The Fallacy of Abundance

Too many of us believe that tucking into a large plate equals abundance. Many believe that feeling stuffed at the end of a meal means that our hunger has been satiated–because in America, a heaping plate makes for a good meal. Go to any Las Vegas buffet, grab a tray on the all-you-can eat line, and you’ll see a scramble for sub-par food: greasy chicken wings, stale bread, hardening rice, slop-like sauces,and muddy looking desserts. There’s no end to a meal at a Las Vegas buffet, just as there’s no end to any meal in America. And that’s the problem. Big plates and snacking have replaced sitting down to table, picking up a fork, knife, and spoon, and connecting with a friend over a tasty meal and conversation.

Back in the 1970s, lunch hour really meant taking an hour for lunch. Today you’re lucky if you get fifteen minutes. And if you do occasionally take a longer lunch, it’s rare to find a friend who can join you at table. So what do most Americans do for lunch? They grab something to go, or buy a microwavable item, and scarf down at the desk. An hour later, hungry for something other than food–say a conversation or a nap–the worker bee turns to sugar-loaded junk food. After all, the office kitchen is overflowing with a never-ending series of birthday cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and other celebration foods that no longer feel very celebratory. Boredom, loneliness, and fatigue join up for a temporary party in the office kitchen. It’s a sad state of affairs. So what should the post-millennial worker do to stave off obesity?

Take a hike. At lunch, take your 15 minutes for a walk. Take another 15 minutes to eat a salad–away from the desk–with a friend or colleague. Talk about something other than work. Laugh a little. And don’t head for the office kitchen when sugary snacks sweat on the counter. Say no to eating between meals. If you have the urge to get up from your desk, visit a friend. Don’t eat until you’re back home. And if you’re sitting in a restaurant that serves heaping plates the size of platters, save your wallet and share. And finally, remember: abundance isn’t always about how much you pack into your stomach.



“What kind of person doesn’t eat dessert?” You might hear this question if you’re trying to cut out refined sugar. “Who has time to check the ingredients?” might be another quip when you’re in the supermarket, dallying by loaves of bread or the dairy section rife with sugary yogurts.

By now, thanks to Doctors David Kessler and Marion Nestle, and food writers Michael Pollan and Michael Moss (a.k.a the “two Michaels”), every American tuned-in to the media knows that sugar, salt and fat are manipulated to make eaters into addicts. Sugar, today’s culprit, has become every eater’s demon. We all know that refined sugar, including refined fructose, is digested through the liver–unlike more complex carbs. The result is a fatty liver, high triglycerides, and fat build-up everywhere else. What is a person to do when this culprit coats everything lining the supermarket aisle? How does the sweet-tooth shopper get over this readily accessible, apparently beloved-by-all edible? 

Take the story of any middle-aged woman whose life leaves little time for exercise or sit-down meals. Let’s call our friend Cara. For breakfast she eats toast or cold cereal or a frozen waffle. Lunch consists of anything she can buy at the deli or cafeteria or in the frozen food section of her market. Every evening Cara prepares a frozen meal because it’s so much “easier,” and she follows this up with a piece of chocolate. She believes this piece of chocolate is the only treat she consumes per day.

In fact, from morning to night she tosses back almost 28 teaspoons of the highly-refined stuff–much of it bursting from the breads, juices, boxed cereals, and sauces she consumes during breakfast, lunch, dinner and “snack-time.” When Cara’s doctor points out that her triglycerides are dangerously high and that she might need to go on a Statin, Cara knows something radical needs to happen. She comes up with a plan to cut down–if not eliminate–sugar, bread, and other simple carbs from her daily diet.

Cara doesn’t need a 12-step program like AA or an organization like Weight Watchers to achieve her goal. All she needs to do is keep the addictive additive as far away from her body as possible. Here’s how she does it:

She practices buying and eating only whole foods or foods that are only marginally processed or prepared. No offending food product is allowed to grace her table (at home or in a restaurant) or reside in her refrigerator or pantry.

For example, her breakfast consists of homemade oatmeal (no sugar added) with fruit and tea. If she’s in the mood for pancakes, she prepares the batter from scratch using whole wheat flour bucked up with oat bran or wheat germ. For lunch and dinner she prepares salads, cooks up dishes like sautés, using fresh vegetables–not frozen–and she leans heavily on whole grains like bulgar wheat, kasha, millet, quinoa, and barley. If she loves sandwiches, she buys her bread from a local bakery or bakes the bread herself, being careful to avoid recipes that include extra sugar beyond what is necessary for yeast. Her meat preparations do not include sauces thick with corn starch or MSG, and she eats meat only twice per week. Finally, she enjoys chocolate only on weekends or during special occasions. She achieves this whole food approach (thus radically cutting down on sugar) by avoiding, as Michael Pollan suggests, the interior aisles of the supermarket.

Most importantly, when her sweet-tooth flares in the middle of a work day or while watching TV, she gets up and either jumps up and down or takes a walk. She might also listen to some soothing music and drink a glass of water with lemon juice. Or–if she’s really having a tough time–she might pop a carrot in her mouth.

Eventually, discovering that whole foods are far more satisfying than processed foods, Cara no longer eats refined sugar at all. She prefers foods that aren’t overly sweet and enjoys more fresh fruit. Her triglycerides have dropped down to normal levels, her energy is much better, and her skin and body look great. 

Believe it or not, this is possible! In the real world there is actually an American who hasn’t ingested refined sugar–that means no ice cream, chocolate, birthday cake, brownies, cold cereal, etc–for 27 years. That person is the writer of this blog. If the writer of this blog can do it, so can you!