Have you ever felt confused about the food item in your hand because you’ve read so many conflicted reports on what is “truly” healthy? Life, in general, can be confusing when we’ve gotten the advice from too many people with differing opinions, and it’s no different with food choices. Many of us have read books, articles and blog posts with very diverse opinions on what it means to eat a healthy diet.
You’d think that at least vegetables would be free of controversy because everyone thinks vegetables are healthy, right? Wrong. Even vegetables can be criticized because truly nothing we eat gets a free pass by everyone. And there seems to be research supporting everyone’s viewpoints.
That’s frustrating. And it can make you either give up completely in trying to eat healthy, or fear food, neither of which are very good or freeing choices.
My goals for the food I serve and eat include these: The food should be delightful to the senses (even if it’s simple food). The food should promote health, not detract from it. I should feel good and thrive on it.
I freely admit that once you have specific health concerns that seem to be affected by the food you eat (whether that’s achy joints, stomachaches, eczema or ______, you fill in the blank), food choices become more complicated and what works for one person may not work for you.
I’m not going to make believe that I can solve all of these dilemmas in one blog post (as indeed, I still have many unanswered questions myself and am navigating some of the more complicated questions personally). But in an overall way, I’ve come up with some general principles that help me navigate this confusing “health food world” with it’s many conflicting opinions and research.
Pictured above: Steamed Artichokes with 3 Dipping Sauces
Do I feel good eating this way?
This is so simple, yet it’s so important! Sometimes people can get so wrapped up in their mind and what “they believe to be true” that they ignore the very important signals their body is sending off to them. When your body is sending signals of distress after eating a certain way for a while (whether that’s vegan, hardcore paleo, or a mainstream American diet), you shouldn’t ignore them, regardless of what ideology you’ve bought into.
Part of nourishing the body is respecting it. And you can’t respect the body if you ignore it.
Does that mean you have to abandon entirely the type of diet you’ve chosen for yourself if you don’t feel well on it? Not necessarily, as sometimes it’s all about adjustment. Sometimes people on grain free diets just need to increase their carbs to feel amazing. Sometimes someone whose diet is very produce centered needs to increase fats and protein to feel great again.
But the point of our dietary choices is to help our bodies feel great so that we can enjoy life to it’s fullest. Those on healing diets may need to have patience and endurance to get there, but that’s the goal in the end.
Keeping that one question in mind has helped me navigate some of my food choices. For unexplained reasons I was experiencing very achy joints for a while, and cutting out certain foods helped relieve that pain. So I did. I read some interesting research indicating that we shouldn’t drink too much water and tried to cut down on how much water I drank, and just felt dehydrated and blah. I went back to drinking to thirst and ignoring the opinions of those who thought “I was doing it wrong”. We can read all of the research we want, but in the end, if our bodies don’t respond well to those dietary changes, we should listen to our bodies!
Pictured above: Greek Lemon-y Beef and Rice
There is a place for picking a food philosophy
That doesn’t mean you should become a mess “listening to your body” and making drastic changes every time you sneeze. That would be utterly frustrating. There is a place for picking a food philosophy, and letting that guide you through the tangled web of opinions and research.
For example, in a broad sense, I have a food philosophy that food should be enjoyed and that the best foods to enjoy are those that are nutrient dense and traditionally valued. That’s why we choose to eat grassfed beef whenever possible, and add salmon roe to our sushi, take cod liver oil, and ferment our foods too. Because this food philosophy made sense to me, and then all of us feel good eating this way, I can more easily ignore the blaring and glaring headlines that tell me if we eat animal protein, we might as well be eating Twinkies.
Granted, we’ve had to make a lot of adjustments within that philosophy as we’ve discovered that half the family does really poorly with gluten and eggs, but it’s still within that framework that we’ve worked.
If you pick a dietary framework that makes sense to you, and your body seems to thrive on, it is a lot easier to ignore the competing opinions out there.
Pictured above: Cuban Picadillo Lettuce Wraps
Food should be enjoyed
This is something that needs to be repeated often. Food should be enjoyed. You should enjoy your food. Food should taste good. We should celebrate food. Food is a beautiful gift, and you should enjoy it. And I could go on.
When did healthy eating become equated with doing a penance? Or putting yourself through something grueling and horrible?
I know it can be hard to adjust to eating real food after a life eating and drinking industrial food. There can be a real sense to grieving when you leave junk food behind and it’s important to acknowledge that it can be really tough to change diets around.
But drudgery in eating is not the goal!
I truly believe that food is a gift from God, and when we make it into a meaningless task of tasteless food that has to be shoveled down, we are the ones missing out.
It’s true that I have to forgo on foods that I love and would enjoy eating because they bother me. But it’s also true that I choose to see the beauty in the food that I can have, and make that food delicious so that I can thoroughly enjoy it.
I know that’s a high ideal in the busyness of life (and hey, right now with a newborn, I’m happy just to keep food on the table that didn’t come from a can!), but it’s really what we should be aiming for. Enjoyment of food is not bad.
Let me repeat that. Enjoyment of food is not bad.
I think because our society values skinniness and has such an abhorrence of the idea of being a “glutton”, that we are afraid of talking about the enjoyment of food. It’s almost as if we think that if we admit we like food, and that people should like food, that everyone will go and gorge themselves on food all day and weigh 600 pounds by the end of the year. We describe delicious desserts as “sinful”, because we can’t imagine something that tastes good being “good for you”, and we can’t imagine that our desire to enjoy food is good either.
Sure, moderation is key to enjoying life in general and in our food choices too, but part of eating well is having a healthy appreciation of the gift of food.
So when evaluating our food choices, we should also question our attitude behind it. Are we trying to “punish” our bodies into health? Because that will never work. Instead, we should nurture and nourish our bodies through our diets with a healthy appreciation for the beautiful world of food.
Keeping these three things in mind has helped me navigate the big questions on how we choose to eat, even when it doesn’t always answer the specific, smaller questions. I hope they are helpful to you too!