Most people’s lists of life-changing books focus on great works of literature, philosophy, and religion. Prominent on mine is Sarah Susanka’s The Not So Big House. Susanka popularized the notion that when it comes to living spaces, bigger is not necessarily better, and showed the world how to put it into practice. She convinced us we didn’t need to duplicate functions or devote a lot of space to rooms that are almost never used. She suggested that we spend our housing budget on quality, not quantity. Calculate the amount of square footage you can afford, then spend the same amount of money on a smaller amount of space, making it as appealing to the eye and nourishing to the soul as you can.
It occurred to me that these principles for how we live could be adapted to how we eat, and that they might be especially relevant for people who have quit smoking or are about to do so. After all, smoking suppresses appetite; when nicotine is removed from your life, appetite increases. Although some of the typical increase in weight after quitting comes from changes in metabolism and blood volume, most of it comes from increases in food intake. So at a time when you probably need to eat a little less to maintain weight, you are likely to eat a little more instead. This isn’t a failure of the will, it’s the triumph of physiology.
Dieting doesn’t usually work; or it works for awhile and then it doesn’t, because it’s hard and unpleasant to live in a state of perpetual deprivation, especially at a time when you’re also absorbing the loss of your cigarettes.
But there’s a fair amount of wiggle room between dieting and supersizing – and even between dieting and eating till you’re “full,” as many of us have been taught to do. In nutrition, as in architecture, if we can improve the experience by using high quality ingredients and then taking time to savor the results, we can eat a little bit less and enjoy it more. We can leave a little on our plate and still feel satisfied. We can reframe our thinking about what constitutes “enough.”
As little as 100 fewer calories per day can make a difference. Here are a few clues that will tell you you’re on the right track with your food choices:
Too expensive? A few Americans are so close to the margin that there is no elasticity in their food budgets, but most of us can pay a little more for good food if that’s what we prioritize. Divert the money you used to spend on cigarettes to upgrading your fare and regard it as an investment in looking and feeling your best.
Cynthia S. Pomerleau, Ph.D., is currently research professor emerita in the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry. From 1985 to 2009 she served as director of the Nicotine Research Laboratory, where much of her research focused on the impact of smoking on women. She is the author of more than a hundred articles and book chapters on smoking and a contributor to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Women and Smoking.