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Functional and Dysfunctional Lunch-Attitudes
by Tom Billings

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas E. Billings. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

Are you eating the right foods with the wrong attitude? Is it possible to spoil your good diet with a bad mental outlook? To become unhealthy in spirit even if sound in body? Judging by the troubles people on alternative diets often seem to have obsessing over food or maintaining a balanced approach to its role in the rest of their life, it often appears to be so.

The objective of this paper is to encourage readers to explore their attitudes toward diet and food, i.e., one's mental relationship with diet/food. Some of the common attitudes one may encounter in the raw/vegan movement are defined and briefly described. We begin with a look at functional (positive) attitudes, after which we'll compare and contrast them with dysfunctional (negative) attitudes. The motivation for this paper is to help raw-fooders (and conventional vegans) recognize dysfunctional attitudes in themselves and others, and to thereby assist in the process of moving toward a more functional attitude.

Not only can this be important to help improve your own relationship with food, but with the proper attitude, those who want their diets to be examples for others won't be so likely to end up alienating them--something that unfortunately happens as often as not.

F U N C T I O N A L   A T T I T U D E S


Lunch-mindfulness occurs when one has a sufficient, but not excessive, awareness of the food that one consumes. One should have sufficient awareness to have a nutritious, healthy diet that is suitable for your body, conditions, and circumstances, but without obsessing on the details of diet. Such a diet can be raw, cooked, vegetarian, or non-vegetarian--the principles underlying lunch-mindfulness are not dependent on the type of diet.

In lunch-mindfulness, the diet is your servant. Here, one eats to live, rather than lives to eat. (In contrast, you are the servant (slave) of dietary ideology under the dysfunctional dietary attitudes discussed further below.) The practice of lunch-mindfulness lies between hedonism (ignoring your health, eating only for pleasure) and excessive discipline (strictly controlling your food intake at all times, often in disregard of your health). Lunch-mindfulness is moderation or the middle path: paying enough attention to food to have a good, healthy diet, but not so much that one is obsessed with food. One way to characterize lunch-mindfulness is as "appropriate" discipline, where appropriate means discipline that is driven by intelligence rather than dogma, and applied with restraint, in carefully measured amounts.

Because most of us live in a society that has a generally hedonistic approach to diet (and life), lunch-mindfulness and the middle path may appear to be "too disciplined" to those with a hedonistic bent. On the middle path, social situations may arise where deciding how much discipline to apply is a non-trivial question. (Such is life--I can only suggest that one think carefully regarding such decisions.) Ultimately, the point of lunch-mindfulness is that one has just enough discipline to take care of oneself, without making dietary ideology/discipline into a god. Lunch-mindfulness is based on the idea (common sense, really) that your health is more important than dietary ideology/dogma, and that excessive discipline is as much a problem as no discipline (hedonism).

One real-world complication that most of us face when trying to practice lunch-mindfulness is the common habit of eating for emotional reasons. When we eat for purely emotional reasons, we are not applying "appropriate discipline." Learning to eat mindfully and to control/avoid emotion-based eating can be a real challenge. There is no one solution to this problem, but some of the things that may help are:

These issues also illustrate the important point that lunch-mindfulness is more of a process than a result--it is a learning process that we engage in throughout our lives. Like other learning processes, problems and challenges may arise, and we may experience reversals on the path.

The motivations for the practice of lunch-mindfulness can vary significantly according to individual circumstances and spiritual philosophy. A few select reasons to practice lunch-mindfulness are given as follows:

The approach to lunch-mindfulness will vary with the individual, but the common elements present in lunch-mindfulness are moderation, positive motivation and attitudes towards diet, and the critically important realization that there is far more to life than what is on your lunch plate.


Refining the Scope of Lunch-Mindfulness

Some readers will note that the definition of lunch-mindfulness above does not mention one's awareness of the effect diet has on the environment, or the claims of spiritual "superiority" made regarding certain diets. The exclusion of these is deliberate, for the reasons given below.

D Y S F U N C T I O N A L   A T T I T U D E S


Lunch-righteousness is a delusion--a false sense of individual superiority (self-righteousness) that is based on the quality/type of one's diet (their lunch) versus the quality/type of others' diets. That is, one has a "better" diet than others, hence one believes the delusion that he or she is "superior" to others.

Typical Examples:

Extreme Example:

Raw-food zealots who engage in some of the following behaviors: hostility, threatening others, plagiarism, intellectual dishonesty, and/or promoting the dietary equivalent of racism, because they are under the delusion that their 100%-raw vegan diet makes them "superior," and the ends justify their negative means.

It should be mentioned here that some raw zealots promote lunch-righteousness by actively spreading the false myth that a 100%-raw vegan diet makes one "superior" to those who eat cooked foods. Not only is this false, but it is a form of bigotry.

In her book, To Eat Flesh They Are Willing, Are Their Spirits Weak? (1996, Pythagorean Publishers), philosopher Kristin Aaronson nicely summarizes the moral trap of dietary self-righteousness (p. 18):

No one who feels morally superior ever is, for the simple reason that [self] righteousness is itself a moral taint. We may feel better, feeling that we are better; but the better we feel we are than others, the worse--and worse off--we will be. We can be corrupted by a good thing, by too much of a good thing, by taking a good thing much too seriously.

Note: material in brackets above [ ] is my own explanatory note.


Lunch-identification occurs when one closely integrates their dietary philosophy (i.e., their lunch philosophy) into their self-identity. Here one strongly identifies with their lunch; in figurative terms, the lunch eats you, rather than you eating the lunch.

Typical Example:

Extreme Examples:

Lunch-identification and lunch-obsession (below) are two aspects of a newly described eating disorder: orthorexia nervosa. See the article Health Food Junkie, by Steven Bratman, M.D., reprinted from the October 1997 issue of Yoga Journal magazine, on this site for details.


Lunch-obsession occurs when one has a pathological obsession with the details of their diet (i.e, their lunch). Such an obsession may focus on the amount of food eaten (eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia), the type of food eaten (e.g., ethical vegan zealots), and/or the quality of the food consumed (eating disorder: orthorexia nervosa--dietary purists). Lunch-obsession occurs when one expends great effort in trying to conform to the strict discipline or requirements of an "ideal, perfect" diet. In the context of "ideal" diets, if lunch-obsession continues long enough, and one succeeds with the "ideal" diet, lunch-identification and lunch-righteousness typically develop as well. The result is an individual whose diet is stunningly dysfunctional to their mental health. In my opinion, certain raw-food zealots are prime examples of this phenomenon, and are severely mentally unbalanced.

Note that conforming to strict religious rules about diet is not necessarily lunch-obsession, as religions are (presumably) based on love, and love is not a pathological emotion. Also, one might need to pay considerable attention to food for a short period (the length of which will vary with the individual) after switching diets. Such attention is not considered lunch-obsession if the attention declines substantially after one gets habituated to the new diet.

Typical Examples:

Extreme Example:

R E F L E C T I O N S   O N   L U N C H - A T T I T U D E S

Remember that the motivation for presenting these definitions is to give us tools to examine our relationship with food. All of us likely have a blend of both functional and dysfunctional attitudes in our psyche. Our task, then, is to work to increase the functional and to decrease the dysfunctional.

Think back to when you first got into raw/living foods (or conventional veganism) and experienced a big improvement in your health. You were probably very enthusiastic then, and your personal attitude towards food was probably more dysfunctional than it is now. Over time, you have (or probably will) move to a more functional attitude. The point, of course, is that we can--and do--change.

As zealots are criticized here, it should be mentioned that zealots also have a choice: they can remain as examples of dysfunctional attitudes, or they can choose to change their ways and embrace a functional style. That is, it is not the goal of this paper to divide people into a good "us" (functional) vs. the "bad" (zealots and dysfunctional). [Side note: dividing people into "us" (good vegans) vs. "them" (bad non-vegans) is a characteristic feature of the vegan movement--unfortunately.] Instead of division, I encourage all (including the zealots) to discard their dysfunctional attitudes, and work toward a positive attitude, one that is guided by genuine compassion.


  1. Some raw writers use the term "mutant" to refer to abnormal elements in the body--e.g., mutant sugars, mutant enzymes. Such usage is perfectly legitimate and non-hostile. What is hostile is to say that another person is a mutant, and inferior, because their diet is different.

  2. Thanks to those who reviewed earlier drafts of this paper for their suggestions which have, hopefully, helped to make this paper more "mentally digestible."

L U N C H - A T T I T U D E S :

S U M M A R Y   O F   T E R M I N O L O G Y





Lunch-Mindfulness A positive approach--cultivate!


Lunch-Obsession Consider counseling, and remember: the diet must serve you, not the other way around!
Lunch-Identification Consider counseling, and repeat the affirmation: I am more than just my lunch; others are free to choose a different lunch. :-)
Lunch-Righteousness Consider counseling, and do a self-analysis: can you eat your way to perfection, heaven, or enlightenment? How do you actually treat those with different diets?

I hope you found the material above to be interesting. Good luck with your diet and health!

--Tom Billings

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