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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

Self Care: Eat

From the Archive: December 2019

Don’t worry; I’m not going to tell you what to eat. After all, we don’t really know. Michael Pollan said that a hundred years from now they’ll look at our understanding of nutrition they way we look back at medicine in the Middle Ages. Of course there are plenty of people who think they know – Atkins! Paleo! Vegan! Ketogenic! Mediterranean! Ayurvedic! Asian! Non-dairy! Gluten free! Frequent small meals! Intermittent fasting! I’m not knocking any of them – I am certain each of these has the potential to tremendously improve the lives of people. Just not all people.

I knew a woman with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome who had exhausted all modern medical approaches, and who finally saw a Naturopath who advised her to avoid nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes) and carbs, and to eat “a pound of meat a day, the redder the better.” Sounded ridiculous… but it worked, and she went from being unable to walk more than a block a day to living a normal active life. But that doesn’t mean everyone needs to do likewise. Gluten, dairy, sodium, and sugar are all potentially dangerous to certain people. High saturated fat is hazardous to a person with cardiac issues, but potentially life-saving for someone with uncontrollable epilepsy.

I’m particularly struck by the occasional popularity of a regional diet – as if the health benefits of an Asian or Mediterranean meal are solely due to the food on the table, and not the cultural norms of the people around it. The French diet, rich in butter, full-fat cheese, and breads, would not strike us as “heathy,” yet the French people are generally healthier than Americans. It’s not just what they eat, but how they eat it – I highly recommend checking out this NPR story about preschool lunches in Paris. Of course, if you Google French diet, you’ll find yourself in the middle of yet another flurry of opinions about exactly what makes the French healthier (along with assertions that they aren’t after all). With so much contradictory information, who can you listen to?

Yourself. Ask your body what it needs. And then – this is the key detail – listen to the answer.

It might take a while. Your body probably isn’t accustomed to being listened to, so it might not speak up right away. (How many people who skip meals proudly declare they “never feel hungry”? Yet if you’ve ever tried eating small meals every 3-4 hours, one of the first results is that you start feeling hungry more, as your body realizes it might finally be worth asking you to feed it.)

Stop eating on auto-pilot. Stop eating while you’re doing other things. Every time you’re about to eat, pause for a moment and notice how you feel (physically and emotionally). Consider your food options, and see which ones are more appealing, and why. Once you choose, relish the choice. Slow down and savor your food. The taste, the texture, the memories it invokes, the meaning it carries. (This takes practice. Mind you, it can be really fun practice – like the exercise of taking at least five minutes to eat a bite-sized candy bar.) When you’re done, notice again how you feel, the effect your choice had one you. Take notes. You’ll start to see patterns, which can help steer your future food decisions. The goal is Normal Eating.

But if you really want at least a little advice… It’s better if you can recognize it as food. Cut back on processed food & preservatives (if bacteria or mold don’t want to eat it, maybe you shouldn’t either). As Michael Pollan says: “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”

Bon appetite!

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