As with all addictions, there is always an unspoken, secret pain hidden behind an untold truth. We seek comfort from this pain through the abuse of a substance. The vehicle often begins as a playful experiment, becomes a crutch over time and ultimately takes over our daily life with compulsions that distort reality and inevitably bring greater pain than the one it intended to avoid. This is the curse of an addiction. It lures you with the lies of an irresistible temptation that carries the promise of immediate relief as it steals your strength to break free of the binding web it spins.
Imagine the surprise when you finally realize that the addiction came in the form of a substance that provides the necessary nourishment that we all must partake daily to survive. It was, and still is, the thing that defines me as a person, man and a chef: FOOD!!! Over the years, I slowly began to use food as a method to cope and surrender, mourn and rejoice, avoid and confront. I unknowingly hid behind the unlikely demon. How could something that had brought me so much joy, fame and success become the enemy I would battle for 20 years?
Most people who don't suffer from this dependence and its weight gaining, health jeopardizing side affects can't even begin to recognize its potential as an addition. After all, it is something we all need and use. But imagine, for a moment, the physical pain someone feels when they carry an extra 40 pounds of weight around all day. Your back, feet, bones all hurt. Imagine if you tied a belt of weights around your waist and tried to accomplish your daily tasks. Tying your shoes, bending to pick up the pen you dropped, walking up and down a flight a stairs too and from your bedroom in your home. Imagine that you became so accustomed to that daily pain that it became something you treated as "normal." Imagine the mental pain of seeing yourself in the mirror, avoiding clothes that hang in the closet from a happier, "thinner" time all the while torturing yourself by not removing them in hopes of one day returning to that level. Imagine declining an invitation to a summer outing because of the fear and impending anxiety of having to dress for the occasion. Imagine how many times you would try to break the addiction. How many diets you would begin, only to fail and fall deeper into an addiction that would ultimately lead to depression and drive you right back into the arms of your addictive crutch. The vicious, endless cycle taking over your life without much hope for change.
The word diet to such addicts equates to one thing: weight loss. That in turn, equates to starving their addiction. This is why most diets fail the addict. It asks them to walk without a crutch to lean on before teaching them how to remove it without falling. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, refers to a healthier way of eating that allows you to feed the addiction in a way that conditions your body to accept the beauty of food. It allows us to use food in many of the same psychologically dependent ways that we have grown accustomed to while creating an alternative, equally satisfying food mechanism for coping. It does not remove the addiction but rather feeds it with items that you will find pleasure in eating.
This is the beauty of the Mediterranean diet. It allows us to create wonderfully flavorful, highly rewarding dishes that are medically proven to be the healthiest in the world. It destroys the notion that diet food cannot comfort the body. It embodies, to the contrary, the opposite. Food can be healthy and TASTE GOOD TOO! They are not mutually exclusive.
Imagine the much written about "farm to table" approach to cooking that combines both recognizable and accessible ingredients to yield healthy, delicious food. Simple, time efficient recipes can translate into food that nourishes both our bodies and soul.
I have spent a lifetime viewing food as an intimate gift between the cook and those he is nourishing. I challenge you to begin to use it as a vehicle to create memories with the people you love. Use it, as I have, to bring family and friends together to celebrate the sharing of time, our most valuable commodity. When I lost my father, seven years ago, I realized that food is not art. It is rather a means to share the joy of human company, conversation and life. In the chaotic world that we live in, we need to find the time to create the everlasting memories of a simple shared meal.
The Mediterranean diet provides the foundation of these wonderful moments, but also organically creates a modern day life style "diet." We can have it all and eat it too!!!
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health, in conjunction with the "Mediterranean Diet and Workplace Health" conference (September 27-28 in Boston at HSPH). This event will feature lectures, panels, select chef-supervised meals and a Greek food and wine exhibition to increase awareness, appeal, and understanding of Mediterranean dietary habits as a vehicle for improved workplace and school health. For more information about Mediterranean Diet and Workplace Health, visit here.