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May 8th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

America and its Food Dilemma

Mariel Hemingway
Author, "Mariel's Kitchen"

Let's be honest with ourselves: America has a weight problem.

Before I go any further, let me say: Weight problems and ensuing poor health are, in part, due to circumstances early on in our lives, a lack of exercise and the fast-paced society in which we live.

I am not saying weight problems are simple and can be explained in a few sentences. But I can say for sure that our society attaches value to speed and convenience – a combination detrimental to our connection with food, nature, ritual and health.

So, whether or not your weight issues come from childhood problems, unspoken fears, or because of a slowed metabolism (due to a toxic load inside the body caused by food choices), it's important to take a good, close look at yourself, your health and how you eat.

Do you eat at the fridge, or on the run? Coffee shops or drive-thrus? Are you convinced that the ritual of food is merely for homemakers and people without your busy schedule?

I believe we all can take extra time to eat well and make meals for ourselves and our families. It's a habit that can give us an invaluable sense of health and well-being. My passion is to help people connect to food from a different place; to get them to a space where people understand that eating is a ritual of self-care and self-nurturing.one of the keys to finding peace with food.

I know how food can rule a person's life. Much of that feeling, however, of being controlled, often stems from the fact that people make poor choices about what they consume. Too much caffeine, processed food, alcohol and sugar (or fake sugar) cause brain noise. It is an actual chemical noise that occurs in the brain when you consume "bad" food. Think of it as an imbalance. It creates a fog that makes it impossible to differentiate what food is good for you and what is not. When a person can get to a level playing ground - by cutting back on noisy foods and eating healthy items - that "noise" is eliminated. Then you begin to be able to listen to what your body needs. And the beautiful thing is that we're all individuals and all of our needs are different.

Eating locally grown seasonal food can improve your health. When that happens the body will find its natural weight and balance. Let me be clear: It is not an overnight process. It took me years to discover the right food path for me. But during the journey I discovered I love the ritual of eating. I love sitting in silence (if I am alone), tasting, chewing and connecting with my food and knowing that where it comes from is close to me . that the journey from field to my plate is a short one. And the most important thing is that my food is clean, pure and simple, and I give myself permission to enjoy it.

Not only that – even when I'm alone – I set a place mat out on my kitchen table and I light a candle. When I was married and my two girls were at home we had a family dinner every night. I made a point of creating a beautiful dining table with flowers, candles and good china. We enjoyed one another, the food was filled with love and it made us closer as a family.

Obviously, ritual and simple food are not necessarily the answer to weight issues or family problems. (And, of course, these tough economic times have made even a family dinner more of a challenge for many folks.) But those components can help us begin to understand how we feel about ourselves in regard to food and eating. A few small changes could allow you to be more "in" your body and more "present" in your life.

I believe that taking in nourishment mindfully is as important as anything we do in our life. It can shift how you perceive the world. It can give you a feeling of ease. It can help you be your true self – all day, everyday. And, when it comes down to it, we have to eat. That's non-negotiable, friends. So why not use it as an opportunity to become more healthy, balanced and present.

Editor's note: Academy Award-nominated actress Mariel Hemingway is the author of "Mariel's Kitchen. Simple Ingredients to a Delicious and Satisfying Life." It is the sister book to her lifestyle book "Healthy Living from the Inside Out."

Follow @marielhemingway on Twitter

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Michelle D . Fonthill. Ont

    Hello Mariel

    I agree completley with food is rulling our lives there is non wonder the majority of people are obeese .They are constantly bomarded with fast food conviences to save time .This is crazy why don't people just cook thier own food at home buy local produce from farmer's stands and cut down on the sugar and salt. It is sad how theses choices create image problems for young people and trying to achieve what they think or who they want to look like .They want the perfect body there is no such thing but just treat it right and take catre of your self then it wil take care of you.

    Thanks for your post
    Michelle D.

    May 11, 2009 at 10:36 am |
  2. Art

    There are issues with processed foods but, the old saying still goes," It's not what you eat It's how much you eat". Our bodys need very little fuel to maintain, unless your a marathon runner.

    May 10, 2009 at 11:01 am |
  3. Leigh Kirk

    I think in general many Americans have lost concept of what food is. Or what ought to be considered acceptable as food. Just because something edible is sold in a slick package on a grocery shelf, doesn't mean we should blindly accept as food. One needs to essentially question their surroundings, the wisdom of what goes on around them, on many levels, to realize that in tact whole foods from nature (not deconstructed and reassembled) are in fact the only real foods. An edible substance must contain macro & micro nutrients in natures full assemblage in order to qualify as a food.

    May 10, 2009 at 7:42 am |
  4. BonnieLovesColdplay

    We all basically know what is good for us and what isn't. The challenge is acknowledging what is bad, and then resisting it! Anyone out there who can resist a big piece of chocolate cake? If there is, I applaud you for being super-human and much stronger than most of humanity!

    And ultimately we all know exercise should be a part of our daily lives. Again, it comes down to choice and commitment. Sometimes its just hard not to choose to spend your day on Twitter... but, I am thoroughly committed to following the tweets of @jackgraycnn.

    Bonnie in L.A.

    May 10, 2009 at 1:20 am |
  5. K. Duggan

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mariel. I also recommend reading 'In Defense of Food' by Michael Pollan which goes into greater detail about the history of processed food and why there has been an explosion of chronic diseases such as diabetes as a result of the Western diet. We eat processed food full of sugar, salt and hydrogenated fats and gain more and more weight while still feeling hungry because we are missing the nutrients that exist in whole foods. As often as you can, eat real (non processed food) that grows locally, eat as a family together at the table and educate yourself about finding healthy food. I am pretty sure you will feel better, lose weight and will stay healthier in the long term. It takes more time and money to do this but your health is worth it! If you continue to eat only processed food you will end up paying in expensive health care later on. As a physician I am faced daily with the complications of obesity. I hope we can all show the food industry we expect high quality whole foods without the many additives, hormones, pesticides and preservatives that they have been putting in the food for decades.

    May 10, 2009 at 12:39 am |
  6. jchronowski93

    I find that I sometimes eat late after realizing that I did not cook. Then I grab something that is convenient and usually fast food. When in reality I think I could have probably just skipped a meal and had a few glasses of water. Not for every meal or every day, but if you have a good breakfast and a good lunch then you don't necessarily have to have a dinner at all depending on the calorie content of your other meals. I think we forget to consider this in exchange for having 3 squares.. It is not always the breakfast, lunch and dinner but it can really be the 1100, 1200, 1500 calories of the day.

    May 10, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  7. Krasi, Houston, TX

    One reason I'm thankful for growing up in Eastern Europe is that I was able to eat home-made meals with my whole family on an everyday basis. And fresh vegetables and fruit according to season were a given and no one had to ever try and force me (or anyone else I knew) to eat them. The above fact, however, makes it hard to observe how nowadays everybody around me, including me, is so absorbed in the fast-paced environment we live in, that we forget to stop and be present. What's even more frightening is that what we are in a hurry for is probably not the most important and relevant to us. Work, school, chasing deadlines isolates us from one another and I agree that the simple ritual of sitting down at the table for a home made dinner, with friends or family, can make all the difference in living not only healthier, but also happier and more fulfilling lives. Eating right is not only about achieving the "ideal" appearance.

    May 9, 2009 at 10:28 pm |
  8. Anne

    She`s right. I was at a book reading with David Kessler for his new book
    about Overeating. I am German living currently here and Kessler advised to look across the border to Europe. We eat at the table. You won`t see people eating while strolling through the town. Maybe a drink.
    And yes – these great portions! They offer "our sides are perfectly to share". No, I don`t want to! I want my own small sides. Because if they are small I could take 2. And if you have leftovers – might be fine for the next day, but you get it in a plastic box – not so good for the environment.

    May 9, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  9. LJRoy

    Since I don't handle raw meat, I must rely on "prepared food", usually in the form of a frozen dinner and only have take out (usually Chinese) every couple of months. Even though it's only me and the cats, I get enough to last 3-4 meals.

    I have been having chocolate milk in the morning for longer than I can remember. Don't forget olives count as fruit too! My biggest downfall? Ice cream!

    I find it ironic that Ms. Hemmingway is telling us to get slim when many in her industry are WAY too thin, nothing but skin and bones. Personally, I'd rather be 50 pounds overweight than 20 pounds too thin.

    Of course, if the rest of us had the advantage of a professional modeling-acting career we'd be great too!

    May 9, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  10. Teresa, OH

    I love Mariel Hemingway, but I must say: being in the public eye most of your life will give you a great incentive on staying thin : )

    With all my pathetic accomplishments in life, two are my favorites: I have two sons that make exercise a priority and they both eat yogurt.

    The single most important change in eating happened to me when I was breastfeeding. It really hit me that every bite I put in my mouth was a bite I put in my sons. Coffee? Coke? Chips? Junk food? No, I wouldnt spoon feed it to my baby, so I didnt eat it.

    The other point is this: During this financial crisis, remember during the holidays when stats said dining out places were doing really well?
    As Americans, we have to eat. So we naturally assess that eating / eating out is mandatory and we have to pay for that. Vacations, presents, new cars... not mandatory. In the household budget: food is number two to the house payment. Food is ALWAYS a justifiable purchase. Always.

    Therefore: we give ourselves permission to eat as it's in the budget and it's not safe to go outside and exercise, so we get fat. Now I'm hungry.

    May 9, 2009 at 10:36 am |
  11. Susan Williamson

    The next time an old concert is presented, take a look into the crowd. Few people will be over weight. Some will say it was the drugs and/or lifestyles. For some it might have been. For the majority it was not. We ate well balanced meals at home. We didn't eat the snacks we do now. Fast food was nice, but not a regular. Children got plenty of excercise playing outside. The world of electronics is great, but the children of the ones that played outside...get little excercise while watching TV, playing videos, surfing the net, and texting. This problem should not be blamed on a school system or government. We each need to take charge of ourselves and our families. Sometimes returning to past efforts is a plus. Note organic farmers and those planting gardens. Good luck to us all.

    May 9, 2009 at 7:24 am |
  12. Als

    I think Americans weight probem is due to the hormon injections in almost all of our foods we eat everyday. We need to put exercise back in the school system. I also think we need to reduce the size of our plate.

    May 9, 2009 at 3:37 am |
  13. Lin

    It's also due to the horrific lunches they serve school kids – starting with elementary school. My daughter will eat almost every vegetable and all fruits. She has an extremely healthy diet at home. However, once she gets to school -and she refuses to take a lunch from home – the "good diet" is gone. Thank goodness she loves to play sports and is outside every day after school.

    May 8, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  14. Robb

    Good for Oprah for trying to give people a free meal. However, someone should inform her of the practices of KFC. Ketucky Fried Cruelty dot Com

    May 8, 2009 at 11:01 pm |
  15. Diane

    Why is it that the hardest problems always have the easiest answers? Two for one special: Better diet-Time with family

    May 8, 2009 at 9:07 pm |
  16. Linda, Las Vegas, Nevada

    My Dr. told me long ago that the best exercise is pushing away from the table.

    May 8, 2009 at 8:48 pm |
  17. Miss J

    Well tonight I'm going to put a tombstone pepperoni pizza in the oven. I'm not sure how clean & pure that is, but it's sure going to taste really good!

    May 8, 2009 at 8:38 pm |
  18. Don, WA

    The coolest food shopping I've done is at those "Pick your Own" places where you can go into the orchard and pick your own fruit straight off the trees, or berries off the bushes. This way you know it's fresh and you get a little exercise too. It makes for a good outing.

    May 8, 2009 at 8:22 pm |
  19. GF, Los Angeles

    I noticed that when I was eating more processed already prepared food, I gained weight. Now that I make the effort to cook and freeze everything for the week, I've actually lost weight. As busy as we all are – we have to take the time to cook.

    May 8, 2009 at 7:45 pm |
  20. Cindy

    America has a weight problem because the parents are too busy with their jobs and their lives to actually care about what their kids are eating. So they shove crap in front of them to eat and stick them in front of the TV so they won't have to deal with them. The kids think this is how it's supposed to be and keep living that lifestyle into their adult lives and eventually do the same to their children and the cycle continues.

    No kid goes outside anymore to play because they are too stuck on TV and video games..which again is the parents fault.

    Cindy..Ga.

    May 8, 2009 at 7:26 pm |
  21. Annie Kate

    I have gone through years of being given diets by various doctors and none of them agreed with each other – what was good on one was not allowed on another. So I don't have a clue which foods are right for me. I certainly know what aren't right for me and that includes probably 5/6ths of what is grown on the planet. At this point I don't enjoy my food; I regard it as the enemy that I have to let in each day to function.

    May 8, 2009 at 6:43 pm |