What is Healthy Food Anyway?
Have you ever noticed that everyone’s definition of healthy food is different? Should we eat whole grain or no grain, low fat or high fat, sugar or sugar substitutes, gluten or gluten-free, lots of fruit or no fruit? Should we eat meat or go vegetarian. Maybe a vegan diet is the best choice. Putting together a meal is even more of a mystery. Are pancakes and bacon a suitable breakfast? Is cereal and fruit better? There are so many voices in the field of nutrition, and unfortunately many of the "so called" professionals have conflicting advice. Who is the authority? How can we know what is truly healthy?
There are several experts in this field, who try to convince the world that they know exactly what we should be eating. They show us research and success stories to support their theories and their programs, which all seem to make sense, until we try them. Often we jump into these programs whole heartedly, so optimistic and ready for change. The problem is that too often we don’t get the results we were hoping for, or even worse, our results are short lived. When we follow this idea that the perfect diet exists and we believe that our only job is to go out there and find it, we are setting ourselves up for failure. What worries me is that when we have experienced enough of these failures, we blame ourselves. Failing to achieve our health goals becomes stigmatizing. If we don’t eat “right” we feel it reflects a certain image to the world, that maybe we are too lazy or undisciplined to take proper care of ourselves and our family. Honestly, what is “right” and “healthy?”
I don’t know why people insist on acting like healthy eating is obvious. It’s not. I believe that there are some absolute truths about what can send us to an early grave, but for the most part there are huge gray areas that exist in nutrition. We are individuals. What is good for one person might not be good for another. Even more interesting is that what is good for one person today, might not be good for that same person tomorrow. Season to season, day to day, our bodies’ have different needs. Our stress level, how much we move during the day and our gender, are just a few examples of the factors that may affect the types and amounts of food we eat, as well as, how we digest and assimilate our food. Considering that our bodies’ needs are not constant it becomes obvious that healthy eating is complex and personal.
Eating well can be difficult. That is why it is so easy to rely on family traditions and culture to dictate what we should eat. How many times have your heard, “Well, my Grandmother ate that and she lived to be 92.” Eating our family’s traditional foods is comfortable. It’s familiar and it is certainly easier than going out there and experimenting with every diet program that is marketed to us on a daily basis. One of the biggest problems that we face when trying to eat right is that the world is changing and food is changing too. What worked for grandma isn’t necessarily going to work for us. Different times call for different measures.
So what can we do? I believe that there are two steps to becoming the healthiest versions of ourselves. The first step is to discover the absolute truths that exist in the field of nutrition and the second step which is just as important as the first is to learn to listen to our bodies to figure out the rest of the health puzzle. I would consider absolute truths to be things like, eating vegetables, exercising and drinking water. There is no health conscious person on earth who would not advocate for those three essential components for wellness. Education is paramount. We have to learn as much as we can about dietary theories and how our bodies work in order to uncover the truth about what will keep us healthy. As we become savvy about what is going on in our bodies we are better able to evaluate what makes sense for us to try and what is most likely to work for us. The second step, listening to our body, is certainly more difficult and at times more frustrating, but is so worth it. We need to experiment with food and listen to our bodies in order to figure out what is best suited for our individual needs. We need to pay attention to what foods energize us and what weakens us, so that we can fill our diets with the foods that make us feel great.
Often people will try a gluten free diet and experience dramatic improvements in their quality of life. They then share this information with their doctor who might say something like, “A gluten-free diet is only beneficial for people with Celiac disease, and you don’t have Celiac disease; therefore, your improvements are imagined.” This type of situation is uncomfortable to say the least and often embarrassing for us the patient who was so excited about our discovery, only to feel extreme frustration and maybe even doubt at having our positive experience be dismissed as a figment of our own imagination. I am not saying that everyone should be on a gluten-free diet, but what I am saying is that our doctors know about the topics that they have been trained in. If you try something that gives you great results but that the doctor has not learned about, they are most likely going to disregard your findings. Don’t let that deter you. Listen to your body, and if your body is experiencing more vitality, mental clarity and overall wellness, then whatever you are doing is most likely right for you unless you are violating one of the absolute truths, of course. You are responsible for your own health and no one knows your body better than you do, so listen to your body and follow its lead.
We are unique. We are intelligent. We can be powerful, vibrant and healthy, but we need to accept that this transformation is a learning process full of trials and errors. We should be empowered by the fact that we are in control of our health. Although we require the guidance and assistance of others to show us the options or to share the experiences of those who have tried certain methods before us, we make the final informed decision. So, I would suggest that the next time you try to determine what is healthy, remember, it is all relative.
What does healthy eating mean to you? Please comment below.