics tend to have particularly high risks for:

heart disease
chronic lung disease
liver disease
HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases

I’d add back problems to that list as well. ACAs are notorious for those.

Ask your doctor what kind of diet and lifestyle will make your heart, live and lungs strong. (Cardiovascular exercise comes to mind!) And, read about heart health so that you can take preventative measures now to be as healthy as possible.


  1. anna says:

    Thank you, this was a really great post. I like your blog a lot.

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