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Honesty About Eating

It’s scary how easily we can fool ourselves. Take people who consume a great many unhealthy foods while insisting that they’d rather eat whatever they want than feel condemned to deny themselves pleasurable, high-fat, high-calorie foods in order to tack a few extra years onto life. Can you hear the faux wisdom in this distorted thinking which we often use to justify doing what we want in spite of real consequences?

Although the above remark may be comforting, it’s irrational and self-destructive because it’s based on the false assumption that we control our destiny. For who can foresee the spectrum of consequences of chronic, unhealthy eating which may cause debilitating, lingering disease or conditions that cut life short prematurely? The faulty assumption is that a person will die peacefully and painlessly, albeit a few years “before their time.” But might they not equally develop colon cancer, diabetes, or suffer a stroke mid-life? How can anyone be sure to chop only a few, rather than many, years off a life?

This kind of thinking is called rationalization, the lies we believe to justify behavior. It’s a lot more comfortable (and comforting) to eat unhealthy foods regularly, pretending we can predict the consequences we’ll suffer, than to admit we can’t possibly know specifically how and when unhealthy eating will impact us. What we’re really saying is that we hope our unhealthy eating choices will affect us one way rather than another and are working hard to convince ourselves that this is truth.

How might a rational-thinking eater approach the issue of unhealthy foods? She might conclude that enjoying them in small quantities occasionally, while eating nutritiously most of the time, and living a generally healthy lifestyle give her a good shot at getting the best of both worlds. She would assume that she’s taking a risk when eating high-calorie, high-fat food, and wouldn’t believe that she could eat destructively more often than not and fail to have major health consequences.

Of course, we are irrational creatures at heart, with a tendency to deceive ourselves about eating (and everything else!). Because there’s no science to tell us exactly how much unhealthy food we can eat and still remain healthy, we have to monitor our underlying beliefs, be scrupulously honest with ourselves, and stay conscious of the lies we use to buttress our desires. Conning ourselves doesn’t guide us to make wise choices about food in the short run or help us live healthy in the long run. Remember, the more you think rationally, the better you’ll do eating rationally!