(I Won’t Tell You) What You Should Eat – 4 Keys to Living Better
There’s a saying that you should never discuss religion or politics in polite company. To that, I’d like to add “what you should eat.”
Indeed, few other topics in human health can lead to such polarized and tribal viewpoints, expressed so vehemently.
In many ways, what we eat represents both the religion and politics of human health, and try as we might, the moment we scratch too far below the surface, it is virtually impossible to disentangle all three.
But, learning to talk clearly about what we eat is vital to our health and in today’s world — our relationships.
An Abundance of Questions…
Listen in on a group of people coming together over a meal, and there is a good chance, in our modern society, that you will hear a discussion around food, nutrition, and just what we are supposed to be eating, with representations being made for one extreme over another, and all associated with some sort of virtue or vice depending on which camp you align with.
You will hear low-fat versus low-carb, the establishment versus the anti-establishment, the abstainers versus the moderators, the vegans versus the paleos, the convenience of the industrial processed food complex versus the compassion of the organic regenerative grower.
The list goes on, with each extreme serving to signal our virtues and values.
And you thought you were simply eating because you were hungry…
…With Too Many Answers
You can perhaps begin to see, then, the difficulty an individual might have in navigating the nutrition advice landscape, trying to answer the simple question of “what do I eat?” or “what food do I feed my family?” when the source waters of such advice are so murky.
Imagine the information gauntlet people may run by searching an answer to the question should I eat meat?
The Appetite for Interpretation
There have been many noble attempts to simplify food & nutrition advice for the masses.
Unfortunately, for every simplistic statement or heuristic aimed at cutting through complexity, there is an attempt to overthink and over-analyse such statements, regaining the complexity (and then some), leaving everyone once again thoroughly confused.
All The “Helpful” Points of View
Take, for example, food writer Michael Pollan’s well known statement: “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Such a simple, face-valid statement, has been picked over and sliced and diced in all manner of ways in order to fit whatever nutritional worldview someone may hold.
Some see Pollan’s statement as a call to eat a plant-exclusive diet; “mostly plants” becomes “only plants.”
The very same “mostly plants” can be interpreted as “not exclusively plants” for those who want you to eat some meat. Processed food manufacturers have scrambled to “clean label” their products, renaming ingredients with otherwise chemical-sounding names to those which sound a bit more “natural” in order to make such products seem a bit more like real food.
Meanwhile, the everything-in-moderation crowd takes solace from Pollan’s “not too much” statement, seeing it as an endorsement for eating what you like as long as you don’t overdo it.
A Disadvantageous Information Overload
I can tell you, from my own personal experience of the countless posts, seminars, workshops, and two best-selling books dedicated to what to eat, there is always a sort of regression to the mean with any advice aimed at nudging people in a particular direction with their food choices.
The second-generation interpretation of such advice almost invariably becomes a prefix to the status quo, allowing individuals to signal either being on trend or holding some form of virtuosity via an “-approved” label.
See: low-fat cupcakes, low-carb cupcakes, vegan cupcakes, paleo cupcakes, gluten-free cupcakes, sugar-free cupcakes, free-range cupcakes … you get the picture.
So, What Should You Eat?
I’m not going to oversimplify for the sake of sounding good. What you eat is important, and we’re going to explore what works together.
Rather than defaulting to yet another overly simplistic statement devoid of nuance or context, or appealing to a heuristic likely to invite more scrutiny than its original intention could bear, I will seek to explore what we should eat, our connection (or often, our disconnection) to food, how food connects us to each other, and the profound influence what, how, and where we eat has on our health, energy, and outlook.
Readers who know my previous work — Whole9, Whole30, It Starts With Food — will see familiar roots and threads, but hopefully also an evolution (revolution?) in my thinking.
I’ll revisit some of my previous writings and concepts regarding food and eating, and will explore some new concepts and paradigms that have come to light since my original writings, taking a deep ecology approach to how we should eat.
How do I eat? My [updated] nutrition in A 60-second elevator pitch:
I eat naturally-occurring and minimally-processed foods like meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruits. I choose these intact, nutrient-dense foods over processed and ultra-processed packaged foodstuffs, which are often nutrient poor but calorie dense. Food quality is important to me – a concept which includes where my food comes from (local), how it was raised or grown (humanely; organic), and the overall environmental impact.
I aim for well-balanced nutrition, so I eat predominantly unprocessed plant-based foods, anchored by appropriate amounts of quality animal foods. This balanced combination of plants and animals provides me with all the nutrients I need, including all the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats naturally inherent in these food groups. But the social and cultural aspects of eating are just as important to me as what I eat.
I am not on a “diet.”
I choose foods which help to naturally regulate my appetite, and I avoid those foodstuffs which require willpower and moderation to not overeat them. I eat to maintain my physical, mental, and emotional energy levels. I eat to build and maintain important tissues such as my brain, muscles, and bones, helping me to stay active and strong, rather than eating (or not eating) to lose weight, which leaves me feeling moody, tired, and weak.
Eating like this is ideal for maintaining a healthy metabolism and reducing inflammation within the body – the root cause of many lifestyle diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular, and autoimmune disease. It’s good for energy levels, body composition, sleep quality, mental attitude, and quality of life. It helps eliminate cravings and establishes a healthy relationship with food and my body.
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P.S. If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to share in the comments below. I won’t be able to respond to everything but I will answer some questions in the comments, on Facebook, and on Instagram when I can. The clearer your question and the more relevant to a topic I’m exploring, the more likely I’ll answer. Thank you!