Everyone is on some sort of diet. Whether it’s the eat-anything-and-everything diet, to the lo-lo-lo-fat diet, or the not-this-or-that-or-that-or-that-or… diet. A diet is essentially the choices we make everyday in what we decide to consume. Yes to toast, no to butter, yes to tacos, no to soda, and so forth. But the word “diet”, or the act of “dieting,” has a connotation of forced food torture.
I don’t agree with that kind of interpretation, mostly because it stigmatizes people who are trying to strike a balance between healthy and tempting. Since I have been refining my diet for the better part of three years with the help of research, nutritionists and simple observations, I wanted to share what I have found to be mostly true. I’m putting together a three part series on diet, focusing on what it means to eat healthy, foods to be avoided and foods to love, which will be followed by a related entry on exercise. Here we go.
There is a staggering amount of information out there on how to eat healthy. The only real conclusion I have come to from reading, eating and talking to doctors is that consuming food has consequences. I’m not saying that those consequences are good, bad or neutral, but they’re certainly there. Further, moderation is key. Take water, for instance: too little, you die, too much, and you die. That rule more or less applies to everything you consume, and extends to other parts of life as well.
Our nutritional guides quantify how much of something we should eat by separating food into varying categories, such as fats and protein. However, those guides are extremely general. If you have a food allergy to dairy, for instance, you will not be consuming any recommended amount of that food group. But digging even deeper, each of us have our own specific food needs. For instance, I require a diet of vegetables, fruits and protein to be happiest, with fat, grains and dairy taking up a smaller role. Added sugar is practically absent, because it turns me into a slug. I also consume a lot of water and feel most energetic when I eat regular small meals throughout the day.
That is my balance, and I know when something is out of whack. For other people, it could be much different, but the key is to pay attention to your body. Essentially, a healthy diet is the diet that makes it possible for someone to perform their daily duties full of energy and focus. Which also means eating only as much as you need, so as to not occupy your body with trying to find a home for excess nutrients and energy, or eating so little that the energy isn’t there.
The other important factor in diet is a balance of interest. Yes, to get started making discerning choices takes a lot of energy. There is label reading, learning about new ingredients, and lots of experimentation, or at least trying new recipes. After a while, the new diet becomes innate. What shouldn’t happen is an obsessive desire to eat only what is on the diet and nothing else, even if you have an allergy, followed by guilt if those goals aren’t met. Now, for people with food allergies, keeping with the diet is a must, but keeping a relaxed attitude is also important. Getting so wound up about ingredients and food decisions that you don’t actually enjoy your meal doesn’t benefit anyone, least of all you.
Taking any diet to the extreme, even a healthy one, can be dangerous. We all know about the dangers of over-eating and under-eating, but hyper-choosy eating can also have its perils. In fact, a new term has been coined for those suffering from obsessing over healthy food: orthorexia. Now, I may ruffle a few feathers here, but the Master Cleanse is an example of good intentions gone wrong. If you don’t know, it is a diet of water, lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper drank as long as you can stand it, instead of food. That’s right – instead of food. If this doesn’t ring any alarm bells, it should. Denying your body nutrients with the expectation of detoxing is antithetical to how your body works. It detoxes at it’s own speed, in its own way, and by trying to speed it up, well, you’re likely just to mess it up.
In the end, we really only know one thing for sure: we need food on a regular basis to survive. Anyone claiming to cure all your ills with their special diet or a box o’pills is peddling snake oil. Science, in its reductionist methods, still hasn’t really figured out exactly how to keep us healthy and stave of illness and death. The simple fact is that we all know our bodies best, and if we cared enough to listen, they would tell us what food they like, what they think sucks, and everything in between. Because making changes to your diet isn’t torture, it just takes focus, a little patience, and an attitude that allows for indulgences.
We only live once, and most of us eat 3 meals a day, so we should take the time to enjoy those meals instead of turning them into painful, guilty or boring experiences.
Next week: Blacklisted edibles.