I just had the most incredible family Passover Seder. We travelled to the east coast to see our cousins, and they treated us to a wonderful evening. We always have a fantastic time when we see them, which is not often enough.
Their company makes eating flattened cardboard (a.k.a matzah) almost worthwhile.
They also know how to feed us. A beautiful salad, matzah ball soup, steamed green beans, butternut squash “rice,” salmon, roasted chicken…my mouth is watering all over again just thinking about it. It was delicious and plentiful.
When dinner concluded, we pushed ourselves away from the table nicely fed, likely fuller than we needed to be (these things can happen when we get distracted by great conversation and connecting with our loved ones). If the evening had ended here, we would all have been more than satisfied.
Trust me when I say no one would have gone home hungry.
But then it happened.
They brought out dessert.
We figured this would happen and tried to plan in advance by bringing a beautiful fruit tray that we picked up from a local grocer. Everyone remarked how lovely it was. Then they would sample one or two pieces of fruit and immediately turn their attention to the not one, not two, but three cakes that were beautifully displayed next to it.
Why three? Excellent question. I’m not sure as to the answer, but I noticed that most people felt compelled to take a piece of each one.
I was immediately struck by the complete lack of necessity for the cakes.
Was anyone still hungry or lacking for calories? No way. Dinner was more than enough.
Were we lacking in conversation and socializing so we needed an excuse to extend the evening? No way. The kids were getting restless and the adults were starting to yawn as it was getting late in the evening. We had all had a wonderful time, but it was clear the end was drawing near.
Our well-meaning hosts provided the array of desserts because that is what people do.
That is our unconscious action and belief about what a dinner party should entail.
I am sure (or at least I hope) that if we logically think about the need for dessert, we would see that it is almost always unnecessary. When we act in an unconscious manner, however, we simply provide dessert because it is what we do and what we feel our guests expect.
It turns out, studies have shown that we make 200 food and beverage decisions every day. 200! When I first heard that my initial reaction was, “No way. It doesn’t feel like that many at all.”
That is true. It doesn’t feel like we make 200 decisions because most of them are unconscious decisions. They are habit, routine, automatic. They are less decisions and more natural reactions.
Our health usually suffers from those decisions. On the one hand, we could say it isn’t really our fault. Society inundates us with unhealthy junk food.
A prime example was on our flight home from the east coast. It is a minor miracle to get any food on an airplane nowadays. Our flight attendants were happy to announce that they provided free snacks for the flight. They proudly walked down the aisle holding their trays full of packaged cookies, chips, fake cheese and crackers, and the healthiest option….pretzels.
It was no surprise that all the kids on the flight immediately wanted one or two of everything. I was struck, however, by how many adults wanted to partake in the junk fest as well. Was it their fault? There were no other options available. What else could they have done?
Plan ahead. My wife is the master at plan ahead food. We had a Tupperware of carrots, almonds, cashews, sweet potato, broccoli and cauliflower. We even had PB&J for the kids.
What if you can’t pack ahead? Just say no. Nancy Regan would be proud of you. If you have read my posts on intermittent fasting, you understand the importance of knowing that we are in control of our hunger, not the other way around. Going without snacks on a four-hour flight should not be a major challenge in our lives.
The problem once again lies in our unconscious decisions. We don’t actively think about our nutrition and don’t plan ahead to provide healthy choices. Until society does it for us (which seems unlikely on a mass scale in the immediate future), it is up to us as individuals to make the unconscious become conscious.
It isn’t always easy to question the automatic decisions. Trust me, I wanted to discuss the dessert issue with our host. I chickened out. She was incredibly gracious and warm to welcome us into her home and provide a wonderful meal. The last thing I wanted to do was insult her or make her feel badly about her decisions.
So, I let it go. In a way, I am an enabler for the next time. I admit that it is not always an easy thing to point out to others.
But it is an important thing to do. Our health depends on us taking responsibility for what we put in our bodies, what we make available for us and others, and how we make our 200 food and drink decisions.
We can start by reframing how we make our own decisions, and then can help others see how they make theirs. One by one, we can make the unconscious become conscious. Then we can give our health the priority it deserves.
At your next dinner party, birthday party, or other social gathering, do not serve dessert. Simply don’t have it. Don’t apologize for not having it. Don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t even mention it. Just go about as usual as if nothing was different. Over the course of the next week, ask those who attended if they noticed anything different or if they felt anything was missing. You may be surprised about what you find!
Thanks for reading.
Bret Scher, MD FACC
Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health