Humans complicate things. We make relationships harder than they have to be. We procrastinate. We stress out over completely unimportant details. Maybe some of this is biology, or maybe we do it to make ourselves feel set apart from the crowd in a really strange way. We’re different, see? That makes us special.
One of the most polarizing topics, second only to politics and/or religion, it could be argued, is diet. There are a thousand variations out there: Atkins, Paleo, AIP, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, etc. Each has their own zealous disciples, preaching the gospel truth about wheat germ, pasture-raised eggs or the miracles of soy milk for menopausal women.
Entirely relearning the way to cook and eat can be overwhelming when you’re faced with a lifetime of comfortable habits vs. unlearning all those behaviors. After all, who’s the actual authority? There are so many well-meaning folks barking down at you from TV’s, radios, bookshelves, about how you have to follow their prescription for better health. Buy their book! Buy their E-package! Learn how to simplify and improve your life in 21 recipes!
My family followed a strict vegetarian diet for several generations, and growing up in this environment lead me to believe it was the healthiest option available. I righteously explained to curious friends and later to coworkers that my diet was: “If it had a mother, it’s not going in my mouth.”
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates
And then my family started getting sick.
One extremely health-conscious grandmother was all about the low-fat craze. Veggies! More grains! Fresh fruits were acceptable, but not too many because sugar was also the devil, followed closely by his evil cousin, salt. But the surest path to hell was butter. Eggs. Avocados. Olive oil. Oh, Lord save our souls, fat was the Antichrist. And thus it was that she began the four-decades-long descent into severe dementia while still only in her 50s: by avoiding healthy fats she had literally starved her brain.
The other grandmother was an excellent cook and, hailing from Norway, butterfat ran in her blood. She was a connoisseur of milk, cream, butter, eggs and cheese. There wasn’t a single vegetable she couldn’t cover in a cream sauce or mayonnaise-based dressing. It could be argued that her relationship with food was complicated, and she died at 74 after a decade of battling colorectal cancer and all the associated indignities.
When my mother began suffering strange and inexplicable symptoms in her early 40s, the medical community was only just beginning to pay attention. Aching joints, incredibly painful pressure points, fatigue, digestive issues, brain fog, and overwhelming, untreatable migraines were chalked up to being “in her head.” Was she sure she wasn’t just a hypochondriac?
What happened? We’d thought we were making such healthy choices! Since we didn’t eat meat, we replaced it with all the fun substitutes from grocery freezers. These replacements were filled with soy and “isolates” and all manner of things completely unrecognizable to the human body.
We didn’t buy “store-made” bread. We came from hearty stock who took pride in baking their own bread, growing their own gardens, and making our own “burgers” from wheat gluten. (Are you seeing a pattern here?)
For years we slathered our bread with margarine, cooked with canola oil, and consumed mass quantities of MSG before anyone had yet pointed out the dangers.
The problem was that the organic movement wasn’t big yet. We were eating huge quantities of whole grains (thanks, food pyramid!), surely drenched in what is now a commonly known and feared biocide. We lived in a farming community where huge tanker trucks trundled through lush green fields, dousing the crops with a haze of pesticides. Those pesticides that surely made their way into the water table and into our wells. The pesticides we marinated in every time we showered, brushed our teeth or drew a crisp glass of cold water from the kitchen sink.
It’s said that a little knowledge is dangerous and to some extent this is probably true. However, most of us can probably agree that what we didn’t know has been killing us: things that have been kept a secret through outright omission, fantastical feats of marketing and the unbelievably legal practice of allowing companies to label their products with vague ingredients, such as “natural flavors.”
The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” ―
No one can avoid every possible pollutant or contaminant, as none of us would live very long if we stopped drinking water or started holding our breath. But to control the dosage? We all have some power to do this.
Do we need to complicate this? Do we need to rigidly adhere to one diet or another, or do we do that to make ourselves feel accepted, or even superior to others?
As humans, we’re constantly adapting and changing. It’s to be expected that we cannot demand 100% perfection of ourselves 100% of the time. Sometimes we’re going to have a slice of pizza or a crispy baguette. (And hey, potato chips happen. Sometimes right before ice cream.)
What’s the easiest way to approach cleaning up your diet? By adding things in. Add in bright, colorful, delicious berries. Add in eggs from pasture-raised hens. Add in tangy, rich green extra virgin olive oil and rich, delicious avocados. And then, once you’ve realized how many wonderful whole foods are available to you, start subtracting the processed, the inferior, the boxed, bagged, and packaged, loaded with sugar and preservatives. It’s a process and it takes concerted effort and the reading of labels, but you’ll notice benefits: more energy, better sleep, fewer aches and pains, clearer skin. You’ll also begin to notice which foods don’t agree with you, once you begin to realize that it’s not normal to feel sluggish and lethargic all the time.
What works for you, or are you still searching?
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