Rationing is Mindful Eating

A shopkeeper cancels the coupons in a British ...

A shopkeeper cancels the coupons in a British housewife’s ration book for the tea, sugar, cooking fats and bacon she is allowed for one week. Most foods in Britain are rationed and some brand names are given the designation “National” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have read my article, “We Art What We Eat?” in the Martial Arts Scepticism series, you will be aware that the one system of controlled eating I found to be sustainable was “mindful eating”. Sadly the term, much like “Functional Fitness”, appears to have been readily adopted by those trying to sell another fad. As scientific research seems to continually reveal that dieting is not sustainable, the word “diet” is often avoided by dieting crazes. For the sake of clarification “Mindful eating” at its true basis is just simply thinking about what you are consuming, as you discipline yourself not to eat out of habit or for reasons other than you are hungry. We often munch on food because we are thirsty, tired, bored, anxious or upset or out of habit. The foods we consume on these occasions are often convenient foods and therefore it is common that they are confectionary or fatty or salty snacks. We also overeat because we eat too fast or overfill our plate, and feel a compulsion to finish everything in front of us.

Eating healthily need not be a strict regime. In fact, like any sustainable change, it needs to be a habit. I stand by the point I made in my article that it all boils down to the age-old advice of moderation, eating for your needs and portion control. A recent “diet” that has come to my attention is the “Ration Diet”. Unlike the various fad diets out there, which are abusing the “mindful eating” term, it has a very simple structure and it has been proven over a 14 year period (1940-1954) with an extraordinarily large number of people. Historical medical research seems to reveal that children who grew up through the 1940s in Britain were much healthier due to the diet imposed on them by the government.The conditions of WW2 encouraged more local produce and any wastage incurred heavy penalties. From such restrictions emerged several new dishes that are enjoyed today, including crumbles as a more economical alternative to baking a pie.

A rationing diet has another obvious strong incentive beside health: it saves money. I think this might be another argument for its sustainability. Many households budget already, so this could easily be incorporated into that established procedure. However, money alone won’t dictate healthy choices of food, as can be seen by the way obesity became epidemic amongst low-earning and unemployed people. Our fast food and processed food culture has altered a lot.  So this should be accommodated by knowledge of what was available in the 1940s.

As is human nature, there have been those who have taken the rationing approach with religious zeal. A lady in the linked Huffington Post article was an unashamed WW2 buff and carried out her diet exactly as if she were forced to manage and eat rations of that time. This is fine if you do it for a personal experiment or – dare I say – “fun”, but the danger is that it becomes another fad diet. The dieter will become bored and, as is often the case, they will eventually cheat and then over-indulge. The BBC Radio 4 “Food Programme” suggested a much more realistic approach, adopting “some ideas” from WW2 rationing, but not going to the extent of having to use powdered egg. This same programme also explained how much of the nutritional information given to the generation who grew up in the 1940s came from their parents and grandparents rather nutritional marketing campaigns.

Many have been puzzled by the idea that by adopting 1940s eating habits we could be healthier. Saturated fat, sugar and salt were very much a part of a typical weekly intake. Red meat is also present and veganism was in a very extreme minority at the time. I think this just goes to show how severely influenced we are by the nutritional marketing behemoth, and how much certain trends have taken root. Low carb diets often embrace fat, as they reject grains and many cereals. Meanwhile many who favour vegetarian and vegan diets will often include a lot sugar in their intake via fruit. I think rationing provides us with a bigger picture and scores another point to age-old piece of wisdom: “everything in moderation”.

From a critical standpoint, I think we must be wary of falling into the appeal to tradition or appeal to antiquity logical fallacy argument. This is something the paleo diet and many other dieting fads have done. The 1940s were a different time and there were other factors involved that would have improved the health of those who survived the war years. It must also be remembered that rickets and other examples of malnutrition were not uncommon in that era. Mindfulness of basic nutritional content versus caloric intake should be considered. Furthermore, it should be remembered, that the people were much hardier and had very active lifestyles. Being a martial arts website, we also need to be mindful of not taking a too generalized approach. If you are a high performing athlete, you will need to take in more calories than the average person and you should be choosy about which ones will best benefit you before and after training. Nevertheless, I think the concept of rationing our food is one useful method for “mindful eating”.