The best diet is a whole foods diet, with foods eaten as close to their natural state as possible. Rather than eating out or buying packaged foods, cook your meals from fresh ingredients. Do not obsess over calories, but rather be aware of calories (they are not as important as we have been led to believe). Focus on your relationship to food, and the quality of foods that you eat. Here are three guidelines that may be helpful in choosing a diet:
1. Eat fresh, unprocessed foods.
2. Be mindful of the connection between your food choices, your body, and the planet.
3. Avoid deprivation.
1. Eat fresh, unprocessed foods. The closer your food is to its natural state, the better. Manufactured food is designed to be hyperpalatable. It is engineered with the trinity of sugar, salt, and fat that makes you eat more than your body needs. It is designed—-quite deliberately—to stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain that are involved in addictive behaviors. When they say “You can’t eat just one” they really mean it. If this makes you feel like the food industry is not your friend, then use that feeling to help you to say “no” to processed foods.
If this is the only change you make in your habits, you will notice a major improvement. Most of this food is found on the edges of the supermarket, or in farmer’s markets. Food that comes in a box or package with a long list of ingredients (and a long shelf-life) is probably low in fiber, loaded with chemicals, and high in carbohydrates. These types of foods wreak havoc on our metabolism and lead to weight gain. They create craving, and make us feel like we need to keep eating and eating, hopelessly chasing that elusive feeling of satiety.
You may think that you don’t have the time to shop for fresh food. However, this may not be the case. There are food delivery services that can deliver food to your home. What you pay in a delivery charge might turn out to be less than the cost of health complications. You can buy whole foods that are frozen, bagged, or canned to save frequent trips to the store. Be creative, and start small. This can be done.
Once you make it a priority, you will find that with some planning, this will not take as much time as you think. Larger meals can be cooked in a slow-cooker while you are at work and your family can come home to a wholesome, hot meal. Simpler meals can be “assembled” from fresh ingredients, such as salads, dried fruits, and protein. You can freeze soups and stews. Tonight’s dinner can be packed up for tomorrow’s lunch. You’ll develop a routine—a new normal.
2. Be mindful of the connection between your food choices, your body, and the planet. As you begin to develop the mindfulness muscle, you will expand your awareness of everything around you and within you.
Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Savor contains a mindful eating exercise. As you mindfully eat an orange, you savor the sweetness, the citrusy scent, the effect it has on your body, and the cheerful beauty of the fruit. Also, consider all that went into creating the orange—the sunshine, air, water, farm workers, bees, birds, trucks, fuel, etc. As you eat it, tune into how your body responds and how you feel after 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Compare how whole foods vs. processed foods affect your digestion, mood, energy levels, and satiety.
Every morsel of food is an opportunity to practice mindful eating. Our eating behaviors have a profound effect on our health and the planet.
3. Avoid deprivation. The worst thing you could do is to throw out every last box of processed food in one fell swoop. While this might feel cathartic, in the long run it will backfire. You run the risk of giving up entirely.
Deprivation only causes an internal rebellion, and creates a “scarcity” mentality. This mentality leads to the habit of chronically restricting food intake (bad idea). This alters our metabolism and contributes to yo-yo dieting. Avoid a mentality that focuses on what you are “giving up.” Focus on what you are gaining. Health, vitality, control. With this mindset, make small changes in your habitual food choices that are more likely to last.
These guidelines should help you to gradually move your diet in the right direction. As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them below or send an email my way.