You Are What You Eat
How a nation’s eating habits are connected to time perspective and health
Posted May 18, 2013
When we’re on holiday we tend to behave as present hedonists, enjoying new and luxurious foods and drinks we often don’t allow ourselves during our normal routine. We live for the moment and indulge our gluttony, forgetting it is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Most of us try to make healthy choices most of the time because we’re thinking about our future – we want to look good and feel good tomorrow, next year, and decades from now. But sometimes there are exceptions where we celebrate the positive past, a tradition, or an important date with feasts like Thanksgiving, religious holidays, or birthdays, and we create spreads of food that hold symbolic value so we modify how or what we eat for that event.
Food, Tradition and Culture
Food goes hand in hand with tradition and culture. At least some of the food habits or wisdom you have now were most likely imparted to you by your parents, who learned from their parents, who learned from theirs, and so on. You can probably trace these behaviors back to a specific culture and cultural mindset that accompanied those food and drink habits.
If we look at global obesity trends we can see that – surprise, surprise, the United States has one of the highest rates while Japan has one of the lowest rates. Why? The U. S. and Japan both have an abundance of food, both are educated, and both populations have similar daily stresses, like long work hours combined with short vacations. [http://www.iaso.org/resources/world-map-obesity/]
East vs West
One of the fundamental differences between Asian and American cultures is how each views food as sustenance versus a source of pleasure. In Asia where restraint is valued, the Okinawan saying “hara hachi bu,” meaning “eat ‘til you are 80 percent full,” reflects a future-oriented mindset. Whereas in the U.S., one does not have to drive very far to see “all you can eat” banners hanging from restaurants to attract customers. Instant gratification and convenience are usually the rules rather than the exceptions. Consequently,
Asians have a higher life expectancy (Okinawans have more centenarians than any population in the world) as well as fewer age-related illnesses and heart disease than Americans. Sadly, if the obesity epidemic continues, the current generations of American children (Generation X and Millenials) are expected to live shorter lives than their parents.
Food Consumption and National Time Perspectives
If we look at how other cultures enjoy their food, we see many other variations. The French are present-hedonists, but selective present-hedonists because rather than gorge to extremes, they don’t deny themselves what they like to eat, and instead choose their favorite treats and eat smaller, more reasonable portions. The French not only enjoy their food, they also take a notoriously long time to eat it, spending an average 2 hours and 22 minutes each day on meals. Often the French will dine outside, socialize, or take walks after eating. From a young age, French people are made aware of fine foods and are taught to appreciate their nation’s culinary reputation, and they participate in that tradition on a regular basis. Obesity is on the rise in France though, as many people are now preferring ready-to-eat foods over having to spend more time preparing fresh meals. As a consequence, French youth are starting to consume sweeter, high calorie snacks.
Italians are past-positive eaters as many of their meals are based on family recipes and revolve around bringing people together. For Italians, food is something to be savored, honored, studied, and passionately enjoyed with good company at a leisurely pace. It’s all about long lunches or dinners, and despite having generous portion sizes and many courses, Italians tend to cover all food groups and limit their sweets and famously rich dishes to special occasions. They also tend to bake or grill foods instead of frying them. Also fresh olive oil replaces cooking with rich butter, as we tend to do. Like the French, Italians emphasize the social aspect of meals, and they also tend to take walks together after eating. The other big difference between Americans, French and Italians is found in breakfast, where theirs is small and ours can be huge.
It’s Your Choice
Check out our other Psychology Today blogs to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life!
Take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory at www.thetimeparadox.com to discover your personal time perspective.
Visit our website, "http://www.timecure.com/" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com, to view a free 20 minute video - The River of Time; you’ll learn self-soothing techniques as well as how to let go of past negatives, work towards a brighter future, and live in a more compassionate present.
See The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective "http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/psychotherapy" \o "Psychology Today looks at Psychotherapy" Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing); for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit "http://www.timecure.com/" \o "www.timecure.com" \t "_blank" www.timecure.com and "http://www.lifehut.com/" \o "www.lifehut.com" \t "_blank" www.lifehut.com.
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