We are headed into a major health epidemic in this culture. It's called: fat.
By the year 2045, statistics indicate that 48% of all Americans will be obese. Not just overweight, obese. Of the remaining 52%, just under half of those people will be overweight. We don’t know how to eat well anymore. We have lost a sane, basic understanding of and healthy relationship to food.'
There are a few things we should also acknowledge.
1. Many of us have no experience eating in a healthy way. Often our parents are overweight.
2. Food is medicine. Meaning that the junky food we eat will make us feel junky. We call feeling junky things like: acid reflux, lack of energy, headaches, digestive distress, vertigo, depression, anxiety, etc. While food isn’t the sole cause of these and many other conditions, is can be the sole cause or a major contributor. Many of us are now taking medicine daily to address these conditions, medicines that are so familiar to us that we have normalized taking them, such as Tylenol, Advil, Prilosec, Xanax, etc. We must remember that eating well makes us feel light, clear-headed, energetic, and cheerful.
3. In order to understand our own issues with food we must be willing to sort out our muddled thinking. For example, people will say:
Yes, we do eat whole grains and balanced meals, and we drink two diet cokes everyday. That’s OK isn’t it?
Or: my parents are overweight, it's in my genes to be fat.
4. Making and eating food is thoroughly enjoyable and is meant to be that way!
How do we reestablish a fundamentally sane and enjoyable relationship to food? Let's look at the issues.
Since 1970 with the publication of Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore de Lappe, the first major eat well treatise written in the US, there have been hundreds of well researched books written about food. There are great books about the politics of food, the green imperative about eating locally, the components of healthy diets. There are many books that outline how to eat well, establish the right balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats, the importance of veggies and whole grains, etc. There are many different ‘scientifically proven’ diets, many of them giving contradictory information. How do we sort all of this out? How does this translate to our kitchens and tables? Lets start with the basics.
What we need to know about food has been articulated well already. Generally, we don’t need new information or another diet to follow. We simply need to begin to eat well, everyday. We know the fundamentals: eat veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein. Its better to eat them fresh, locally sourced, and ideally organic.
When people come in to see me about food, they almost always start by affirming this: but I eat well! If we know this, why is there a growing problem? Our problem is what else we’re eating, how much we’re eating, and when we’re eating.
The Four Poisons
There are four foods that many of us eat routinely that are causing problems: chips, soda, deserts, and caloric snacks. The significant word here is: routinely. None of these foods should be in our regular diet. Not daily, rarely weekly, and for some of us hardly ever. For most people, they are OK when eaten infrequently as a treat. What is infrequent?: once every few weeks.
Shopping and Restaurants
The best way to eat well is to watch what you buy. If you buy cookies, chips, muffins, coke, etc, thinking you’ll eat them sparingly, think again. You’ll most likely eat them, all.
Don’t buy them.
We often think: my kids deserve this treat. It's OK for them to eat these things. Why? If it's not OK for you, it's not OK for them. Don’t get them started on unhealthy habits. Make or buy cookies sparingly. Make or buy a cake or muffins sparingly, once every few weeks.
When you shop, buy the most wholesome, delicious, fresh and local food available.
The same is true for eating in restaurants. We often think: I can splurge here, treat myself. The problem is that many people eat at restaurants several times a week. A good rule for eating at restaurants is: we don’t need the bread that comes in that lovely basket. Ask the waitress not to bring it. Restaurant food tastes good because it is often full of salt, sugar, butter, and cream – all foods that contribute to unhealthy fat. Choose from the menu wisely and maintain your food discipline when you order. Its a challenge because that menu is like a free pass at the candy store. Again, buy and order wisely, all the time.
Many people are eating well, just eating too much of a good thing. Its helpful to pay attention to the experience of getting full. We should stop eating when we are approaching fullness, not after we are full or stuffed. We needn’t finish the food on our plate – leftovers and compost are good options.
It's the name of the game. Discipline isn’t inherently stern or heavy-handed. It's simply clear. With discipline we are able to relax and enjoy our lives.
Sugar and Processed Foods
Viruses thrive on sugar. Cancers are viruses. The modern American diet is bathed in a regular intake of sugar. Its in every processed food. We don’t need processed foods or the added sugar and chemicals in them. The imagined allure of processed foods is ease. However, eating healthy food requires little time or effort. Eating well means not eating processed foods.
This includes first and foremost: breakfast cereals! Stop eating them. For your health and well being, stop eating processed breakfast cereals, granola bars (which are glorified cookies), and breakfast bars. They are full of calories and sugar and deliver minimal nutrition.
Sugar should be eliminated by anyone who is fighting a virus or experiences routine inflammation, stress, anxiety, and fatigue. This includes white flour - pasta, bread, english muffins, baguette, baked goods, etc. - which acts essentially as sugar does in our body. All alcoholic beverages have a high sugar content. The regular exceptions to no sugar intake are fruits low in sugar such as berries, apples, melons, kiwi, peaches, and citrus. Otherwise: make sugar an occasional treat.
A lot of people eat pretty well, just too much of it. Make the effort to cut the quantity down. We shouldn’t feel full or stuffed at the end of every meal. Simply satisfied. Don’t eat it just because it's there, save what you don’t need for leftovers or the compost.
When Do I Eat?
Most people need three meals a day. We should eat a good, hearty breakfast and lunch and a light dinner. When we eat a heavy dinner, we go to bed with a lot of calories to burn! Skipping breakfast has the same reasoning: you’re not getting enough energy to fuel your day when you skip breakfast. Most people need a mid morning snack and another snack at 3-4 pm. Snack foods are simple: fruit or veggies! With some nuts.
We must remember that we can keep food simple. Eating doesn’t have to be the ever changing exotic experience we expect. Most of us easily fall into a simple routine with food. Save the exotic ideas for a special meal. Most of the people in the world eat the same food three meals a day, often beans and rice (a complete protein) with veggies. We, too, can keep food simple, especially when it comes to breakfast. In our culture we think that we must eat “breakfast foods” at breakfast time. If this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.
Plain water is the best thing for you to drink. Without exception, all other drinks you buy and drink provide non or low nutritional calories, including fruit juice. Children and adults need to establish a fundamental habit of drinking 6-8 glasses of water every day. Most people are somewhat dehydrated. Dehydration is a contributing factor for all illness. Carbonated water of any kind contributes to dehydration - carbon added to water that we drink breaks down water molecules in our body.
Many people spend a lot of time and energy bemoaning the foods they can’t eat. This is a sure-fire way to create issues with food! Or they substitute favorite high carb foods with acceptable low carb do-overs. The problem here is that the low carb do-overs generally are processed and unhealthy foods. Food we'd never choose to eat. I find its enormously helpful to focus our attention on all the delicious foods we can eat that make up a healthy diet. More on the basics of what constitutes a healthy diet to come.
If I could make a list of my top ten food faves, it would have to begin with peaches, or is it raspberries? I could write a love poem to raspberries of all kinds…