Most Americans choose to be unhealthy and overweight- no one forces us- we choose it with every bite we take. There are several reasons for this; confusion about what is really healthy food amidst so much conflicting information; the seduction of convenience foods and fast foods; unconscious eating where we are not really aware how our food is affecting us; and our own identification with a certain school or culture of food whether it be mid-west meat and potatoes or California vegan. And also, many of us assume that becoming overweight, unhealthy and unfit is the normal course of growing up- so why bother to fight it? Whatever the reasons, we are each making our choices- one bite at a time.

Americans are incredibly confused about what to eat which is somewhat surprising considering that we think of ourselves as the smartest animal on the planet. After all, the other animals seem to know exactly what to eat! Do we really need a Ph.D. in nutrition to make wise food choices? I don’t think so. After all, hominids have survived on the planet for over 6 million years without them.

Historically, how did we know what to eat, what was good for us and what wasn’t? First off, we listened to our bodies. We looked carefully at our foods, we smelled them, we tasted them, we were conscious when we ate them and were aware of how they made us feel. Our bodies are an incredible biofeedback mechanism that will quickly and accurately inform us about the benefits or harm of most foods. And the more we tune in to our bodies, the louder and clearer will be its feedback. It’s a bit like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. Nowadays, though, most people don’t really pay attention to what they eat.

And then there is convenience. Our whole society is structured to make it incredibly easy and cheap to eat less than optimal foods. It sometimes seems that every other urban corner has a fast food restaurant with a one-dollar menu. Why spend several dollars buying broccoli when you can get a burger for $1? And for many families on a budget, this is a very real predicament. The supermarkets are full of highly processed convenience foods that you can just pop in a microwave and eat. And now you can get them in bulk at low prices from the warehouse supermarkets. If you want to eat healthy food it requires a conscious choice to buck the system and not give in to the convenience factor. With all the other stresses and pressures in our modern world, food, that most basic of needs often get the lowest priority.

What did you have for dinner last night?

What did you have for dinner last night? Breakfast this morning? How many times have you reached in for a chip to find that you had eaten the whole bag without even realizing it? Many of us can’t remember because we were eating automatically. Eating has become such a routine for most people that they are often “eating on auto-pilot” and most of us do it more often than we realize. The result is unresponsiveness and disconnect from our bodies biofeedback that can result in unfortunate health consequences. It’s like touching a hot iron- ouch- that’s biofeedback. The signals are subtler with food but the long-term consequences aren’t any less dire.

When we are aware of how our food tastes, smells, looks and feels we are eating consciously. Conscious eating is a powerful tool in choosing a healthy lifestyle. Willpower alone won’t cut the mustard. It might help for a short period, but it’s only when we are truly aware of our food and its effects on our body that we will make the choices that truly serve us.

Every bite you take is creating the “future you”- so take responsibility for it. In fact, eating is one of the few things in life that we have such an immediate control over. That’s part of the reason we so often choose to “indulge” ourselves with food. After all, if we are not being indulged elsewhere at least we can satisfy our longings with a pint of ice cream or whatever comfort food we turn to.

It is the mind and our conscious intentions that are our greatest ally in choosing health. Ask yourself, “Does that comfort food serve you? Envisage yourself eating that comfort food daily. What will you look like after a year? What will your waist size be? How will you feel? Does that food really work for you?

So the question is not, do I want to eat a single pint of ice cream. The question is, “Do I want to live my life as an ice cream eater? – Because you know what that will look like. It’s the same for any addiction, and yes, food is addictive- especially certain foods.

The foods we eat

The foods we eat are often an important component of our self-identity. I am what I eat. I’m a vegan. I’m a meat eater. I’m a raw foodist. I’m a vegetarian. And these categories are becoming far more encompassing than just the food we eat. They say something about the kind of person we are, our politics, our environmental stance our world-view. In fact, for many people, diet is becoming an integral expression of personal identity – and for some, it’s becoming even more relevant than their political party.

Unfortunately, this identification with a specific food regimen often results in an ossification of food habits and an unbending allegiance to the “idea” of a preferred diet. Once again, instead of being present and aware when eating, we eat by rote, by ideology and stop listening to our bodies. We become identified with an “ism” instead of being in the moment to notice what works, and what doesn’t- and this applies to both ends of the healthy/unhealthy food spectrum.

So if you are reading this and beginning to feel defensive or aggressive it’s no wonder. Many people react defensively or even aggressively when challenged to try a new way to eat, or to a suggestion that the way they eat is not going to bring them optimum health. We are invested in the way we eat- it is part of our sense of self. And it is often a self-limiting belief.

And then there is the fact that nearly half of all Americans are edging into obesity- that the rate of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and so much more is devastating. In fact, these debilitating diseases and conditions are so prevalent that many Americans just assume that this is the way it is, the natural course of growing older. It’s a terrible assumption because it robs them of any inspiration to choose a healthier lifestyle. Why bother? The truth is that in countries and cultures around the world, and even here at home, there are many people who grow older in health and with a high quality of life. In fact, the phenomenon is even more insidious- most people want to fit in, not stand out. When everyone is eating hamburgers and fries, who wants to be the one to opt for the veggie burger?

And by the way, if we feel we are depriving ourselves when we make healthy choices it’s not going to last. The first work is in the mind. It’s only when we can feel like we are treating ourselves when we are making healthy food choices that the practice is sustainable. When we eat a beautiful organic salad and we feel empowered, nourished, light and satisfied, that’s when we are really changing the paradigm. When we treat ourselves with a fruit smoothie or a raw chocolate dessert, that is when we making choices that truly work for our selves, emotionally and physically.

I’ll say it again, “The first work is in the mind.” Feed your mind with healthy thoughts daily. Create meaningful and healthy affirmations. Visualize the self you intend to be and keep the image in your consciousness. Because whether you like it or not, you are creating the new you- one bite at a time.

Book by Rod Rotondi, “Raw Food for Real People”

Book by Dr. Gabriel Cousens, “Conscious Eating”