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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lifestyle: Taking Time to Eat...but how?

Convenience foods. Fast foods. Frozen foods. Processed foods. All of these foods exist to save time, which seems to be our most valuable resource at the moment...more valuable than oil, more valuable than money, more valuable than anything else we've got. Americans scurry around at top speeds, constantly trying to shave off a few minutes here and there while simultaneously trying to add in a few more activities to fill in those few precious minutes and somehow, someway, still make their lives work. We're expected to put both jobs and family first, and time for ourselves? Well, for the average person, you can just forget it.

Being so short on time we, as a culture, start looking at things to cut out...but what do we end up cutting? Sleep, nutrition, exercise...the most important elements to keeping ourselves sane, healthy, and happy! There's no shortage of reasons behind the obesity epidemic currently running rampant through America, but it's undoubtedly contributed to by the lack of time. Less sleep? Weight gain. More stress? Weight gain. Fast food? Weight gain. Poor health? Weight gain. Sedentary lifestyle (in front of the computer)? Weight gain. The entire American lifestyle almost ensures obesity while idolizing unrealistic weight goals and promoting unhealthy habits. There exists a dissenting voice - that of the health-food nuts and exercise gurus - but with waistlines still expanding and national health going down the tubes, there has to be more that can be done.

Luckily, there is something that can be done, but it's not a quick fix, a "diet", or a miracle drug...it's a change  of mind, of heart...a change of lifestyle. And lifestyle's are far too complex to be addressed in one blog post, so lets just take one step at a time. One thing that we have lost as a culture is the desire to take time with our food. We eat too fast, we don't cook from scratch, and we don't enjoy our meals in good company...but why?

It is an unfortunate truth that our culture puts our time at a premium...and in many ways, valuing and guarding your time is a wise thing to do! After all, the amount of time we have is something we can't really control. A day is twenty-four hours, a week is seven days, and etc. I've often wished for more hours in a day, but try as we might, such a thing is impossible...thus all of the cliches and sayings about "using your time wisely". But what constitutes a wise use of time? Is it wise to stay up deep into the night, frantically trying to get a project finished while fueled on coffee and sugar? Is it wise to shorten your lunch break to ten minutes...just long enough to cram a hot pocket down your throat and get on to your next task?

Perhaps the problem is the quality of what we spend our time doing. Perhaps sleeping eight hours a night seems like a lot when you are surrounded by responsibility and deadlines...but a lack of sleep will undoubtedly worsen your anxiety while causing weight gain and increased chance of illness and disease. Cooking causes a similar quandry...perhaps cooking meals from scratch can be time consuming, but it allows you to eat more whole foods, provides meals unladen with preservatives and poisons, and can be a wonderfully grounding experience after a hard day or week.

But when you get off work at five and your family is hungry, how do you avoid turning to the quick and convenient foods? Well, the first step is to plan ahead. During a day off, look at what nights your family will be eating together and how much time you will have for cooking those nights. Then, prepare and freeze as many ingredients as you can. Beans can be cooked and frozen weeks in advance, as can marinara or pizza sauce and any number of other ingredients. Many options can be thrown into a slow cooker in the morning, ready and waiting for you when you arrive home. Tomorrow's recipe, Polenta Pizza, can be thrown together in minutes when the crust and sauce are ready and done.

But what are the rewards of all of this hard work? Well, eating more slowly is healthier for you. It's been suggested by many studies, scientists, doctors, and nutritionists that slow eating will allow you to eat fewer calories becuase your brain realizes that you are full in a timely manner. You also gain more nutrients from your food by chewing thoroughly, but perhaps even more important, you really enjoy your food and your company. If you force yourself to slow down and enjoy a meal, it can be a time of reflection, bonding, relaxation, and interaction for your family...something every family desperately needs!

That's not to mention the health benefits of eating foods that are whole. Everyone's bodies are different, but I personally have experienced overall improvements in health and wellness, better skin, a dramatic decrease in migraines and acid reflux, and many other benefits. Not to mention, of course, dramatically more delicious foods!

Making time for eating, for sleeping, for cooking your own foods...it does require change on your part, and sacrifice. But perhaps instead of filling our days with task after task after task, we should consider the value of our time and the endeavors on which we spend it. Getting "more bang for your buck", so to speak, by increasing the quality of life for yourself and your family. Make time for yourself, make time for relaxation, for sleep and exercise. Because it's only through a balanced life that we can find health and well-being.

-The Calm Cook

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