OUT THERE: Eating right

"She was pleased I had seen the nutritional light, but annoyed that it was the words of others that actually flicked that switch."

Eating right (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Eating right
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
There I was sitting at the kitchen table the other day doing something that just three short years ago I would have never dreamed of doing: reading the nutritional information label on the back of a cereal box.
Boy, did I feel my age.
As a kid growing up in America in the 1970s, I developed the habit of reading cereal boxes.
Some of them had jokes or games on the back, others had offers for really cool toys, and still others had trivia about the presidents or small items about Olympic champions.
I read them after scouring the sports pages and comics in the Rocky Mountain News, Denver’s morning newspaper at the time, or – when I was fighting with my sister – I read them as I built a cereal-box wall on the table to keep her out of my line of vision.
I never looked at the nutritional information on those boxes. What’s a protein, I thought back then.
Fast forward 45 years, and all of a sudden I’m interested in nutritional information.
Actually, I’m not interested at all – I still don’t know too much about what protein does or how “energy” is measured – but with an eye toward limiting sugar intake, I’m constantly looking at the labels on food products to see how much sugar they have snuck into 100 grams of… whatever.
Who would have thought there was sugar in mustard or barbecue potato chips?
“Remember when eating was just eating?” The Wife quipped recently, bemused at the sight of me turning the cereal box upside down in a frustrated attempt to figure out where the hell they hid the sugar information.
Yes, I certainly remember when eating was just eating. It wasn’t that long ago, back when if I wanted to eat something, I just ate it, and – as long as it was kosher – didn’t really care what was in it.
Salt? Sugar? Saturated fats? Who cares.
Never burdened with weight issues, my reflex was always to just bring the food on. I didn’t need to read the labels as if I was buying food for Passover and had to ensure that everything was kosher for Passover for Ashkenazim, meaning no legumes or legume derivatives.
Back then I didn’t have to try to figure out how much sugar there was in each Mike & Ike fruit-flavored candy if there were 3.5 servings in a five-ounce box and each serving was about 42 grams. Back then snacking was just snacking, not practicing math for a college entrance exam.
Life was simpler then, let alone tastier.
AND THEN a certain health consciousness came over me, born both of wanting to avoid a middle-age heart attack and The Wife’s caring admonitions.
The Wife was always a healthy eater – choosing tofu over beef, yogurt over pudding, water over soda pop. She gently tried to convince me over the years to do the same, but I resisted – set in my ways.
Until my doctor said something one day, and my father the next.
“Maybe it’s a good idea to start eating differently,” I told The Wife afterward, expecting her to be thrilled at my epiphany.
She was, and then she wasn’t.
She was pleased I had seen the nutritional light, but annoyed that it was the words of others that actually flicked that switch.
“I’ve been telling you this for years, and now you listen just because your dad said something?” she said, irritated that her words carry less authority with me on certain issues than those of the doctor or my father. This, by the way, is not an infrequent bone of contention.
“But honey,” I implored, “you’re not a nutritionist.”
To which she wisely replied, “Neither is your dad.”
Valid point, that. But it didn’t matter, I then began watching what I ate and what I drank.
Never in a lifetime of eating did I think I would walk into a restaurant and order a salad. Sure, I would do that in the US in a non-kosher restaurant. But here? In Israel? That was one of the benefits of living in a Jewish state, never again needing to munch on a leafy salad at lunch while my cohorts wolfed down rib-eye steaks.
Never in a million years did I think I would pass up free Cokes on an airplane, asking instead for soda water with lots of ice. And never did I think I would order wholewheat bread, rather than the white variety.
Nor did it occur to me that if I ever would do all of that – which indeed I do now – that I would still not be eating right in eyes of The Wife. Because there’s eating, and then there’s eating mindfully.
Mindful eating is paying attention to what you eat, not just putting the food into your mouth by rote. I may be eating the right stuff now, but I’m not doing it in the proper manner. I’m not really tasting the food, thinking about it, taking note of its aroma and texture. I’m just eating. Even worse, sometimes I’ll eat while reading a newspaper, watching the news, looking at my phone or standing up.
“You should try to pay more attention when you eat,” The Wife counseled the other day. “Take your time – look at the colors, feel the texture.”
“Huh,” I said, stunned at this new eating curveball. “Honey, enough! I don’t really like quinoa with blanched almonds. If I think about it too much, I’ll be going to go back to hot dogs. Healthy I’ll eat, but this mindful eating is not my thing – it’s not going to happen.”
At least not until my dad reads somewhere that some doctor said it is a real swell idea.