Wanted to take a few moments today to talk about food. After all, it’s kind of what I do for a living: I write curriculum for Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches. And, yes, while for many people, a job is just a job – and that’s perfectly a-okay, especially if it doesn’t diminish your overall quality of life in any way – for me, my job is a kind of a dream come true. (Cue the Disney castle with the fireworks for the full effect of this sappy truth.)
I have my own story of food, which I’ll share soon. Though perhaps a bit biased when it comes to heralding the power of story, when it comes to food, we all got to where we are today for a reason. Maybe your current food relationship is akin to Cookie Monster: C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me. Maybe you don’t give a shit about satisfaction and highly-valued things in my book like mouth feel, and you just eat to live. Or maybe you don’t give a shit about nutrition, and you YOLO live to eat. Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle: You don’t think all food is created equal, but you also want to have a good time.
Needless to say, I could write about food until I’m blue in the face, but I’ll spare you. For now, I want to highlight a few main ideas that I like to return to – and that might help you strike your own happy medium.
Food is complicated. That is, the information we receive about food is complicated. Low-carb, low-fat, high-protein, Paleo, eat breakfast, intermittent fast, bulletproof coffee, no caffeine, no sugar, no gluten, no white foods, drink wine, eat fish, don’t eat fish, eat Greek yogurt, don’t eat dairy...Good lord, it’s a jungle out there. No wonder we have such a warped relationship with food.
Food is simple. (See what I did there? Cognitive dissonance at its finest.) When it comes down to it, the one thing that most “diets” have in common is this: Keep it real. Eat more whole foods. Eat less processed foods. If you only did that, you would be a million times better off than most of the American population. If I buy packaged foods, I try to make sure it has only a handful of ingredients that I recognize. The foods that include a laundry list of variations of “dextrose” (aka sugar) and other chemical components inevitably leave me 1) Craving more, because my body isn’t nutritionally satisfied (aka the food offers nothing my body can actually use, so it keeps me going in for more), and 2) Lead to gas, bloating, and other oh-so-awesome side effects.
Food makes a difference. It can’t be denied: What you eat matters. If you eat crap, you’ll feel like crap. You might not even notice that you feel like crap until you stop eating crap and suddenly feel more freaking amazing than you ever thought you could feel. In short, you can change your baseline by changing your food habits. You kind of are what you eat, as cliched as that sounds. What I find even more interesting than the what part is the how part. You can eat the healthiest foods on the planet and still not be your healthiest self. Why? Because you’re stressed out – because you eat what you “should” eat, and you don’t leave room for pleasure. Guess what this does: It raises stress hormones. And that whole “Don’t eat when you’re stressed” saying is real, my friends. It affects your digestion, and it minimizes the efficiency of metabolic processes. In short: It messes everything up. There are studies that show that women can eat the same exact foods and only reap the benefits if they enjoy the foods! Or, another example: French women don’t get fat. The French have it right: Meals are celebrations – taking your time and enjoying the foods, including rich foods, in moderation, with awareness and pleasure and community. You know how you can travel and eat so many “forbidden” foods and not gain weight? That’s because you’re enjoying instead of guilting yourself out! Okay, moving on…
Food is not a religion. I feel better when I don’t eat wheat. But, well, sometimes I want a hummus wrap, people. So I’m going to have a hummus wrap. It’s not about what you eat, it’s about what you every day that matters. As Kate Hepburn put it, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” And you stress yourself out, which just makes you feel worse and impedes digestion anyway. Food is better for you if you create space for passion and feeling good about it. Guilt is a beast.
And, finally, maybe don’t always eat like your grandma. Some of the cravings you experience are likely linked to your ancestors: They are actually part of you – your DNA, that is. Back to those studies I mentioned earlier: In one study, women from Thailand and Sweden both ate Thai food, and the women from Thailand absorbed more iron from it! I know – how crazy is that? This is likely due to the brain in your gut. Yup: Your gut has a brain. If food looks, smells, and tastes good to you, you might reap more nutrition from it. And it might appeal to you because it’s in your DNA. That said, my French-Canadian ancestors ate rich cream and red meat-based dishes galore: Heart-attack central, literally in several cases. So...you know, take it with a grain of salt. Honor traditional foods from your culture, but also keep the big picture in mind and create space for a variety of foods that might offer other nutritional benefits.
So, there you have it. When you get lost in the shuffle of what you should eat, remember:
Food information is complicated.
Keep it simple: Start with real food.
What you eat matters. Perhaps more importantly, how you eat matters: Slow down, for crying out loud. Be aware of the process of eating! And enjoy what you eat.
Food is not a religion. Nix the guilt already.
And, finally, maybe don’t always eat like your grandma.
Think of food like trying on shoes, or boyfriends: See what fits. Tune in and listen to that gut brain, because it's pretty wise. But, above all else, stop with the stupid guilt and choose instead to nourish your body with both food and self-love, okay? Great.
Thoughts about all of this? Happy to continue the conversation.
Thanks for listening, and cheers, friends ~