Human beings are animals. Eating is one of our most basic survival instincts. The urge to find and consume food is hard-wired into the most ancient part of our brains. Without food, we die.
So why can’t anyone decide what to eat?
I see it everyday when I go to work at Trader Joe’s. People come through the door, sometimes armed with books and web printouts, totally confused. They’ve heard that gluten is bad, but they don’t know what it is (I’ve been asked for gluten free cheese more than once). Dr. Oz says olive oil popcorn is a healthy snack, so they fill their carts with it and eat a bag in a sitting. Because it’s “good for them.” A friend told them cherry juice helps arthritis, so they buy it by the case and drink tall glasses daily, pumping massive quantities of sugar into their bodies. Bags of frozen spinach are labeled “fat-free” because we have been told for years that fat is evil. Doesn’t matter that it’s spinach, which of course has no fat. Put the buzzword on the bag to get people to buy.
Just in the past few decades, what once was a basic human instinct for millenia–eating– has mutated into one of the most complex parts of our daily lives. Misleading marketing, conflicting scientific studies, “experts” with their own agendas, a food industry dedicated to whatever it takes to make us eat more of whatever they are selling, and countless other pressures of modern life have conspired to make choosing food a source of confusion and anxiety.
Like so many, I have wasted more hours of my life than I care to contemplate agonizing over food choices. I have stood in grocery store aisles for (literally) hours, reading labels, going back and forth, trying to make decisions.
“This one has more fat, but less sugar. This one has more carbohydrates, but more fiber. This one has fewer calories, but has added sugar. This one is organic, but has more calories….” And on, and on, and on, until I got so frustrated I bought ice cream to soothe my frayed nerves.
But today, I can say that I have found a way of eating that works for me. It’s certainly not perfect, and I make no claims about having found the “formula for health” or “key to living forever” or “fat-burning miracle diet.” It just works for me.
So in addition to talking about my journey with strength training and reversing unhealthy habits, I also want to share more about what I choose to eat today. And I’m going to be specific, because I think people are hungry for this kind of simple knowledge. I’m not claiming to have the answer for everyone; I speak purely from my own experience. I don’t always choose to eat what makes me feel my best, but today I know with reasonable confidence what does make me feel my best when I choose it.
For me, I feel my best when I eat a diet that is higher in fat and protein, and lower in carbohydrates and sugar. Not extreme low-carbohydrate or no sugar, but still exponentially less than what I used to consume.
That is a pretty general statement. So what does that actually look like in real life when I sit down to the table?
Let me show you:
This is my lunch most days. Everyone at work knows my lunch, by sight and by smell. I ridicule Dr. Oz fairly mercilessly, but I did take away one great suggestion from his book You on a Diet that I read many moons ago when I was still on the dieting roller-coaster (and before he became another daytime TV plastic surgery nightmare). That suggestion was to choose one meal a day and “automate” it; that is, eat the same thing for that meal everyday. One of the problems with modern food culture is that we have TOO much choice. Research shows again and again that we are much more likely to overeat when presented with an overabundance of choices.
I’ve been eating some version of this lunch for over two years. Yes, it ticks all the “healthy” boxes: it is chock-full of cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids and protein from the fish, and quality fats from the olive oil and avocado. But if that were all it had going for it, I wouldn’t still be eating it for lunch two years later.
I still eat it because it is delicious. Seriously, I’m not lying to you or to myself. I really enjoy it. I feel satisfied when I am done with it.
I do vary it occasionally. Sometimes I mix in arugula with the spinach, sometimes I throw in cooked lentils if I have them on hand, sometimes I sprinkle Parmesan or crumbled feta on top, sometimes I use tuna, salmon, or chicken instead of sardines. But the basic outline of the meal is the same. I don’t have to (over)think about it. It’s instinctual.
Yes, we need food to nourish and sustain our bodies. But I also believe that food is to be enjoyed. If I had to choke down something I hated everyday to “be healthy,” I would be screwed. I couldn’t do it. I love food too much. I know that there are people out there who view food as “fuel” and nothing more. I don’t understand these people; they are like alien life forms to me, as I probably am to them.
But the good news is that even if you love food like I do, eating in a way that helps your body feel its best does not have to mean giving up on enjoyment. You can celebrate your body and your food at the same time, you just have to find what works for you. I can’t tell you here in this blog post what that should be, that is something everyone must discover for themselves. But I can show you what worked for me and where I found it!
What foods do you know help your body, and which ones hurt it? If you are having trouble figuring that out, call me at 614-517-2520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can learn together what works best for you!