So...what should I eat???
This used to be such a simple question to answer. Back when my relationship with food revolved primarily around taste and satiation, it required very little thought to fill my belly with deliciousness.
How about you? If you look back through the years, how often did you make food choices based on the long term impact it would have on your health? I certainly didn’t.
I tried to eat what I thought would be relatively good for me. It was kind of a surface thing though. I wasn’t looking at how much sugar, or the type of fat, or the level of processing that went into whatever I was consuming. I rarely considered the source of what I was consuming either. It never really occurred to me.
Over time, as I became more aware of the impact my food choices and eating habits had on my health and performance, I began paying closer attention and doing some research.
Boy did it get complicated.
Everyone has thoughts on what is good for you, what you should avoid, and what you must include in your diet or face certain doom.
“You need to be on a plant based diet! No meat, it will kill you!” “ “Eat lots of meat! Go big on protein and fat! Never touch a carb!” “You need carbs! Lots of them! Don’t let anyone tell you differently!”
The more I learned, the more confusing it got. The challenge is, when it comes to what we consume, we all respond differently. Some of us have higher levels of tolerance for things like wheat or nuts, others have serious sensitivities. What works really well for some people may not work at all for others.
What I came to realize was much of the information out there was based around statements like this: “I did this and it worked for me, it also worked for others like me, so it can work for you too!” Or “The research supports this! We have now unlocked the code and here are the answers you’ve been looking for!”
Well great! I’ll just do what they say and all will be well, right? That is not necessarily the case, is it? If it was, we’d have one standardized global nutrition plan and we’d all be wonderfully healthy if we followed it. There are many successful nutritional paths you can follow, and also many that will not work for you no matter how much your cousin, neighbor, or favorite health guru swears by it.
Over time, I came to recognize an even deeper issue.
Even more important than what was being said, I learned to pay very close attention to who was saying it. When the people producing the miracle supplement are running the studies, you need to take a closer look. When you’re being told how good cereal is for you by the company selling the cereal, you should check a couple of independent sources. When your enthusiastic friend is swearing by whatever they are doing, you might want to seek a more qualified opinion.
When even the experts can’t agree, it can be very difficult to know what to trust. Especially when they are all so firmly and passionately convinced they are right. Personally, absolute certitude from someone makes me nervous. I prefer a degree of flexibility and an openness to being wrong from the people I listen to.
So how do we solve this puzzle?
Here are a couple things I’ve found helpful:
First, be clear as to what you value in your life as it relates to nutrition.
For example, if you are eating to lose weight, why? Is it for a healthy heart or is it just so you can button your pants? Are you eating for improved physical performance? How about increased mental clarity? Maybe you have some genetic risk that can be impacted by what you eat.
Get really, really clear about why you are taking control of your nutrition and how you will know if you are moving in the right direction. That helped me A LOT.
Second, be willing to patiently test things for yourself.
This takes time and attention. You also have to be careful and intelligent about how you approach this. Make one change at a time and document how you feel. Track things like physical measurements, performance, and whatever else will help you determine if something is actually changing.
Introduce new things slowly, and again, only one at a time. Notice how you feel. Pay attention to changes in energy levels, how you feel physically and mentally, and changes in digestion. Your body will tell you things if you are listening. Sometimes it can be quite dramatic, other times more subtle.
If you are clear, and you test, and pay attention to who is offering you information and guidance, you can slowly, incrementally take control of your eating choices and put them to work for you. Personally, I feel that this is worth doing on many levels. What do you think?
One more thing...doesn’t this feel like a conversation that goes way beyond food?
We have so much information being blasted at us. We can choke on it. We can be poisoned. It can make us sick. It can also nourish us. It can energize us and fuel us to great things.
This feels like a good lens for all of the things we consume. We take in so much now, and it can all be so loud. Sometimes it feels like drinking from a fire hose. And so often we are consuming things without really questioning why we are doing so. Once I started reading food labels, I had a whole new perspective on what some of the crap I was consuming was doing to me. Yuck.
I think it would be helpful to remember to take our time, and just have a taste at first. Consume a little, let it digest, then pay close attention to how it makes us feel. If it moves us in the direction we want to go, eat a little more. That way we can be careful not to overdo it, as anything in excess has the potential to cause an imbalance.
Eventually, you’ll find the right balance that will be unique to you. Even that will be temporary, as we are constantly changing as the years go by. It becomes a process of self awareness, recalibration when necessary, testing for optimization, and then repeating.
My dream for you today is that you find balance in what you choose to take in. That you are nourished by the physical, mental, and emotional nutrients you absorb. May you find clarity and curiosity in the process of your own evolution, and gain confidence in your ability to test new things and determine the level of value they add to your life and the lives of those in your circle.
Feed yourself well my friends. You deserve it :)