Wednesday, June 13, 2012

what are we supposed to eat?!

In a society that can be simultaneously weight-, image-, and health-obsessed, figuring out what diet we're "meant to eat" is a nearly impossible task.

Trust me...I've tried.

We are constantly inundated with new knowledge about how some food does or does not contribute to our health or weight. That knowledge occasionally challenges something we've believed in the past, and it often contradicts other knowledge that is currently accepted.

It's frustrating, and it makes me question what exactly we're supposed to do with all this knowledge. In the end, I think we have to take it with a grain of salt.

via

A recent NPR article revealed that the paleo diet is becoming more mainstream, and even recommended by doctors as a dietary treatment approach for some health issues. The paleo diet, which emphasizes meat, fruit, and vegetables, and omits grains, beans, and dairy, has long been lauded as the diet we are "supposed" to eat, since it reflects the diet of our ancestors in the wild. (Ice cream was a rare treat for cavemen, I hear.)

I like the concept behind the paleo diet. I think it is probably ideal for a lot of people. And the idea of eating the things we evolved to eat is appealing.

But I do not like the assertion that any diet is right for everyone. A University of Michigan professor concludes the NPR article by saying, "'There's this tendency to want to find the normal human diet [...] But every single diet you pick has an advantage of some sort. Humans have lived in all kinds of places and we have adapted to all kinds of diets.'"

Physically, we all have different needs and different genetic material. What we all ultimately need to discover is what makes our individual bodies feel their personal best. (Personally, brown rice and beans make me feel pretty good.)

What isn't addressed in the article is also the deep psychological connection we have to what we eat.

As healthy as I am, I have not yet been able to completely sacrifice certain treats that I know are not great for me. And though my body might be well-designed to process meat, it's something I can rarely bring myself to enjoy anymore. I believe that eating meat or avoiding treats every day would create an unhealthier psychological burden than whatever physical effects I might see instead.

I shy away from dietary labels precisely because of all of these complex issues. Here are ten general guidelines I follow while eating:

1. Whole, unprocessed, organic foods as often as possible
2. Think "close to the source"...the more local and alive the food is, the better. Meat is considered once removed from the source, as it is essentially the consumption of plant energy consumed by another animal. And raw produce retains more of the good stuff than cooked produce.
3. You can never eat too many vegetables
4. Get lots of fiber (and water to go with it)
5. Protein sources at every meal (I like beans, nuts, and soy...and occasionally gluten, eggs, or fish.)
6. Don't fear fat
7. Tea, spices, and superfoods...I do take a few supplements every day, but I prefer to get my boosts from the original sources. Tea, spices, and superfoods (like chia seeds or cacao nibs) are really easy to incorporate into most meals.
8. Minimize sugar (The sugar I do have comes from the least processed sources possible.)
9. Eat mindfully...this is the most important one for me. Eating mindfully helps us eat the right amount of the right stuff, because we eat what our bodies tell us they need...and stop when we've had enough.
10. Don't feel guilty about breaking the rules sometimes

Dietary labels are probably great for people who need clear guidelines to forge the path towards health. Sometimes it's great to have that structure. But everyone should practice critical reflection of why they eat the way they do and how it makes them feel. Ultimately, we all have to answer to our own bodies.

Personally, I'll just keep eating my veggies. And I'll take them with a grain of salt.

12 comments:

  1. "But I do not like the assertion that any diet is right for everyone." Here, here!

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  2. Great post! And so true. So many people I know can eat a meal of mostly protein with minimal carbs, but I really feel best when I eat mostly grains and veggies with just a little bit of protein. Everyone is different. I also hate the idea of making anything off limits!

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  3. Great post - there's something to be said about good old common sense. And I agree with you on veggies and water - you can never get enough

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  4. I 1000% agree with every single thing you said. It's important to experiment with what makes us feel our best. And the psychological aspect of being on a restrictive diet is not to be ignored. We are humans after all - not machines that require an exact kind of fuel.

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  5. Yes Yes Yes - we are so on the same page Miss Clair (too often as though we plan it ;) LOL

    Just want to add that not all meat is the same just like many foods in comparison are not the same, farmed/ processed vs organic.

    Wheat's bad! I'm not celiac and I don't really have an official allergy to it but I feel my body getting sick when I eat it.

    Love the veggies and I also include plant proteins at every meal! ;)

    xoxo

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    1. Very true about the meat...both with respect to health and ethics. I think I'd be tempted to eat it a lot more if I could get it off of a well-run local farm. It's hard for me to find that conveniently...and even harder to afford it!

      Great points...and yes, we are always on the same page. We're destined to meet someday, I think. =)

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  6. I love this! I totally agree with you that psychological effects have to be taken into consideration with regards to health. I would also suffer psychological effects if I didn't have a treat once in a while. I also am not a fan of labels and just believe in doing what feels right inside, not what your diet classification entails. I would say those last couple points there are the most challenging. Being mindful and not experiencing guilt can be very hard!
    Thanks for sharing this post!

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  7. i like your food guidelines. :)
    i think moderation is the best way to eat, but i know that some people can't tolerate certain foods, so for them a specialized diet makes sense. but for the rest of us, i like to think about pollan's quote: "eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

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    1. Yes, totally forgot to mention the restrictions that apply when people have health issues. And I LOVE that quote. Such a concise way to promote a healthy food philosophy.

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  8. Totally agree!
    I try to read less women magazines because every of them writes about different things that are bad for you or good, seriously how many times can they talk about potatoes, ice-cream, rice or whatever. And then comes ayurveda which says that eggplants are bad, b-b-but it's a nice veggie! And Japanese who eat white rice everyday and live happily till they're 100!

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    Replies
    1. Me too! Plus, they just mess with your head a bit. =)

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Thanks for making me smile. =)