We are all different. Rather than talking at each other about how “this or that way is best,” let’s celebrate the differences in how we eat… as they often point to the fact that we have become conscious of what genuinely feels best for us!
Herewith, then, are a few thoughts about how we can get back to what eating really is, and how we can relax a bit more about food in general.
1. Let’s stop telling each other how to eat.
I believe rather than subscribing to a particular diet, we need to subscribe to our own body’s signals. This is known as Intuitive Eating, and humankind practiced it for many thousands of years. When we listen to the body and notice how it responds to different kinds of food, we figure out individually what diet works best for us. In this way we develop a relaxed certainty around food, eat to satiety, and eliminate the need for diet gurus, calorie counting and fad books. We can finally step off the constantly-changing hamster wheel of dietary advice, which the food writer Michael Pollan famously called “Nutritionism.” Nutritionism principally benefits the processed food industry, while leaving the average person so confused they give up in helplessness, returning to the very foods that made them sick in the first place.
There are two main portals through which we arrive at a place of eating with ease. One is by gradually weaning ourselves off processed foods and sugar, and returning to a real food diet, which for the vast bulk of human history was the norm. The other is to do an elimination diet, which removes common modern allergens and problematic foods for 30 days, and then gradually places those foods back into the diet while we observe digestion, energy level and mood. By radically simplifying our food intake, and calming down the digestive tract, we are rewarded with precious silence in the body, which allows us to hear what our bodies are trying to tell us. We ultimately return to a rich, varied, satisfying diet, one we know with certainty “works.”
2. Different diets are like a buffet – a little something for everyone.
Traditional eating, also known as the ancestral food movement, has been helpful in guiding many people back to real-food diets such as those consumed by our ancestors. The cookbook Nourishing Traditions is a wonderfully rich source of information on ancestral eating from diverse cultures across the globe. It has information on bone broth, fermented foods, properly-prepared legumes, and an abundance of recipes for both meat and vegetarian dishes alike.
The Paleo movement has been instrumental in helping many people understand that you can flourish on a healthy, whole-food diet that eliminates grains, since grains are implicated in many modern diseases (just ask an anthropologist).
On the whole, I have found the majority of people do well on an omnivorous diet which offers a moderate amount of meat and fish, plenty of vegetables, sweet fruit as a treat, and lots of healthy fats such as those found in coconut oil, olive oil and grass-fed butter. There is so much variation in how people react to dairy and grains, that those must be tested individually. Minimally processed dairy originating from grass-fed animals is more optimally available to the body than industrially-produced dairy. This has to do with fundamental changes that occur to this type of food during homogenization and pasteurization.
Some people do very well on a vegetarian diet. If someone has good energy and sharp cognition on a vegetarian diet, I say carry on. By the same reasoning, it’s important that we eat in a way that satisfies our biology over our politics. I believe this is why we’re seeing more hybrid eating styles emerging, such as Flexitarian and Pegan. I support the work of the website beyondveg.com, which offers guidance to vegetarians who find they do not flourish on a vegetarian diet, and helps them find ways to fill out their diet beyond plant-based sources, while still taking ethical considerations into account. Some people sadly feel that they are letting down an entire movement, simply because their bodies are crying out for a diet more biologically appropriate for them.
Likewise, some people – while enthusiastically reducing sugar and carbs – fall into the trap of eating too much protein, which can also produce negative health consequences. This is why I love the work of organizations like Whole 30 and Bulletproof, who espouse eating large amounts of vegetables, adequate amounts of good fat (so critical for the brain and endocrine system), and modest amounts amounts of high-quality protein. This is my personal approach to food.
It’s critical to remember than in the course of human history, human beings have eaten just about everything there is to eat, and flourished in different regions on different diets. This is why it’s a fool’s errand to search for the absolute “right” way to eat. What’s right for one person may be wrong for another.
3. Let’s roll up our sleeves and touch food again.
It all comes down to two simple things: we want to eat in a way that feels satisfying and keeps us well. Over the last 50 years the developed world got hooked on convenience. This is great for our schedules, but often terrible for our bodies. Our industrial food producers don’t know anything about health, and our health care providers don’t know anything about food. And so it will go until we, the people, start to bridge the gap. We have to get back into the kitchen, start eating real food again and start healing.
I love the growing number of food activists like Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver, working to teach young people the basic rudiments of preparing real food. Somehow we have gotten to a place in human history where this is considered esoteric or high-class. I dream of the day where it isn’t. A big part of my mission here at The Strong Woman is to educate people on Intuitive Eating and practical, real-food cooking. Cooking is only as elaborate as we make it. Many real food meals come together in a snap. Sometimes we get inspired by arty cooking shows, and show some prance. Either way is wonderful, as long as we’re eating real food. We have to resurrect an old-fashioned relationship with food again, and start weaving its preparation back into the fabric of our daily lives.
This is a great passage from The Paleo Cupboard Cookbook by Amy Densmore:
I’m not going to pretend that there’s some fairy tale going on in my house and there’s a fresh-from-the-oven casserole on the table every evening at six p.m. sharp. Sometimes meals are just reheated leftovers or bits and pieces of whatever is in the refrigerator. And every now and then Mommy wishes that instead of making dinner she could just have a glass – or bottle – of wine and go to bed. But there is something so rewarding and therapeutic for me about pausing for a few moments in the kitchen, taking a pile of fresh ingredients, and using my hands to create something that not only tastes amazing but also will nourish me and whomever I might have the pleasure of cooking for.
We can distill a healthy connection to food down to these three things:
Pausing. Creating. Nourishing.
Our bodies need it, and I believe our souls need it too.