Today I would like to discuss an important topic, the relationship between what we choose to eat and how those choices affect our overall health. There are many different diets and lifestyles out there and an equally large number of reasons behind those lifestyle decisions, our dietary choices can be made based on health, financial limitations, available time, ease, convenience…
I truly believe that each person has a different ideal diet, based on their preferences, needs, allergies and overall health. I believe that if you listen to your body – how it feels after certain foods are consumed, what your energy levels are like, how well you sleep – you can determine what works best for you. Some people will need to consume or limit consumption of various foods due to allergies and/or health concerns and I recommend discussing this with a doctor or dietitian prior to making any changes to your diet.
That being said, I think that nutrition is the single greatest factor impacting personal health today. According to the CDC the increasing cases of diabetes indicate that 1 in 3 Americans will be diagnosed at some point during their lifetime (CDC). To me that is an even more terrifying statistic because Type II diabetes is preventable. Yes, you can be predisposed, but leading a healthier and more active life can reduce the likelihood of contracting the disease regardless of genetic predisposition.
People are beginning to become aware of this important correlation and as a result there is increased scrutiny on how healthcare professionals treat illnesses and the level of nutritional education being recommended/received in these related fields. The following article was sent to me by a doctor that I work with and I thought it provided an excellent outline of the important role of nutrition in good health (What physicians don’t know about nutrition – but have every reason to learn).
A quick look at the leading causes of illness and death makes it clear that knowledge of nutrition is critical to the modern practice of medicine. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, innumerable cancers —all are linked at least in part to poor diet. What’s more, the success of many of the treatments and interventions used to address these illnesses hinges on improving diet and nutrition.
Yes, it is easier to take a pill to alleviate a symptom than it is to change your lifestyle, eating habits and possibly your entire outlook in order to cure the underlying problem that is causing those symptoms. The question is, is it better for you in the long run?
This question is the basis for how I approach my personal health. Sure, you can pop some aspirin for a headache, but why do you have a headache to begin with? Are you dehydrated? Are you hungry? In our modern world built on convenience and instant gratification, it’s habit to reach for the most accessible and effortless cure for what ails us, not necessarily what’s best for us.
I loved Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic when I was growing up and there was a line in it that resonated with me each time that I read the book:
Sometimes they ate nothing but Snickers and Milky Ways for nearly the whole week, until their stomachs began to ache and they finally called for a salad or a glass of milk.
As children we’re more in-tune with our bodies, we don’t binge or stress eat. Yes, we’ll try to get away with eating nothing but Halloween candy if our parents will let us, but eventually we give into our body’s true needs. Have you ever tried to feed a baby when it has gotten full? They will stubbornly refuse to take another bite, no matter how hard you try. Somewhere along the line we stop listening to our bodies and we lose that connection with our body’s basic demands. What goes into our body stops being what we need, what our bodies want, and starts being based on emotion or preoccupation or comfort.
One of the most significant lessons that I’ve learned in the last few years is the art of listening to my body, and I can’t begin to convey how much that has altered my approach to eating and to food in general.
In your search for the lifestyle that gives you the most energy and makes your body run at its best, I suggest doing research on your own while you try various alterations to your eating habits. In 2009 I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and had to learn to feed myself all over again. I had never been much of a cook, relying heavily on prepared and processed foods, and it was a bit of a shock to suddenly be faced with the task of not only teaching myself to cook, but educating myself on what I could and couldn’t, should and shouldn’t, eat. I did online research, watched documentaries and bought an embarrassing number of books on the subjects of health and cooking.
Here are some of the books that I found interesting and/or helpful (even if I did not ultimately agree with their point or conclusion), in no particular order: Clean by Alejandro Junger, Live To Eat by Joel Fuhrman, The China Study by T. Colin Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell, Thrive & Thrive Fitness by Brendan Brazier, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone, Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman & Kim Barnouin, Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry, The Vegan Monologues by Ben Shaberman, Vegan Freak by Bob Torres & Jenna Torres, The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life by Melisser Elliott, Eating in the Raw by Carol Alt, Raw Inspiration by Lisa Montgomery, Raw Food Kitchen by Ani Phyo and a countless number of additional cookbooks.
By taking my nutritional education into hand I opened up an entire new world for myself. I had never heard of green smoothies, chia seeds, sweet potato fries, socca, polenta pizzas or quinoa before, all of which are now staples that I can’t imagine life without. During my late teens and early twenties I led a low-energy life that required immense quantities of caffeine and had suffered from sinus infections, migraines, eczema and annual bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis. Over the years I’ve tried incorporating and giving up various foods, studied the results and while I am still a work in progress, I am the healthiest and most energetic that I’ve ever been.
So I challenge you, next time you reach for the easiest, simplest cure for what ails you, take a minute to think about what might be going on in your body to cause your symptoms. Next time you reach for something packaged and highly processed, take a minute to think about what you body really wants, really needs. Next time you pour that third cup of coffee just to keep your eyes open, take a minute to think about what you’re eating that’s leaving you restless at night or your body sluggish in the mornings. Think about the connection between what you eat and how it makes you feel, and how better nutrition can improve your life.