Soooo done with “nutritionism” and the efforts of often quasi-qualified folks spreading misconceptions like an exact number of radishes to eat to treat breast cancer or the amount of turmeric needed to reduce prostate cancer risk (actual things I’ve seen on recent lifestyle TV programs), I felt compelled to share these 10 thoughts in my continued effort to support healthy, happy, enjoyable, guilt-free eating. Stay encouraged in the fact that looking at the WHOLE PICTURE will ALWAYS be the answer to optimal health.
- On its own, all the good, clean eating in the world won’t make up for a disaster on other fronts such as excessive drinking, drug abuse, chronic sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, bitterness, deep hatred of one’s job, unhealthy relationships, etc. Eating is often the first area tackled when improvements in health need to be made. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, without ultimately addressing the other issues, no matter how expensive, fancy and uber-healthy your food choices, you’ll still hate your job, if that is the underlying cause of your stress and exhaustion. Hard as it can be to make eating changes, it’s often the easiest step to take in comparison to quitting one’s job or finding time to exercise more. It’s also embraced in society as something that’s socially acceptable to talk about. “I need more energy so I’m eating more vegetables” is a lot easier to talk about than “I need more energy so I’m leaving my draining, disastrous marriage”, for example. This applies to kids too. Sometimes their tummy aches are truly due to food and there’s room to fine-tune things or remove allergens. Sometimes, the tummy aches have nothing to do with food.
- Eating foods you strongly dislike or can’t really afford simply because you’ve heard they’re healthy is crazy. Enjoyment in eating is an important part of a healthy, happy life. An 80-20 approach (trying to make good choices about 80% of the time, leaving room for flexibility) always produces more lasting improvements compared to cleansing, going raw for a month or being on and off of a series of diet trend bandwagons over several decades.
- No single food will supply all of the nutrients needed for great health – nor will the newest supplement products despite ads stating that they contain “100% of the daily requirement for every vitamin and mineral”. I’m worried about the number of people I see out there fueling their day with a ‘calorie-free’ supersized coffee, one or two organic ‘energy’ bars and now vitamin pills promising 100% of what they need! That is NUTS and dangerously unhealthy! (Congratulations are in order for the savvy marketers.) Grow food if you have any available space. Shop for food. Cook food. Happily and gratefully enjoy food. Avoid wasting food. Share food with others. We have teeth. We’re supposed to use them and not simply drink protein shakes and swallow vitamin pills. (I’d only suggest doing that if your jaw was temporarily wired shut for some kind of surgery. Even then, I’d recommend using real food to make quality, delicious smoothies instead of powdered mixes that have an eternal shelf life – regardless of whether they’re GMO-free or not.)
- Science has already confirmed many (if not all) of the fundamentals of healthy eating and healthy living overall. For example, make half your plate vegetables in most meals, eat mainly a plant-based diet, keep portions of meat small, go easy on salt and sugar (total avoidance is not necessary), be active, breathe fresh air. Live these actions and don’t wait for a new, “definitive” study showing oddly novel results like ‘less exercise may be better’ or ‘a specific fruit may hold the secret to longevity’. Avoiding gimmicks that aren’t evidence-based is VERY important. Ignoring common sense while waiting for science to ‘prove’ why we should engage in healthy behaviours is is just plain silly if not dangerously unhealthy.
- If a novel new discovery or claim is made like “craft beer may be as healthy as red wine”, avoid looking at it as a green light to overindulge. Drink craft beer or red wine because you love it, it brings you pleasure and is part of your overall healthy, happy way of living – not because it might have a few trace minerals. Portion control will always matter whether with healthy foods and drinks or those high in salt, sugar, bad fats, caffeine or alcohol. The ‘nutritional benefits’ of any beverage containing alcohol are pretty hard to argue for given the presence of, well, the alcohol itself and it’s impact on the liver.
- No one wants to hear about your cleanse, your on and off gluten-free diet, why you never bake cookies for your kids that contain sugar, the supplements you take to ensure you get a beach body, etc. Please wait until they ask you about it and then share if they seem interested. These may be choices you genuinely believe in, value and have found great results with. That’s wonderful. When your friends and family show real interest, definitely share. Otherwise, know that it isn’t making us happy to hear about it. And unhappiness isn’t healthy.
- Buying groceries at the stores that fit for your family and budget is important. Confidently source the food that works for you. (That’s confidently, not confidentially). There’s no need to feel like you have to put a bag over your head if picking things up at Walmart for example versus Whole Foods or the Farmer’s Market. Wearing where you shop or the food values you have as a badge is highly annoying and unhealthy. It makes others unhappy. Shop where and eat what works for you. Be happy and at peace with those choices.
- Enjoy great food – whether grilled salmon and veggies on the BBQ with a nice crisp glass of wine OR a beer and burger night out with friends at the pub. No single meal will be the cure all or the devil that destroys your health. Most people want to talk about what’s going on, how you’re actually doing and what you’ve been up to. Not what you’ve been eating and why you feel superior (or inferior) for those choices. No one (other than during a paid, professional consultation appointment) is interested in interviewing you about your eating habits. Two-way dialogue on mutually interesting topics promotes happiness, satisfaction and health.
- Avoid commenting on how other people eat. As a culinary dietitian in the public eye I’ve faced occasional criticism for such “unbelievably terrible and irresponsible” actions as encouraging a family to bake a batch of wholesome homemade muffins using oats, fresh berries and, wait for it….real sugar, instead of agave nectar. Sheesh! It’s a sad day for our world when we so readily dish out hurtful comments and feel such intense anger about how a batch of muffins is made instead of looking at the total experience of being in the kitchen with the kids, living life, making memories and being happy – along with eating something that tastes delicious!
- Remember how you ate as a kid. What made you happy and kept you healthy? Did you get to enjoy an ice cream cone when out at a summer festival? Did your Mom lecture you on how much sugar it contains or how much hiking you’d have to do to make up for it? Hopefully not. Were your eating habits as an 8-year old as varied, clean and pure as your parents’ habits? You still turned out great and have healthy values. Keep the kids well nourished, follow the 80-20 rule but let them live and be happy. Keep the judging and endless schooling about food out of it for them.
Joy, laughter, fun, feeling connected, sharing meaningful times with others…are all part of the whole picture of factors that contribute to well-being. Avoid micro-managing food as a way of making up for or not dealing with deep frustration in other areas of life. I’m for continuing to eat, drink AND be merry! Diet math, badge-wearing and guilt aren’t part of how I define a healthy life.