The other night, I was talking with a friend who tends to be very concerned about what she eats and how she exercises. She is perfectly healthy and has no history of being overweight, but she lives in fear of “getting fat.” I was attempting to explain to her that the human body is a wonderfully self-regulatory machine, and that she needn’t count every single calorie or gram or even worry that much about what she eats. At one point, she asked me, “I just don’t know how you can eat like that and still be in such good shape!” (I was chomping down on a handful of marshmallows and a green tea latte while we talked.) First of all, let’s clarify that although I’m certainly “in shape,” I won’t be mistaken for a bikini competitor or one of the women from the CrossFit games anytime soon. I do, however, have a stronger, leaner, and healthier body than I ever have before. (Keep in mind that strength, leanness, and health are all separate qualifiers here…they are not necessarily dependent on one another, i.e. you don’t have to be lean to be healthy, you don’t have to be healthy to be strong, etc.) Because of that, it’s probably no surprise that I’m happier with my body than ever before.
The secret is that I have no secret – I eat what I want when I want it, and I get on with my life. I don’t weigh my food or count calories or track macronutrients. It’s no different for anyone else. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be aware of what we eat and the impact it will have on our bodies, but we also need to remember that it’s just food.
All of it was delicious.
We follow diets and count macronutrients and seek out obscure superfoods, all in the pursuit of health, beauty, even happiness. To a certain extent, that can be a good thing. It is so cool that we as a society are learning more about nutrition and the tremendous impact our diet can have on our health. But there’s a downside, from my perspective, to this emerging field of nutrition science, and that’s the neurotic focus on calories and various nutrients. Don’t get me wrong here, I am enormously nerdy when it comes to nutrition, and I love figuring out how to improve my healthy by what I eat. I still have tastebuds, though, sod I have a little personal rule: I don’t eat any food that I don’t enjoy. If something is good for my health, but I can’t stand it, I won’t eat it. Sometimes I find ways to enjoy those foods (like blending spinach up into a smoothie so that I can’t taste it), but if not, I don’t worry. And if something is not good for my health but I love it, I’ll eat it anyway. Sometimes I find ways to make those foods a little healthier (like throwing those chocolate chips on top of a smoothie to mask the taste of spinach and death), but if not, I don’t worry. Barring any kind of food allergy or specific illness, you can eat just about any food at a given meal without lasting repercussions. I’m not saying you should just throw back McDonald’s for every meal, but there’s also nothing wrong with eating things outside the rather limited list of “clean” foods (or paleo/raw/pescatarian/etc.) that you may feel indebted to. Sometimes it seems like people have forgotten how to just eat! Meals should not be a source of anxiety, confusion, or guilt. It took me quite a long time to come to this place where I can just eat, without worrying or feeling like I’m going to somehow damage my health or my figure. I probably haven’t been this relaxed about food and my diet since I was 12…And what do you know, I’m healthier than ever before, and my body reflects that. It’s a hell of a lot happier way to live than obsessing over food, I can tell you that much. So for those of you who may be at a point where food is a source of stress or confusion or anxiety, I want to challenge you with two questions to ask yourself next time you are deciding what to eat:
Do I like this food?
If the answer is no, then find something else to eat. If the answer is yes, that’s great! Time for the second question:
Does this food support my goals?
If the answer to that is also yes, then chow down. If the answer is no, then think about eating something else – something that you enjoy and which supports your goals. Remember, though, “goals” are a broad concept, and health is holistic. For example, I’m not about those crash diets and “double days” just so I can look good for a photoshoot or an event or a swimsuit season…and I definitely believe that health encompasses more than the physical. Mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health are all critical parts of the equation. There are plenty of times when I choose to eat foods because I like them and they support my goal of sustainable health in terms of encouraging my social health (i.e. burgers at a barbeque with friends), mental health (i.e. coffee, all the coffee), or emotional health (looking at you, Lindt 92% dark chocolate…we have a real good time together). Here’s an example: I don’t eat spinach. It’s not because of any kind of food sensitivity or particularity about pesticides or GMOs. It’s just because it tastes like dirt and celibacy and sadness and dirt. I don’t like it, so I don’t eat it. We are so fortunate to live in a world where we have abundant food and a myriad of choices about what we eat. It’s incredible that we have the blessing of being able to enjoy the food that fuels our bodies. Life is too short and too good to live shackled by diet-obsession, food-guilt, macro-counting, and micromanaging your nutrition. Eat foods you enjoy. Eat foods that support your goals – all of your goals. (The same goes for physical movement – be active in ways you enjoy and that support your goals.) And then get on with your life. You are more than just a body, and you are certainly more than what you eat.
Do you enjoy what you eat?
Do you worry about what you eat?
What’s your personal approach to nutrition?