Sent in by a friend:

I’m with Mark Bittman on the awesomeness of oatmeal, and especially with him on the notion of not overloading it with sugar, and, consequently, not ordering it from McDonald’s. But I wonder about this:

Others will argue that the McDonald’s version is more “convenient.” This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher. (If you’re too busy to eat it before you leave the house, you could throw it in a container and microwave it at work. If you prefer so-called instant, flavored oatmeal, see this link, which will describe how to make your own).

If you don’t want to bother with the stove at all, you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you’re walking around getting dressed. And then talk to me about convenience.

I often hear this complaint from people who cook directed at people who don’t. The notion basically holds that cooking isn’t as inconvenient as people make it out to be. I don’t know. I make my oatmeal in a pot at home–there’s something blasphemous about microwaving it–but I don’t own a dishwasher, and cleaning up actually is work. Moreover, I’m assuming people standing in that McDonald’s line can, text, tweet, e-mail or whatever while they wait.

The bigger thing here is understanding why people go to McDonald’s in the first place. I strongly suspect that the entire experience is comforting. In a day of constant work, pushes and pulls, you have this one clean place, which is the same everywhere, dispensing joyful shots of sugar and salt. That’s just me thinking about how I’ve eaten the past–and also how I eat when my brain is crowded with everything besides what I’m eating.

I think what Bittman urges in his writing is is consciousness. He wants people to think hard about what they’re eating. I strongly suspect that people go to McDonald’s for the exact opposite reason–to get unconscious. Understanding why that it is, goes beyond our food. It’s about how we live.

One of the reasons why I find the dialogue here, at BGG2WL, to be so valuable is because its an open and honest place for us to discuss our feelings about our own health, wellness and how our habits either contribute to or harm both. We are a collective of individuals actively concerned with our health, and we stand together to try to help one another by way of enlightenment. Take what you can use, leave aside what you cannot. We do that pretty well, here.

That being said… a very important element of emotional eating is brought up here, and that’s the issue of “someone else taking care of you.” That’s what he’s referring to, right? The idea that, in the middle of a long day, you can unwind and not worry about this one thing for this allotted time while these [trusted] people give you what you want exactly when you want it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging and admitting to that.

Yet and still, you have to consider what you sacrifice when you make these kinds of decisions: you’re ultimately entrusting your health and well-being (and, ultimately, your weight) to someone else who does not care more about you than they do their profit margins.

I can vaguely remember reading a book and hearing about this kind of feeling – the feeling of liking someone catering to you – as a draw that restaurant companies use to their advantage. In fact, it was in reference to a… let’s just refer to it as a massive coffee (and pastry… and oatmeal?) chain that’s almost as prevalent as the golden arches. When asked why the chain was so successful, the response was “It’s about warm milk and a bottle; if I could put a nipple on it, I’d be a billionaire.”

I understand the feeling. It’s nice to “not have to do [something],” for once. It also serves the problem of leaving yourself open to having to deal with someone else’s standards in regards to what is acceptable to feed you when you ask for it. McDonalds’ fruit and maple oatmeal – which was actually sued in Vermont because there’s no maple in it – isn’t just fruit, cream and oats. It’s all kinds of stuff that isn’t, for our purposes here, clean:

Whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, food starch-modified, salt, natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, caramel color.

Diced Apples
Apples, calcium ascorbate (a blend of calcium and vitamin C to maintain freshness and color).

Cranberry Raisin Blend
Dried sweetened cranberries (sugar, cranberries), California raisins, golden raisins, sunflower oil, sulfur dioxide (preservative).

Light Cream
Milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan. [source]

And looking at the details, the oatmeal in and of itself has almost as much sugar as the fruit blend, which should be the natural source of sugar in the list, anyway. At 32g of sugar total… 14g of it existing for very little reason… I question whether or not its worth it to take steps backwards from my goal just to “be taken care of for once.”

Food, no matter how much we try to emotionalize it – “it” being the preparation and intake of food – and no matter how much we try to simplify it, serves one primary purpose in our lives: nourishment. We can never forget that, because it goes right back to the last paragraph in that quote:

I think what Bittman urges in his writing is is consciousness. He wants people to think hard about what they’re eating. I strongly suspect that people go to McDonald’s for the exact opposite reason–to get unconscious. Understanding why that it is, goes beyond our food. It’s about how we live.

The bottom line, without question, is consciousness. Awareness is what grants you the ability to spot opportunities to correct your behavior. Awareness is what enlightens us to make better choices. Really, awareness is how you develop the ability to learn new behaviors and identify how the changes you’re making in your lifestyle are benefitting you. You become aware of the problem, you correct, you notice how your corrections change your life and you develop a new system that comes complete with the reward of a changed life and, ultimately, a changed body.

So yes, you do have to understand why that is – why you eat emotionally and desire to be taken care of in this way – and what you can do to fix that… but in the meantime, that oatmeal ain’t gon’ cut it.