Something that most of us do several times a day.
For energy, for nutrition, for growth, for health, for pleasure.
The reasons are varied and mostly, separated. Because the reality is that for most of the population, eating for health is not the same as eating for pleasure. One can not be the other right?
And more than that, there's true fear when it comes to eating food.
Yes this simple and required action in all of our lives is so often about fear, overwhelm and let's get real - making you thin or making you fat.
So I thought I'd share with you 5 lessons you can learn from the way that I eat...
1. IT CHANGES
And I don't even mean varying the type of foods that I eat, though I do that too - hello rainbows! I mean that the way I eat overall, changes.
What changes and why? Well I'm not Bill Murray living Groundhog Day (google that reference if need be), and because of this my life and I dare say yours, varies each day.
More or less movement; whether planned or incidental, sleep, the previous day's happenings, our mental acuity, hormonal rhythms, and moods.
It all changes our hunger, appetite (more on the difference in another post coming soon) and requirements.
Let's take the past few weeks in my world as an example, I've started on-campus university life and on those 3 days each week, my schedule is remarkably different to other days. And surprise, surprise so is my 'regular timing' of hunger, the type of foods I'm more drawn to and also what's most practical within the environment.
Eating breakfast at 6am is different to 8am and other adjustments throughout the day have been necessary. Specifically, I've been eating a lighter breakfast and lunch than usual due to instinct, time and practicality constraints. Lunchtime on those days has varied between 1045am and 2pm - both due to class times and my actual hunger. Additionally I've been eating a substantially-sized early afternoon snack and lighter dinner. I've also nearly doubled my daily water intake. Apparently study days make me thirsty? Either that or the air-conditioning...
I didn't get this 'right' or know out of the gate what I would need though I was in tune, open to what I may/may not need and as you'll find out in lesson #5, I was prepared.
2. THE NO RULES, RULE
I quite literally have no rules about what I eat.
There's no list on the fridge, on an app, or in my head of what I can and can't consume as food or drink.
Sounds good right?
The true beauty of this is that when you're 'allowed' to eat what you want, you're a) giving yourself a fighting chance to notice your natural instincts - yes your body is telling you things all the time, and b) our natural instincts always steer us to good health.
Whether you personally identify as a dieter or not, you'd be amazed at the cost and consequence of living with food rules. The "should I?", "shouldn't I?" internal dialogue, coupled with restriction, conditional rules and the infamous guilt cycle that often surrounds our food choices, all provide the potential for a whole lot of destruction.
And as someone who used to live for her weekly allowance of a burger and fries; conditional on burning 750 calories/day for 6 days of course; I know all about that destruction.
And guess what? Are you ready for this? It's a biggie...
Allowing myself to eat burgers whenever I want means I often go months without even thinking of one.
And when I do eat a burger, gosh do I enjoy every mouthful. I make it a great burger, I savour it, I move on. No I'm not a saint and this is completely possible. With burgers, with chocolate, with whatever. And FYI, lesson #4 explores the question you may now be asking, "but won't I get fat then?"
Now in saying all of this, as humans we tend to take comfort in some kind of rule or regulation. Especially when we couldn't be bothered making an effort. So although I'd say there's a place for rules where they serve you well, if it's more a case of "someone told me x and so I now do it without asking why," then that may be worth a second or third glance.
3. NO GOOD OR BAD
Right up there for me on the blood-boiling list with "is x fattening?"; is the concept that food is either good and bad.
Excuse the extreme example but ask yourself next time you have this good/bad dialogue either internally or externally, whether someone who's food insecure would ever ask themselves that question? Sure, the situation isn't directly comparable though it may help shift your focus and highlight what I call absurdity.
Perceived good and bad food choices are often fought on a moral high ground and conversely can be a source of shame for many. This recent article I thought explored the idea well if you're interested in reading more on food becoming a matter of morals.
Meanwhile people (lots of people) are starving. Just so we're clear.
But aren't some foods and drinks known to be toxic? Absolutely. So is water. And anything for that matter. Aside from toxicity however, I would stand by the scientific fact that some foods and drinks offer us more or less nutrition than others. Just as I would stand by the scientific and empirical knowledge that some foods and drinks provide us more overall nourishment and pleasure than others.
But good and bad? These terms are the same as any other label application out there. Over-used and relied upon.
Ask yourself logically how an argument about which green leafy vegetable has more of x vitamin and ignoring the 'lesser' is beneficial? Or casting all other nuts aside and only eating Brazil nuts because of their high selenium content? Maybe you're avoiding gluten and labelling it bad though have next to no idea why, let alone what gluten even is. Because in all reality, these are the type of good and bad comments being thrown around.
Eat this one week, now that's out and we're onto something else. And you know where this all leads? To extremes. To removing whole food groups. To crazy-making.
Like everything in life, fads, trends and extremes never give you what you want.
Just as I have no rules about what I can eat, I also don't perceive food as good or bad. There's foods I prefer, and there's those that prefer me. There's some I'll happily never eat despite their available nutrition (because I'm not into them) and others I'll consume in spite of popular theories (because I am into them).
As you'll be exposed to in lesson #4, one meal is not your entire life, nor should one food be. Keep it varied, keep it interesting and enjoy everything you love that also loves you back! And FYI, the varying nutrient profiles in say fruits, vegetables, nuts, or any real food is intentional. Both a gift and a reminder from nature to eat all of the wonderful things out there.
4. ONE MEAL DOES NOT A FAT OR THIN PERSON MAKE
I've done this.
I've followed strict eating protocols for one day, woken up the next morning and checked how much 'skinnier' I was.
Maybe you've even done this with one meal? Or one green juice and checked the mirror?
The opposing side can look like enjoying a particular indulgent meal, say for a birthday celebration, and both saying and thinking that you're now 'fat.'
The guilt-binge-deprive cycle fits in to this lesson though for now, let's not even include that more extreme side of the coin.
What about in a more simple form, this normalised concept of one meal being the end of the world as opposed to what it literally is? One meal.
No more and no less.
Yes absolutely not all meals are created equally though the pressure, drama and stress surrounding this outlook is far more capable of destruction than the meal itself.
And allowing this type of thinking to become more normal in your world also means that you're preventing those true instincts and indicators to shine through and be noticed.
Because yes, indulging in food rarely feels great in the following hours or maybe even next day. For instance, when I eat excessive salt, say on fries, my tongue is slightly ulcerative and very uncomfortable. Not to mention the Sahara Desert conditions now present in my mouth and resulting 10L of water I feel the need to drink.
I indulge. I enjoy. I notice. I can then choose to continue in spite of what occurs to me or like I have, I amend. Now that's not to say I never eat fries because I do. However I predominantly make my own baked chips and if I do enjoy fries at a restaurant, I simply eat less of them and avoid the whole ulcer-Sahara-mouth situation.
And just to reiterate: that 1/2 bowl of fries doesn't make me fat. Nor does avoiding them make me thin.
It's what you do every day that counts. Your overall lifestyle and the choices that you make. The body is incredibly resilient and will continue to do all it can to be healthy however that's no excuse to take advantage.
Live well in all respects. Without the binges and equally, without the detoxes. This fact is one that few seem interested in because it's kind of boring I guess? The middle ground doesn't cater for extremes, for ups and downs and apparently humans prefer to think that healthy eating is all about the latter, and not the former.
5. PLAN & PREP IS OVER HALF THE GAME
Over and over, this trumps everything.
The above lessons are important, and I encourage you to revisit them within your own life however hands down what you need to nail is planning and prepping the food that you'll eat.
Maybe not every meal and maybe not all the time though if you can lock this practice down, you're over the hump and on the way to eating well without so much as a second thought.
Because that's where all good intentions fall down. For you and me both. When life happens and that salad you planned to make or breakfast you intended to prep just doesn't happen.
Long day at work, maybe an after work gym session or social catch up, kids screaming, deadlines looming, classes to catch up on, whatever you've got going on in your life. Life.
When I started paying closer attention to the way that I ate was also when I worked 60+ hours/week. Additionally I travelled 2 hours each day to/from work. After work, I trained. In short, life was fairly crazy.
The only way that I was able to eat well was to be on top of it. To plan my meals, to shop, to prep.
So when I couldn't be bothered, and yes that happened/happens, it didn't mean that my healthy eating was derailed. I'd open the fridge or freezer and there was either a fully prepped meal, or as I favour more these days, several delicious elements that are both versatile and simply combined. Hello paradise!
So yes I spent a little time doing this each week (far less than you think), though the pay off was infinitely greater and it still is. The biggest point here is that you simply must do something. You must learn the way that works best for you. With your hands. In your way. You'll quickly figure out what that is, though you need to take the first step. Perhaps best of all however, is that once you lock these skills down, nothing can take them away from you.
No matter where you live or what's going on - these lifelong, practical, sustaining and enjoyable practices can be replicated and relied upon everywhere and always. So that healthy eating is second nature to you, just as your body and nature intended it to be.
We all need a little help to get started though and as someone who struggled through this part of the process all on my own, I know all about the power of structured, practical guidance and support.
And that's why if any of these lessons spoke to you, and you know that now is the time to act, I urge you to check out my members-only Wholefood Society Online.
Not only will you find 100+ exclusive recipes not available on my blog, though you'll have access to weeks and weeks worth of flexible and varied meal plans. Additionally there's practical videos, guides, lists and fortnightly emails from me to keep you on track and motivated.
Membership is seasonal or yearly and costs less than $AU0.50/day.
So that's practical, helpful and insightful support, planning already done for you, delicious food, flexibility, variety and content updates which you don't pay a cent more for!
Pretty good right?
I'm super proud to have created the Wholefood Society and you can check out a free preview below or head straight here for all the details on how to join.