Food For Thought The Great Diet Debate

March 2, 2011

“What should I eat?” I get asked this question all the time.

You would think after studying nutrition the answer would come easily. But by far the most valuable thing I learned at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition was that the old adage “One man’s food is another man’s poison” is spot on. We were taught theory after theory (each one seemingly made perfect sense), and then left to discern which ones we thought were valid.

We were taught theory after theory (each one seemingly made perfect sense), and then left to discern which ones we thought were valid.

In the end, it became clear that there is no one diet that is beneficial for everyone, no “one size fits all”.

Some people fare better eliminating most or all meat from their diet while some individuals living a vegetarian lifestyle find themselves with a host of physical ailments.

I know this all too well. I radically changed my diet when dealing with a chronic illness, eating a mostly raw, vegetarian diet and leaving my beloved cheeseburgers and fries behind.

Initially, I know that this change helped to start me on my path to wellness, but eventually, I found it to be unsustainable.

I ended up with a thyroid imbalance and adrenal fatigue – both health issues that are not easily overcome on a vegetarian diet.

In my heart and soul, I want to be a vegetarian, but I have finally learned to pay attention and discern what it is that I need for optimal health. We were given one precious body in this lifetime and we need to honor it by caring for it the best that we can.

When I use the term “diet” I prefer the Merriam-Webster definition habitual nourishment rather than a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight, as in going on a diet.

In fact, a proper healthy diet can eliminate forever the need to diet. After spending countless hours navigating the waters of the nutrition world (often using myself as a guinea pig), I offer you some tips that can help you avoid some of the mistakes I made:

Start slowly. Make gradual changes in your diet rather than drastic ones. Your body will thank you. It works very hard trying to maintain balance on its own without shocking it with a totally foreign menu.

Observe how certain foods make you feel. In the beginning, you may opt to keep a food diary, but beware of becoming obsessive about your new healthy eating.

There is actually a term for this “eating disorder”. It’s called Orthorexia Nervosa and many people (myself included) have experienced this, especially if they’re trying desperately to heal themselves from a serious illness. Be gentle with yourself.

Be gentle with yourself.

Eat mindfully. Take the time to honor the food on your plate, be it animal, vegetable or mineral.

Eat slowly and try not to multitask. You will be amazed at how much better your digestion is when you eat your food without being stressed.

A piece of chocolate, joyfully savored will have a more positive effect on the body than a healthy salad that is gobbled down on the run.

In Ayurveda, there is a saying “It’s not You are what you eat, but rather You are what you digest.”

They also advise against drinking cold liquids with a meal – they put out the digestive fire. The teachings of Ayurveda have positively impacted my life more than any other health care system. Check it out!

Focus on whole foods. As much as possible, try to eat foods the way nature intended them to be eaten.  This is what the body knows how to assimilate and what it needs to survive.

When you feed it processed junk food, it doesn’t know what to do with it and so it keeps sending out hunger signals, looking for the real thing. This is one of the best tips for maintaining your optimal weight.

If you start focusing on eating whole foods, you will find that you’re no longer hungry between meals.

One caveat here is that the fruits and vegetables should be preferably organic, local and GMO-free. The pesticide load in conventional produce is off the charts and has a cumulative effect in our bodies, and the longer the distance the food travels, the less nutrient-dense it is.

If you choose to eat meat, opt for grass-fed, free-range, humanely raised, local and organic. Not only will it be healthier for you, but also for the planet. Avoid any meat or poultry that comes from a factory farm.

Respect others. We all like to think that we’re right when it comes to these issues. But when it turns into righteousness things can get ugly. I’ve survived my fair share of teasing from family and friends while I tested the waters of various healthy diets. To each, his own is my new mantra. And last but not least,

There’s more to good health than good nutrition. Joshua Rosenthal, the founder of IIN, coined the phrase Primary Food, suggesting that spirituality, relationships, career and physical activity are every bit as important for creating optimal health.

No doubt about it, our body, mind, and spirit are inextricably connected. Put your focus here as well as what you put on your plate and you’ll be a happy camper!

  1. Very interesting and I totally agree with your way of thinking! I also noticed something from my own experience: the way I used to eat was good then and now that I am older, I feel I have to modify it a little to fulfill different needs. The ultimate goal, I think, is to learn to listen and respect our body! Namaste!

  2. This was such a great post, Barbara! I especially loved what you said about dieting and how having a healthy and moderate diet (the first definition) will prevent you from having to diet (the second definition). So true!


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