Let’s start with a story….
Evolution of a “health nut’s” eating:
Childhood: the dinner bell rings while youngster is half a mile behind the house out in the woods…Uuuuuggghhhhh, I have to go home and eat dinner. Shucks. Arrives home and realizes s/he is starving. Awesome! Spaghetti and meatballs and an iceberg lettuce and carrot salad with Thousand Island dressing… my favorite! Wow, delicious. With ¼ of the plate of food still there… I’m stuffed. I think I’ll go do my homework so I can go back outdoors until Mom realizes it’s past my bedtime.
Adulthood: I really want to eat healthfully. There must be a perfect way to eat where I will be slim, strong, and healthy and I will feel virtuous!
(Late 1980s and 1990s): Fat is bad. Ok, I will remove all fat from my diet and I will be healthy. I guess it’s fat-free frozen yogurt with fat-free chocolate sauce for dinner tonight. Oh, and for breakfast, I’ll just put strawberry jam on my bagel instead of cream cheese or peanut butter. That will be much healthier. Oh, no, why are my jeans getting tight? I must be eating too much fat. I’ll be a vegetarian, they must be healthy people, those vegetarians. Now dinner is pasta with sauce and no meatballs. Lunch is plain cheese pizza… uh oh, does that cheese have fat in it? Oh, it’s low-fat cheese, so basically it’s health food. I’ll just drink this diet soda with it.
Darn it, that burger looks really good. And, I am reading how important it is to get vegetables into the diet. Ok, I’ll eat eggs and be a lacto-ovo vegetarian, that may give me some of the vitamins and minerals I may not be getting. (Omega-3s come onto the scene…) They say we need omega-3s and fish have them. I’ll eat more tuna. Uh, oh? Mercury is in canned tuna? Then, canned salmon and sardines. Dr. Oz says sardines are a super food.
What? Carbs are bad? OK, let’s see…. That means no pasta, no bread, no cereal, no pizza, what? No Pizza? OK, I can do this….(grits teeth). “I’m Paleo now.” (said smugly) This meat tastes great. Meat for breakfast, meat and salad for lunch, meat and veggies for dinner but without the starchy carbs, of course.
But…. that pizza looks good. Oh, there are Paleo products I can buy in boxes and bags from the mega-food-companies that are Paleo? Have I died and gone to heaven? (Now diet contains cookies, pasta, and pizza again.) Oh, no, why don’t I feel as good as when I first started eating low-carb? And, why are my jeans getting tight? And, why can’t I stop thinking about food all the time?
The ketogenic diet comes along. What? I am not eating optimally? Oh, only meat, lots of fat, a few leafy things like kale and spinach, but what? No fruit at all! And, no sugar at all in any form? Not even those Paleo cookies that I love? OK, I can do this (shovels another scoop of coconut oil into mouth). Uh, excuse me, I am not feeling so well and my hair is falling out. This can’t be good. What, I should be a vegan? Didn’t I try that already? No foods that have a mother? What about Atkins? Isn’t that only foods that have a mother, plus gobs of bacon?
(look of confusion on face) Hhhhhmmmm…. Not what do I do?
All jokes aside, there is a lesson here… There are many different ways to eat. After toying with all the fads that have come along, made big news, and been written into all the “health books”, I have come to a few simple rules of my own and I am once again eating intuitively just like that 8 year old who had to be forced to sit at the table for meals instead of playing outdoors. And, by the way, who enjoyed a dish of ice cream for dessert whenever she felt like eating it. And, who didn’t know what the words “vegan,” “ketogenic,” “gluten,” “paleo,” or “low-glycemic” meant.
Here are my “reasonable” lifestyle guidelines for eating. Are you ready? They are really complicated (ha ha, not really).
Stop obsessing about food. If all the diet manipulations you have done have created an eating disorder, get help and end that obsession with food and diets. I am serious. You need a clean slate around food in your brain and that isn’t possible with an eating disorder of any type. If it’s you, you know it. Stop denying it and get help. There are tons of programs on the internet to help if you have non-complicated “disordered eating” that has resulted from years of dieting. If you have anorexia or bulimia, then seek immediate help. (Ask Dr. Amy for resources)
- Eat real food most of the time. If you are very dissociated from what real food is because of decades of processed fake foods in your cart, it’s the foods around the perimeter of the store such as vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, dairy/butter/cheese, and frozen fruits and veggies. The inner isles are for oils, condiments, nut butters, canned or dried beans, and sardines/tuna. Of course, we aren’t banning the snack foods, crackers, breads, frozen pizza, etc. Those foods are extras and not the main component of a healthy diet. Real food. Stuff that was grown, or fished for, or killed, or pulled off of a plant. Get those things into your daily diet. Try it. Don’t worry about the “macro content” of real food which means do not count the carbs in the apple or sweet potato that you want to eat. It’s fun and tasty to just let yourself eat whatever real food you want in the quantity that will satisfy you..
(Disclaimer: if you have a medical condition that requires you to eat or avoid certain things and you want to feel well and live long, then DUH, eat what you are allowed so you don’t cause more dis-ease in your body)
- Feed yourself regularly (so the “hangry monster” in your head doesn’t have to appear and get you all riled up.) Most people around the world eat 2-4 times per day. See what routine feels best for you and eat regularly.
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. Every study ever done has only found positive health benefits from the consumption of vegetables and fruits. Eat as wide of a variety of colorful plants that you can. Try new things. Again, fun and tasty (and healthy!). Have you heard of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants? This is where they live…. in the produce section and the frozen foods section. Frozen fruits and vegetables are great, too; they don’t spoil in your fridge and you don’t have to prep them.
- Treats are ok (but shouldn’t look like the majority of your caloric intake – that should come from real food – see item 1). Alcohol in moderation is also ok unless you have a reason to not drink it. Know thyself.
- Don’t ever fear fat again! It’s an important component of a healthy brain. Real butter, olive oil, coconut oil… these three fats are perfect for just about all your oil/fat needs in cooking. Eat fatty fish such as wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Eat avocadoes. Eat eggs, especially ones from chickens that get to go outdoors. Eat the chicken skin….it’s really delicious. If you can, purchase your meat from local farmers who treat those animals well. There is research that suggests to only eat red meat and the fattier cuts of meat or the cured meats once a week or less. So, this one depends on what you believe about the accuracy of that research. Others say that as long as the beef is pastured and grass-fed, then that rule doesn’t apply. This one, I leave to you to decide.
- Stop eating and go to sleep! Then get up and repeat. Make this happen daily in the easiest way possible so you can stop obsessing about food yet can still be a healthy (enough) eater while living your awesome life!
(And, hopefully that awesome life includes other reasonable healthy lifestyle habits… stay tuned for the next blog post.)