Wednesday, April 8, 2009

All you can eat

I love food and as you will have seen, a number of my Lovemarks are restaurants. Travelling as much as I do – with food temptations constantly before me that are skilfully prepared and beautifully presented – keeping trim is a constant challenge. Tennis, walking, workouts do a lot of the heavy lifting and because I’m not one for complicated eating regimes, eating smart has to be eating simple. That’s where my own indispensable rules of thumb come into play. Such heuristics shape our lives by shaping our decisions with intuition and common sense.

Here’s a classic example from my family (and probably the mantra of every mother in the world): “Eat your greens.” While this rule hasn’t made me a vegetarian, it has given me a healthy respect for vegetables, their nutritional value and how great chefs can create great vegetable dishes with flair and imagination. Now the simple Greens Rule has been expanded to “Eat colored”. It turns out that brightly colored vegetables have the highest nutritional properties. Beetroot, oranges, tomatoes, berries, all the green guys, are in. Potatoes, not so much, despite the gallant efforts of the potato industry to promote their wares.

The “Eat colored” rule of thumb connects directly with another one that gives us a guide to the sensible volume of food to eat. It’s set out in an interesting book written by a couple of ad guys, Alex Bogusky and Chuck Porter. It’s called The 9-Inch Diet (another classic from powerHouse Books, publishers of the Lovemarks suite of books). They have taken up another commonsense food idea (eat less) and followed it in all sorts of fascinating directions. It’s entertaining and instructive with an action message in the tail. Alex and Chuck traced eating habits (particularly of Americans) over a few decades and found that the size of plates and drinking glasses has exploded. If you don’t believe me, go to your kitchen cupboard and take out a dinner plate that is nine inches wide. The first thing you will discover is that you don’t have one. They have vanished from American life. If you are curious about this extinct species and check it out in store, you will find that the old school nine-inch plate looks more like a side plate than a dinner plate to contemporary eyes. Like the proverbial frogs that get used to slowly increasing temperatures and don’t leap from the pot to safety, we have slowly become used to larger and larger plate sizes. The problem is not of course the dinnerware, it’s the amount of food we heap onto it. It’s all part of what the brilliant Brian Wansink calls Mindless Eating .

To get to more mindful eating, put a nine-inch dinner plate together with another classic of motherly advice: “Leave something on the plate when you’ve finished,” and you’re on the way to a successful weight maintenance (and perhaps even reduction) program.