Yet with all my health struggles, I’ve been wrapped up in worrying about what foods were causing me problems (aka what I was eating/doing wrong) when really I needed to focus on a whole foods diet, eliminate toxins, and prioritize regaining my health.
What are whole foods? Foods that are unprocessed and unrefined. Foods that do not contain added ingredients or, more likely, chemicals. If you can’t pronounce it – it is not a food. Simple as that. Generally, the more packaging something has, the further away it gets from being a whole food and the closer it gets to being a frankenfood. These are products that are not foods at all, but a concoction of chemicals, GMOs*, and what used to resemble food. This fake food is equally addicting, yes addicting, and damaging to your health – think diabetes, exacerbated thyroid disorders, PCOS, obesity, and the whole litany of health issues plaguing us today. It’s not only about physical health, but holistic health. I know the terrible emotional and mental disruption and pain that is caused by eating fake food products and how these addicting substances can break the healthy relationship between mind and body.
No one deserves that. I’m not trying to judge or condemn the way people eat. I’m just trying to get everyone to recognize the difference between real FOOD and a concoction of packaging, chemicals, and unhappiness pushed on us by companies that care neither for our health or well-being but simply profit. I don’t want people to have diabetes, thyroid disorders, or any chronic health condition – I want them to be educated and empowered about their health. I don’t want people to suffer needlessly from the damaging emotional affects of addictive “food substances” – I want them to be happy!
Eating whole foods will make you feel better. You’ll be released from addictive substances found in fast, packaged and processed “food”. You won’t be blaming yourself for what you eat or feel out of control with constant cravings and mood swings. You will feel healthy, alive, and ready to tackle the beautiful mess that is life. Trade chemicals and addiction for scrumptious real food and happiness.
One easy step to start a whole foods journey? Start reading labels. People with food allergies are probably already used to this, but pay attention to what ingredients are in your “food”. If you can’t pronounce it, it isn’t food and you shouldn’t be eating it! Better yet, buy things without labels. Fish, sustainably-raised meat, poultry, and eggs, raw fruits and tons of vegetables are the easiest examples. Of course your diet is not this limited, because, first of all, there are so many things you can do with vegetables. I make quick pickles, soups, as many salads as there are cuisines to match, smoothies, curries and stir fries galore. Roasted vegetables are one of the most perfect foods, in my opinion. For carbs, I love all things squash – kabocha, butternut, acorn, etc – and of course my beloved sweet potatoes. I find these foods deeply satisfying, health-promoting, and happiness-inducing. But don’t listen to me alone!
For those of you who eat grains, whole foods can include things like brown rice and quinoa, etc. Beans are an option for some. Just make sure to buy things in as close to their original form as possible. Some of my favorite non-GMO brands are: Bob’s Red Mill (healthy grains, gluten-free flours, etc), Arrowhead Mills (quinoa), Eden Foods, Muir Glen (BPA-free canned tomatoes), US Wellness Meats, Lundberg Family Farms (for rice and wild rice), Mountain Herb Rose (cacao nibs and tea), Nutiva (coconut, chia and hemp), and Tropical Traditions (everything on that site!). More lists of GMO-free foods here.
Once you’ve mastered the habit of reading labels and recognized that frankenfoods do nothing but harm your body, no matter how great you “think” it will taste, you can move on to making more foods at home. I also make a lot of my own foods to avoid preservatives: when I can have nuts, I make my own almond milk. Making your food becomes increasingly important if you have to go on an elimination diet or other type of health-repairing eating plan.
Even though I already consider myself to eat a whole foods diet, I still have a lot to learn. I needed to quit microanalyzing every kind of food I ate and how it was affecting my weight-loss, and instead focus on the whole picture – my overall health. I’ve shed the anxiety that always came with trying to control my diet in order to lose weight. I’m much more at ease when I eat to be healthy rather than try and restrict and cut back in order to lose weight. Why we think deprivation is the norm is baffling to me – it is neither healthy physically or mentally. It’s easier to make healthy choices when I focus on improving my health rather then wrestling with body image.
That new, relaxed mindset also makes it much easier to eat a restricted diet in order to improve health conditions. Currently, in order to heal my PCOS, I am not eating fructose in any form (aka fruit), nuts, beans or legumes, grains, and the usual culprits of gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar. I remember two years ago I balked at the thought of not eating any sugar or even fruit. But that was brain-panic, covering up the real truth of what my body needed in order to get better. And now that I am focusing on HEALTH, it is frankly quite easy to overcome this challenge, because I know I’ll be able to eat fruit again in a few months or so after I’ve healed and avoiding certain foods will help me heal faster and more effectively. My health is more important than any temporal challenge of not eating Japanese peaches. As you regain your health, it is much easier to see the benefit of making careful food choices rather than panicking over what you will “lose”.
Speaking of losing, if you want to lose weight in the long term and keep it off? Then you need to forget about the word “lose” in any form – concentrate on being healthy instead. Especially if you are fighting some chronic condition, you aren’t going to be able to lose weight effectively if you aren’t healthy. Sometimes with certain conditions, rapid weight loss and adrenal-exhausting types of exercise can actually damage our health in the long term!** Luckily, most of the things you do to improve your health also work with weight loss goals, especially if you’re stuck in the lovely catch-22 of something like PCOS, where you need to lose weight in order to heal from PCOS, but you can’t lose weight effectively because you have PCOS! (Same goes for a lot of thyroid disorders)
So instead of getting lost in that quagmire of weight loss frustration, I’m taking charge with my new “gain health” plan:
1. eliminate toxins
Ok so what does that mean for me? Eliminating toxins and focusing on nourishing food – no more food from cans (BPA!), no more eating out where things are fried in vegetable oil, and watching what kind of packaging the food I buy comes in. This may seem daunting to some at first – don’t worry. Knowing what goes into your food is the first step. Email me if you are really lost, but start slow and make gradual changes. That way you can stick with a whole foods eating plan, rather than being overwhelmed and trying to do it all at once.
The Whole30 Plan might be an option for some of you who need extra guidance.
2. experience food
I have a bad habit of eating while standing, grabbing food and shoving it in my mouth, and just kind of eating without really paying attention to what I’m doing. So I am concentrating on preparing and enjoying my food – not shoveling stuff into my mouth mechanically while I do other work.
3. recognize the difference between a mind-based craving and what my body actually says
Most of the time I crave stuff because I see it or think about it, not because my body is really hungry or wanting something. This falls under my general rule of less thinking and more feeling.
4. No eating after 8pm This one is just more of a practical thing. I tend to make more mind-based, not body-based, choices about food as the evening wears on. Eating too close to bedtime stresses out my adrenals, and eating late it is usually some sort of mental or emotional response rather than a response to actual nourishment that my body needs. It’s just easier to make better choices earlier in the day. Set yourself up for success!
5. focus on healing
My health is one of my most important priorities, which is not only physical but also my emotional response to eating and my mental and spiritual health as well. When I focus on a long-term goal of healing, it is much easier to remain in tune with my body and keep practicing self-love.
Of course, this is all combined with a personal exercise program that includes yoga, running, swimming and strength training once per week. These are just examples of what I do. I think it is most important to exercise while doing something you like, so you continue to stick with it and enjoy it. Yoga and running make me feel good. Swimming is new so it keeps things novel and interesting in my routine. I do strength training because, while mentally I’m not in love with it, I feel stronger and know that I am stretching and growing in my ability. So don’t worry so much about what you think about exercise – just hold on to how good it makes you feel.
What ways are you gaining health in your life? What inspires you to exercise? What are your favorite whole foods?? (Next week I am going to talk about mine, and share some great new recipes!)
Food for Thought #4 Self-love, an introduction
Food for Thought #6 How Sweet Potatoes Can Save the World