Loving and Hating Food

Researcher John Gottman argues in his book The Science of Trust that the biggest predictor of relationship success is the ability to stay emotionally neutral during conflict.

While most therapists focus on fostering niceness and eliminating nastiness, Gottman shows that neutrality – almost a kind of computer-like detachment – can keep conflicts from spiraling into negative feedback loops that destroy trust.

Loving and Hating Food

I think the same thing is true of our relationship with food. When people shift to a plant-based diet, they often do so fueled by the conscious fumes of hate and love.

Many plant-based converts focus on the terrible consequences of meat and dairy: animal cruelty, environmental degradation, compromised health.

On the flip side, they post adoring encomia to the health benefits of cruciferous vegetables, the beauty of salads, and the stunning physical beauty and vitality of star members of the plant-based tribe.

That’s all fine. The zeal of the new convert is a powerful force to combat the inertia of decades of contrary habits. Both in identifying with the new and rejecting the old.

But we don’t want to live at those extremes.

Achieving a Steady State

Ultimately, the goal of our relationship with food is a steady state, no-nonsense, neutrality. We don’t get fired up about it most of the time. We just eat food that we enjoy and that makes us feel good.

Occasionally, a tirade is OK. Just like a fight in a relationship is OK in moderation.

And it’s wonderful to go all rapturous about a beautiful plate of veggie sushi or a stunning chickpea water meringue every once in a while. Just like our relationships need regular romance and flowery expressions of love to stay juicy.

But neither the fights nor the lovemaking predict the staying power or overall satisfaction with the relationship. Rather, it’s the neutral, matter-of-fact, daily interactions that determine whether we stay or go, thrive or suffer.

Here’s where the healthiest, happiest, most effective practitioners of nutritional excellence end up:

“This is what I eat. I like it. It’s no big deal.”