Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What We Eat, and Why

It's amazing to me that food is the center of most of my conversations. It's positive, it's negative, it's confusing. Food is the primary source of life, and we are always faced with food options, diet books, what we should and shouldn't be eating. Organic or not? Fat or fat-free? No fake sugars, oh wait, except for stevia. What? How do we know what to eat? What's the right information, and does it really matter?

Tonight, I saw Suzanne Somers on television talking about some "radical" cancer treatment that uses food as medicine (that, and nutritional supplements). It reminded me that what we eat has a great effect on the health of our bodies. Of course, I know this. I know that we need certain specific nutrients, a certain balance of protein, carbs, and fat, and that we need to keep our sugar intake to a minimum. I've studied endlessly about nutrition and why we should eat certain foods, and know exactly what I should be eating every day.

But applying this knowledge on a practical level isn't always easy. For me, it's mostly a convenience issue. I forget to pack food, or find myself starving and faced with an easy, not-so-healthy option.

There are times, too, where temptation overrules willpower, when I am sitting across from a plate of french fries, and find myself reaching for one, then a few more, and some more still. Temptation for salty snacks (like fries, chips) is so strong for me, that when I order my once weekly burger, I order it like this, "A well-done cheeseburger, no bun or toppings, no fries. Just the burger with cheese on a plate, and Tabasco on the side." I know that if the plate has fries on it, I will find a way to make it okay in my head, and later regret it.

Now an occasional side of fries isn't the worst thing in the world. My problem with having them, though, is that I will knock myself incessantly for days for having eating them. And I don't like to make any food, or food choice, the enemy. Moreover, I don't like making myself feel bad for something that I chose to do.

Many fit people have eating down to a science. They eat whole foods, and don't give food any emotional power. Food is fuel, energy, power. Food is life sustaining. They eat foods that aren't chemical laden, but are grown organically and by local farmers.

There are also people who eat specifically to stay thin. They eat fat-free, low-calorie foods, without regard to the fact that they are heavily processed, sweetened with aspartame, and have little nutritional value.

Why do we eat what we eat?

As I get older, I am more diligent about choosing foods to sustain my health. After a battery of blood work came back "completely normal" for me, and the doctor said, "kidneys look good, liver looks good, cholesterol is normal," I felt so grateful for the report that decided to be especially kind to my body by upping the good foods that I eat. This is tough, because the weight that I want to lose just isn't coming off as fast as I'd like, and drastically cutting calories is tempting. But I know that doing so will just lead to unhealthy muscle loss, and my health means too much for me to do that.

I recently read Nina Planck's book, Real Food, and loved the basic idea, which is to eat the wholest foods possible. Raw cheeses, farm fresh veggies and fruits, antibiotic free meats. Always organic and local, when available. If we eat real food, just real food, our bodies will respond well. Shopping the outside aisles will give us fruits and vegetables, cheeses, meats, and yogurts. If our plates are fruit and veggie based, with proper portions of proteins and fats, we will be eating really well.

Portion size is so important, too. If we eat off of smaller plates - think appetizer size plates - then we will eat less, closer to the right portion size. A proper protein portion should fit in the palm of your hand, no more. Never eat anything from a bag, and always know how much you are eating, with the exception of vegetables. I like to eat tons of vegetables, and huge salads that are just lettuces, greens, and spinach, with 1 serving of goat cheese, some cucumbers and lime juice. I believe that you can never have too many vegetables, so long as they are fresh or steamed, and without added fat.

The point is to get to a place where eating a well-balanced diet is natural. The brilliant Body For Life meal plan has participants eating six 300 calorie meals six times a day, with a certain balance of lean protein and healthy carbohydrates. It's not about counting calories though, but instead you estimate by eyeballing what you are eating. A palm sized piece of grilled chicken and a salad with red wine vinegar will never get you fat. The point is to get used to eating healthy and eating often. Eating often keeps your metabolism, and energy, up.

No one eats perfectly, and being obsessed with eating isn't a good thing anyway. Instead, we just need to be mindful of what we put into our body, and why.

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