The Real Secret To Healthy Eating
Last night (as of the time of writing) I had gluten for the second time in about six months. Gluten is at the tippy top of my list of no-nos. My most forbidden of forbidden fruit. But I don’t regret it at all. It was a choice.
Earlier this week Sarah (my wife) and I celebrated our one year anniversary. The next day I handed in my letter of resignation so that I could take a stab at flying solo. Throughout the rest of the week I bought Jason’s future, rebranded my blog, took some online courses and otherwise invested hardcore in the future that I want. And yesterday I won my first ever disc golf tournament in the Advanced division (something I’ve been working crazy hard toward).
It was one of the best weeks of my life. It very well might have been the second best week of my life behind only my wedding week.
Never before have I felt more like me. Never before have I been happier about the direction that I’m pointing.
The awards ceremony for yesterday’s disc golf tournament was in the tasting room of Dew Point Brewing Company. I wanted a beer. I didn’t have an unquenchable temptation for a beer. I wanted a beer. So I had one. And then I had another, because I wanted a second. And that was enough for me.
I wanted to celebrate an incredible week. And I wanted a beer as a part of that celebration. I was aware that the choice didn’t align with my dietary principles. But I was also aware that the celebration was more important to me on that occasion than was the dietary indiscretion.
Today I’m back on the gluten-free wagon. I don’t feel guilty. I don’t feel like I “cheated”. I don’t feel tempted to give up my way of eating because of an hour in opposition.
That’s because my healthy eating is a lifestyle. Not a diet. Sure, it’s semantics. Technically of course it’s a diet. But you know what I mean. So let’s not get all pissy ;)
My Old Diet
Strategy: Avoid gluten, sugars, grains, vegetable oils and legumes at all costs. Eat lots of healthy fats, proteins and vegetables.
One or two bad nights on my old diet and it went down the toilet. A "cheat" would usually start a two-week period of a “screw it” mentality. A downward spiral of terrible eating simply because I had already failed, so it didn’t matter.
I didn’t get it. I was valuing the diet itself, not my health. I wanted to be able to call myself “Paleo” or “Primal” or whatever. That label was important to me. Once I felt like I had failed that label, of course I felt like a failure.
My Current Dietary Lifestyle
Strategy: Understand the impact of different foods on my body. Understand how important or unimportant those different impacts are to me. Make choices accordingly.
This means I now avoid sugars, grains, vegetable oils and legumes to the degree possible, but I don’t worry about consuming those things occasionally. I eat lots of healthy fats, proteins and vegetables, but don’t freak out if I go a day without veggies or a day without eating a lot of fat. I avoid gluten at almost all costs, and try not to compromise on this one very often.
But I’m not going to beat myself up over any decision that I make intentionally. If I take the time to weigh the pros and cons and I choose the winner, why would I be upset with myself for that?
I’m not a “Paleo” or “Primal” eater now. I have principles that align more or less with those ideals (though far less on the extreme end). But that’s not who I am.
It likely comes as no surprise that I’m eating healthier now than I ever have. I feel better than I ever have. And... just throwing this out there... I look pretty good naked.
Now, whether it happens intentionally or in a moment of weakness, eating some unhealthy food doesn’t derail my overall healthy lifestyle.
It can’t derail my overall healthy lifestyle because my values are different now. I don’t value perfection anymore. I don’t value my ability to stick to a rigid set of criteria. I value my body, health and happiness. Most times that means eating “cleanly”. Sometimes that means straying a little bit because it’s important to me. And doing what’s important to me is important to me.
Want To Eat Healthily?
I recommend Mark Sisson’s book, The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation. Another of his books, The Primal Blueprint, is also great. But I find the former to be a bit more digestible (hah).
Mark’s book is more or less what I hold to be true. But you have to do your own research and develop your own dietary principles. Dietary advice is soooo divided. After your research you might align with Mark’s principles. Or maybe with vegan ones or maybe with USDA Food Pyramid ones. The specifics aren’t the important thing. The important thing is that you find something that you put merit in.
Whatever specifics you decide on, knowledge is key. Long-term healthy eating is going to be nearly impossible without an understanding of how different foods impact your health. It’s going to be hard to abstain from pasta, for example, if you don’t understand what pasta does to your body. It’s such an arbitrary abstention.
On the flip side, once you know what pasta does to your body it’s absurdly easy to abstain. I never get so much as the tiniest craving for pasta. Grossness.
That pasta aside is true for me. It might be different for you. Again, that’s fine. I’m not a dietitian.
To eat healthily you need to understand food and then make your own choices. Sometimes that will mean eating unhealthy foods anyway. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with a grown up making a decision that might not be the absolute healthiest. After all, we need to take care of mental health, too.
Informed, purposeful decisions are good decisions. Even if they go against your baseline principles. And there’s no need to call these decisions “bad” decisions the next day. No need to call them “cheats”. They are value-based decisions made during a time where your values were slightly different than normal. Not a thing in the world is wrong with that.
Want Someone Else to Eat Healthily?
Once you discover the impact that food has on your body it’s natural to start freaking out when you see what loved ones are doing to their bodies.
You can’t make someone eat healthily. Maybe you can get a loved one to eat better temporarily by telling them what to eat and what not to eat. But it won’t last. Without a deep understanding of the impacts of different foods it’s all too easy to reach for the macaroni and cheese. Or the ear of corn.
Trying to eat healthily is a fruitless effort without an understanding of what healthy eating is.
Imagine if you’d been raised your whole life to think that corn was good for you and then someone tried to tell you that it was actually bad for you. It wouldn’t register. You might stop eating it for a week. But then you’d go to a barbecue a month later and ask yourself “why exactly am I not supposed to be eating this, again?” And that would be the end of that.
Your only hope to help your loved ones is to urge that they educate themselves. But even then, you can’t make someone care more about their health than they want to. You can give people all the resources and encouragement that they need. If they still don’t care then they still don’t care. I’m not sure that this can be changed.
You may even find that some of your loved ones are willfully ignorant. That is, they object to becoming more educated because they know it means that they will have to confront their way of eating. And they aren’t comfortable with this. Again, you can’t force this on them.
The best thing to do is just keep being you. Set an example. Soon enough some of your loved ones may start taking notice and inquiring about what keeps you so happy and healthy. Others never will take notice. But that’s not on you.
No matter what, though, never feel bad about being true to yourself. Never feel like you have to compromise on your own health just because someone in your network doesn’t share the same values as you. Your values are just as important as that person’s. Don’t be afraid to offend that person. Take care of yourself. Value yourself. And frankly, if someone close to you has a problem with the fact that you value yourself, maybe it’s time to reconsider that relationship.
Sometimes you will feel pressure to stray from your dietary principles. Sometimes you will want a beer even though beer is opposed to your dietary principles. That’s fine. Do whatever you think is the best decision.
For example, we were visiting Sarah’s parents on the night before our anniversary. They got us a cake to celebrate. And sang “Happy Anniversary To You” to us. It was so sweet.
Sarah chose to eat the cake. I politely declined. Both of our decisions were correct.
Sarah feels terrible declining in situations like that, so she accepts. To her, being a polite guest is more important than some minor damage to the body. Those are her values, so she made the right decision.
I feel slightly uncomfortable declining in such situations, but also hold the attitude that anybody who truly cares about me will understand the respect that I have for my body. So I declined as nicely as I could. Those are my values, so I made the right decision.
Giving in to pressures because you want to is not the same as letting other people pressure you into eating in a way you don’t want to.
Healthy is Flexible
Not everybody can afford farm-raised, grass-fed, organic unicorn meat. Not everybody can afford to turn down a free meal of less-than-healthy food. That’s fine. Healthy eating isn’t about absolute perfection. It’s about doing the best with the resources we have.
And everybody who is reading this has a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips. The Internet can be a distracting tunnel of waste. But it can also be so so helpful.
We can all inform ourselves. We can all use that information to make the best decisions available to us.
It’d be easy to argue that the real secret to healthy eating is consuming foods A, B and C and avoiding foods X, Y and Z. But that misses the point.
Take a step back, and it’d be easy to argue that the real secret to healthy eating is knowledge or discipline or curiosity. All important things, but all come up short.
The real secret to healthy eating? Caring.