I published a book last year — Nope, You’re Not Crazy: Rising from the Swamp of Disordered Eating. Part memoir, part notebook, and part food for thought, I wrote the book I’d have liked to have found when I was struggling in my late teens and early twenties.
If you’re interested in checking it out, hop over to the Books page.
During the revision process, good chunks of material got cut out. (The fun of writing!) Today, I’d like to share some of the thoughts on components to setting a strong health foundation: what we eat and drink — and making changes in these areas.
When we and our teens feel crappy, it’s hard to show up.
FOOD AND A STRONG HEALTH FOUNDATION: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
We’ll start here: you are what you eat.
Yes, I know many of us have heard this, maybe you’re rolling your eyes. That’s okay.
Here’s the thing: junk food = junk mood.
I’ve found the work behind finding the “bliss point” in food-like substances rather interesting. If an approved item of “food” can mess with our hormones, nudge our bodies to keep on weight, trigger some folks to become hyperactive and lose focus, and make us want to keep eating, I’m wondering if it’s something we should be eating.
A rule of thumb that may be helpful: Aim for food grown from a plant rather than food made in a plant. Our bodies know how to deal with one; not so much the other.
When our body isn’t getting the stuff it needs, it’s going to act up to try and get our attention: think headaches, depression, skin breakouts and rashes, fatigue, irritability, brain fog, weight gain, constipation, gas, or a myriad of other things. Such symptoms are not something to just put up with or try to make go away — they are signs from our body that we need to look at what we’re doing and potentially change stuff up. Our bodies rarely get things wrong.
On the diet end (or what you eat), consider: there is no “perfect diet,” no one-size-fits-all way to eat (or live, for that matter).
What actually works? Listening to your body and finding what foods work for you.
We’re all individuals and have different needs. Some people feel great on a plant-based diet while others thrive with some meat and/or dairy. Ditching the grains may work well for another group. And there are many, many more dietary theories and approaches out there. No right or wrong; you find what works for you.
Also consider that our nutritional needs will vary across our lifetime and even throughout the year. Ever wonder why hot soup sounds better in the fall and winter than the summer?
Yes, there are a few items that generally work well across the board, including:
-Adding in more vegetables and fruits (especially leafy greens)
-Being mindful of animal products (smaller amounts of good quality meat and dairy go a long way)
-Going for more whole foods in place of processed and refined foods (especially those with added sugar)
-Drinking more water
A few other helpers:
-Sitting down when eating (the car doesn’t count!)
-Chewing your food (digestion actually starts in the mouth; when we skip chewing, we’re missing a step)
-Noticing what food smells and tastes like
Beyond these, consider what works for you. Any foods you feel really, really good after eating? I’m talking the contented, satisfied, digestive system flowing regularly type of good, not the “this is so amazing!!!” high in the moment that leads to a crash complete with irritability, fatigue, crankiness, brain fog, hangover, and/or digestive issues (e.g., bloat, gas, constipation, diarrhea).
Let’s move on to actually changing up the goodies going into our bodies so what we eat best serves us.
Some folks need and thrive with black-and-white boundaries and may be able to change many parts of their diet at once; if you’re one of those folks, awesome – totally go for it. I’m not one of those folks. For me, the likelihood a change will stick improves immensely going the baby steps route.
Forget what works for someone else (let’s leave the “shoulds” at the door), go the route that will work for you. (And if you start in one direction and things don’t seem to be working so well, no problem – you can change it up at any time.)
As a starting point on either route, let’s go for upgrading.
Say you like hot dogs. Cool. The next time you go grocery shopping, look for a package that is all beef without added hormones or antibiotics and where you can understand all of the ingredients. 100% grass-fed and/or organic versions are becoming more widely available in all sorts of grocery chains.
On the cost end, yes, 100% grass-fed beef and/or organic versions will cost a little more. I’ve found this at health food groceries as well as conventional grocery stores. What if we consider: we can pay the grocery stores and farmers a little more now or pay the doctor later. We get to choose.
To stay within the grocery budget while putting real food into the cart, becoming more intentional about what I’m buying is helping quite a bit; I hadn’t realized how much extra stuff I was throwing in. (“Do I really need that second bag of chocolate chips? What meals am I actually planning to make this week? I’ve got food already in the fridge; we may not need to eat out tonight”) I also started to notice other places I’d be kind of mindlessly spending money during the month but that didn’t add much value to my life. Tightening up here has helped too.
Continuing with the hot dog upgrade, on the bun end, look for a package containing ingredients you can recognize and read out loud without a dictionary or Dr. Google. If you’re feeling adventurous, extend the upgrades to your condiments: look for ketchup, mustard, relish, etc., containing recognizable ingredients. Go for stuff grown from a plant rather than stuff made in a plant.
When you’re up for branching out further, see where you can add some fresh fruit to the meal (e.g., slice an apple) or a few fresh or frozen veggies (I love me some frozen broccoli or green beans – budget-friendlier too). Aim to add a spoonful of extra color to your plate from veggies or fruit at each meal. If you’ve got kids, go for it too, even if they don’t eat it the first (or 15th) time – hey, they’re getting familiar with something different even if just looking at it on their plate. When you’re up for more, add a second spoonful of another color.
Perhaps upgrading seems like a small thing; maybe you’re shaking your head. That’s okay, I’ve rolled my eyes many a time. Give it a go for a day or a week. See what happens. We’re going to find ourselves a month down the road whatever route we take. A step each day will take us 30 steps down the road by the end of the month.
If aiming for an overhaul when it’s not your thing? You may find yourself forward; you may find yourself even farther back. With a little something each day, I promise it’ll knock your socks off where you’ll find yourself the next month and beyond, without breaking your budget, schedule, or finding yourself wailing in the corner, sure you’re a failure. Baby steps may be teeny, tiny, and small, yet they are movement. And magic happens when we’re moving.
Let’s spend a few on losing weight.
Consider: dieting, as in restricting what we’re eating to small amounts and/or certain foods in order to lose weight – what if it’s just a distraction, a detour, a cul-de-sac to nowhere? Why do we think we need to lose weight? Do we even actually need to lose weight? What if the whole “focus on our specific weight!” and losing weight thing is a bill of goods we’ve been sold and maybe not that helpful to health? (Check out some food for thought on BMI and the effectiveness of dieting.)
Also, ever notice that “must diet now” can be a stressful state to be in? My pulse is increasing thinking about it.
It kind of seems that many dieting methods are rather body hating and punishing (“what you’re doing is so, so wrong; you need to change everything”), and, frankly, unfun (“quit eating everything you’ve previously enjoyed and just eat grass”). When we put ourselves into such a space, our bodies might go into fight-or-flight mode. This mode says “Oh no! I might die! Store whatever I can as fat; I need to make sure I have some available energy for the future and I don’t know when I’ll be able to eat again!!”. Great if we’re really in danger. Not so helpful otherwise.
Move into the rest and relax mode and our bodies are more chill, relaxed, at ease. They trust more is coming and don’t feel a need to store calories as fat. Heck, they’re even okay burning fat for fuel. Perhaps a little more conducive to health. (Check out Dr. Libby Weaver for more food for thought on this topic.)
Also, if we’re using the muscle of willpower, we’re talking about a proverbial muscle here. You’re not a willpower weakling; the muscle is simply going to fatigue at some point. So let’s quit wondering why we may not be able to stick to a restrictive diet for days on end. Our willpower muscle is begging for a rest.
Perhaps finding our happy weight is a by-product of loving ourselves, not the other way around or some end destination. If we’re taking amazing care of ourselves (and doing the small actions daily that help keep our moods up and heads clear), our bodies will likely find their happy space (wherever that is for us!).