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Jonathon M. Sullivan MD, PhD, SSC, PBC

When we control our eating spacetime, we go a long way toward controlling our nutrition and banishing the specter of mindless eating.

Spacetime is the matrix in which all events occur. It is a plastic, deformable field and can be warped by mass and energy. This is the contribution of Einstein to our understanding of the universe.

What Einstein apparently did not understand, in addition to the convention of wearing socks with your shoes, is that spacetime can have an effect on your nutrition as well.

I’m more than happy to help Albert fill in the blanks.

I strongly urge you, again, to watch this video by one of the great Internet heroes, CGP Grey. Grey has an amazing YouTube channel, and you should subscribe and check out all his content—but right now I must insist you watch the linked vid. Grey produced it during the COVID-19 Lockdown, when everybody was stuck at home. He imagines all of us confined to a spaceship, “Spaceship You,” on a mission to survive the pandemic, and instructs us in how to set up our survival space for maximum productivity and sanity.

The lessons in this video on the rational and generative partitioning of our spacetime apply far outside the particulars of a pandemic lockdown. This is wisdom for life in general. This kind of content is what the Internet is for.

Grey’s video boils down to ancient wisdom: there’s a time and a place for everything, and managing your life equates in large part to managing times and places—in short, your spacetime.

You know this, and everybody reading this already partitions their spacetime to some degree, including their nutritional spacetime.

I can prove it to you: Do you eat when you’re on the toilet?

I didn’t think so. But I’m sad to say that for a lot of folks, including some of you, that’s about the end of the restrictions on eating spacetime.

Bathroom time: no eating.

Everywhere else: It’s all good, yo. Chow down.

And so we find ourselves eating everywhere, all the time. We eat in the car. In front of the TV and at the movies. While cleaning the house. Before supper. After supper. While folding the laundry. While reading. In bed.

This will not do. Like Grey on his Spaceship You, we must partition our spacetime into domains, and restrict which activities occur in which domains. Bed and bedtime are for two things: sleep is one of them, and the other one is not eating potato chips (or anything else). Your office and your office hours are for working, not eating. Your car is for driving, not eating. Your bathtub and bath-time are for bathing yourself and perhaps a loved one, but not for eating. Your lavatory is…we’ll, we’ve covered that.

Conversely, your kitchen table is for eating, and perhaps for family meetings or other very specifically designed functions. It’s not for watching TV, eating, working, or making love (except perhaps on very special occasions).

Of course all of this immediately suggests a range of good and bad habits for our nutrition program, and as usual we can begin with our log. You should definitely be in the habit of logging your nutrition, including when and where you eat. If so, you are quite likely to have discovered that you are eating across “broad domains.”

Don’t beat yourself up—congratulate yourself! By maintaining a complete nutrition log you have identified multiple opportunities to gain control over your nutritional life by establishing multiple partitions of your life spacetime as “No Food” zones.

For example, let’s say that you find that you routinely snack at your desk. If so, chances are that you are not eating healthy at those times. But even if you’re eating carrot sticks and jerky, ask yourself: do you really need to? The answer is almost certainly “no.” Now, you may very well need a mid-afternoon protein-and-fiber snack and a beverage. But does it have to be at your desk? You could take it outside for a quick 5-minute break, perhaps. Or perhaps your workplace isn’t like that, and you have to take this repast at your desk. You can’t constrain space, in this instance, but you can constrain time, and you can decree the exact parameters under which you will operate in that time—meaning exactly what you will eat and how you will eat it. At 3:35, you get out your jerky and fruit, you stop working, and you eat your little meal in a thoughtful and engaged way, enjoying every bite and every minute. At 3:40, you return to your desk or, if you’ve been at your desk, you return to your work, and that is the limit of eating in the workplace.

Other domains are more categorically off-limits. In my judgement, eating in bed is absolutely contraindicated for the Athlete of Aging. The same goes for driving. Not only is eating while driving mindless eating, it is also unsafe driving. Knock it off, this instant.

Some other domains are more subject to individualization, but the parameters must be no less rigid, once established. I don’t think you have to eat while reading or watching football, but if that’s a big part of your enjoyment, then you must sub-partition those domains and prospectively determine exactly when and what you will eat while engaged in these activities, with a careful view to your nutritional targets, of course. Then…stick with it.

When we control our eating spacetime, we go a long way toward controlling our nutrition and banishing the specter of mindless eating. The corresponding additional benefit is that we go a long way toward mindful eating, which among other things means greater enjoyment of our nutrition and our lives. When we make eating its own thing, instead of an automatic, thoughtless accompaniment to everything else we do, or a surrogate therapy for boredom or sadness or anger, then we can truly enjoy our food, even the simplest meals, because we’ve created a special place and time for that activity.

Start mapping out your eating spacetime. You’ll begin a fundamental shift in your relationship to food, and avoid wandering into the black hole of mindless eating.

Jonathon Sullivan MD, PhD, SSC, PBC is a retired emergency physician and research physiologist, and the owner and head coach of the Greysteel Strength and Conditioning Clinic in Farmington Hills Michigan, which specializes in training adults over 50. He is the author of The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After Forty, with Coach Andy Baker.

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