In the history of time, I doubt there ever was a society so consumed with the thoughts, pleasures, and guilt of what goes into our body. Food has become so much more than a means to provide necessary energy for life. Food is social, cultural, pleasurable, and loathsome. We seem to crave what is “bad” and hate what is “good.” What we need is real food.
While I could easily go on a rampage concerning the reasons behind our issues with food, I find it much more calming to focus instead on how we can adopt a more healthy relationship with the food we eat. (Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll have my “rampage” days, too).
The first step is to recognize the purpose of real food.
Even more than just looking at calories as a means for energy, real food can be healing and nourishing. Despite our society’s desire to break food down into simplistic categories such as fat, carbohydrates, protein, and calories; the reality is that our scientific understanding of how our bodies process food has just scratched the surface.
The good news is that you don’t have to be up to date on the latest scientific discovery to know how to eat well. This is good because science changes its mind every day as to what we should and should not be eating. If we look at civilizations from across the globe and throughout history, we see that many societies lived and flourished on a variety of diets. While not every society in the past was able to live a healthy “food” lifestyle (usually do to some form of malnutrition—not getting enough of what the body needs), nothing seems to compare with the horrible health problems in our nation today. They have spiraled out of control over the past fifty or so years (think: obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease… just to name a few).
Before I go any further, I should remind you all that I am not a nutritionist. I have done a lot of research on the subject of food and nutrition. However, no research or study compares to the real changes I have experienced in my own health and body as I have adopted these basic rules:
Eat real food.
That’s the first, most basic step. Real food doesn’t come in a wrapper. Real food doesn’t come with an ingredients list. Real food doesn’t have to mask itself with labels such as “all natural,” “fat free,” and “healthy.” Real food is grown, cared for, and requires that we know how to prepare it. Real food takes time.
Eat as seasonally and locally as you can.
The concept of seasonally eating is becoming more popular, but it’s not a new idea. The majority of people who have lived on this planet throughout the ages did not have access to a mega mart where they could buy any fruit or veggie they wanted. Refrigeration, exportation, and synthetic preservatives are new ideas. I’m the first to admit that I enjoy the fact that I have access to things like coconut oil all year long, but when the majority of our food we eat is grown seasonally and locally we are doing both our bodies and our ecosystem a favor.
Eat a variety.
The chemical makeup of food has amazing effects on our body, especially when they are eaten in their most natural state (go back to rule #1). Again, most of our ancestors didn’t worry about getting a certain number of vitamins or minerals a day. They ate real food that was available to them. The more variety in your diet the more “good stuff” to go around.
Listen to your body.
Our Standard American Diet (SAD) is full of refined and processed carbohydrates with very little real nutrition inside of it. This is why it is so easy to eat so much and still feel like we want more. Our body wants more because it needs more—more nutrition. Filling your diet with nutrient dense real foods will help stave off cravings… but it will take time. (And for the record, real food is really, REALLY delicious.)
Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Listen to what your body needs rather than what your tongue craves. We don’t need to worry about calories, points, or other counting devices to tell us how much we should eat. Our body has a built in system for managing our intake, if we listen.
Really taste your food. This will not only help you listen to your body’s natural signals, but you may find delightful new tastes and textures that you’ve missed all these years!
Don’t let food become an enemy.
When we are eating well, we have every right to indulge every now and then (although you may find that what you crave changes drastically once you change the way you eat). We need food. What we don’t need is a constant guilt trip when we eat. Be careful not to get too trapped in the web of advice out there. Keep it simple. Make real food enjoyable.
Start slowly and keep going.
If these ideas don’t seem basic to you, then I suggest taking it one step at a time. Maybe apply the rules to just one meal a day. Maybe work on your cooking skills so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming right at once. Change just one aspect at a time until it becomes part of your lifestyle. And above all, don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake. You can have your cake and eat it too. (Even better if the cake is made with real ingredients and doesn’t come from a box.)