When I think, in general, about my health and wellness practices, I often feel that I am hovering just above “sort of getting it right,” and yet I have this quiet sense that I’m just not quite nailing it. With our collective tendency toward perfectionism, there seems to be this standing invitation to beat myself up. The thoughts float in like guilt-laden clouds:
I’m not eating “perfectly.”
I’m not doing enough yoga.
I don’t get enough cardio in.
My body is one giant clench-bound mess of stress.
My meditations are too short, if they happen at all.
I hold my breath all the time.
I eat sometimes right before bed, which I am told I shouldn’t, although some sources say I should eat some protein before bed.
Clearly, with these kinds of thoughts I will never measure up to living “the ideal lifestyle of the healthy person.” By some peoples’ standards, I am a health nut. They marvel at my green smoothies. They marvel at how I cook for myself and my family. They marvel at the volume of salad I eat. They marvel at how deeply I can drop into meditation. To them, I am an inspiration. To others, however, I am killer-of-the-earth-and-gut; a person who is just on the fringes of “barely figuring it all out.” Perhaps I am somewhere in between? It doesn’t help that the standard and the requirements for such a healthy life seem to change from article to article, from blog to blog.
Certainly, there are a handful of “irrefutable” conclusions:
Fruits are great (but not too many with that fructose sugar level?)
Coffee is bad (but bullet-proof is newschool?)
Grains like quinoa have virtues (but maybe not with grain brain?)
Soy is a wonderful plant-based protein (but messes with hormones?)
It’s healthy to eat nuts (but watch the gluten?!)
Seeds are no-brainer awesome (but what about diverticulitis?)
Beans are awesome (but not allowed because of their non-paleo-ness?)
Kale and cruciferous vegetables as staples are great (but new findings say they create hypothyroidism?)
Mushrooms are wonderful (but mycotoxic?)
This list goes on. For every article that extolls the benefits of something, there are an equal amount of articles that argue the opposite. We read on one site that eating liver it is the greatest thing ever for our blood. It feeds the nervous system with vitamin B12. It helps us make babies. And then on another site, we read that we don’t care about the planet and are actively killing the environment if we eat liver. Not to mention the cruelty to animals.
Short of becoming a breatharian, what is a girl making her best attempt at being perfectly health conscious to do with all this contradicting information?
It’s confounding and exhausting.
I’m often asked about my diet in interviews. Are you a vegan? Do you eat meat? Are you a raw foodist? Do you eat fish, are you pescatarian? My evolving answers have elicited some vocal reactions. When I’m eating meat, the vegan community scoffs and outrightly won’t associate with me. And when I get a little too plant-based in my approach, the meat-eating, grass-fed, whole-milk community looks down their nose at me and stops inviting me to dinners. But I’m not surprised by this because most of us are very attached to our perceptions of food and our approaches to eating—understandably. Eating is a life-sustaining act. In various turns, it is a relief-giving, comfort-inducing, sensuality-enhancing, serotonin-releasing act that reflects our value systems and even, more dauntingly, our consciousness level. These are no small pressures.
How we eat can affect how we age, whether we get diabetes, whether we get cancer or don’t. It can affect our ability to get pregnant. And then there are the familial and cultural relationships to what we eat—the foods our grandmothers gave us as an extension of their love; the foods we gathered around and celebrated with; the foods we sought as refuge when our hearts were shattered or afraid.
Food and eating is just so fraught—with joy and relief and exaltation, and with the symbiotic relationship of our physical existence! How can it not be something that comes with a lot of emotional charge? We are all so intimately connected to what we put into our bodies.
THE HIGH-NUTRIENT HAPPY DANCE
These days, the best descriptor I can give myself is to say that I am a nutritarian. The nutritarian diet is a way of eating that bases food choices on taking in the maximum micronutrients per calorie—inspired by the essence of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s work, who has had such a huge impact on my well-being and outlook regarding food.
I am obsessed with high-nutrient foods and how food, in general, can chemically change your biology, brain, moods, sleep, level of vitality, allergies … and how it can alter any predisposition to disease. That we have this preventative medical power in our hands and our salad spoons is so empowering.
At the end of the day, I am a smoothie girl. And depending upon where I am in my cycle, sometimes I do eat meat—grass-fed and organic, or salmon. Another favorite obsession right now is how your gut and your brain are directly connected.
After years of struggling with an eating disorder and now recovering (and I really do mean recovering, because I might go to my grave recovering on this one), I’m grateful to say that I have learned how to be responsive to my body’s needs. While I continue to read as much as I can from various schools of thought on food and health (and am always, on the daily, open to learning more), I err on the side of nutritarianism because I’ve noticed—over and over again—how I feel on greens, smoothies, and other whole, plant-based foods, both cooked and raw (which has its own sets of debates!). I have observed when my energy is strong and sustained over time … and when it’s not. When my allergies are aggravated, and when they are non-existent. I’ve also taken note of how foods affect my mood and emotions.
Noticing is, perhaps, the truest invitation embedded in the health and wellness section of my new site. With the articles and conversations you’ll have access to here on an ongoing basis, my hope is that you’ll feel supported to tune in even more to your own body—letting internal perfection-demanding voices be quieted down by the power of your own kind awareness of the subtleties within. That you will sense the powerful, elegant messages your body sends you in the form of your appetite, well-being, and shifts in your energy. Some of the most devoted and innovative teachers and researchers in the world today will share their exciting wisdom and methods here on the site and on my podcast—all being options and invitations for you to notice what YOUR body benefits from the most.
THE NO-DEPRIVATION APPROACH: JUST ADD THE NUTRITIOUS STUFF!
If you’re attempting to shift how you eat (in order to lose weight, heal your body, gain more energy, or for any other reason) and you feel stymied out of the gate, one of the most powerful recommendations I can make is to start by NOT removing anything! Simply begin moving toward higher nutrient foods, especially if your diet consists primarily of processed foods, as in the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Don’t cut anything out.
Don’t change a thing.
I find that as soon as we are asked to remove our favorites, it de-incentivizes us to even start. Not so helpful in a world where food often is the one relief-giver. Or the one comfort. The last thing we want to start with is removing—in one fell swoop— all the sensual comforts that may well be a big part of our survival strategy.
If it feels right to you, just keep doing what you’re doing—but add ONE high- nutrient thing (and if it’s hydrating too, all the better):
— add a salad
— add an apple
— add a handful of greens to your smoothie
— add some pumpkin seeds to your soup
— add more beans
— double up on your sides of greens
— ask for quinoa instead of white rice
— add more water
— hover in the organic produce section when you can
— err on the side of produce versus packaged whenever possible
Research the top 10 highest nutrient foods available and start by integrating those sneakily and slowly into your existing diet. This is one of the most stress-free approaches to improving a diet that I know of.
FOOD ADDICTION AND SOBRIETY
For those of us who want to avoid the slippery slope of extremes, I am all about adding versus taking away out of the gate, because for a lot of us, as soon as we start “dieting,” all hell breaks lose. Dieting triggers the fear of deprivation, which triggers our survival instincts. It triggers the scarcity mindset. And it can trigger binging.
In the book I’m currently writing, I walk people through what I call “the anatomy of a binge” and what I used to do, which sometimes included driving from fast food joint to fast food joint … and chewing off my fingernail by mistake for how fervently and urgently I was ingesting food into a stomach that seemed to have a hole in it that I could never quite fill. It was only later that I saw that the hole was in my sense of self, my sense of connection with life, god, and others. Susan Kano helped. Geneen Roth helped. The book Fat Is a Feminist Issue helped.
In the same breath, I would be remiss not to add that there have been transitional moments in my life when “extreme out of the gate” approaches have been exactly what I needed. In certain contexts and certain times, sometimes it is appropriate to make big, sweeping changes. There are varying schools of thought around the how and why of this. One of them is the Stopping Cold Turkey school of thought. In the realm of addiction recovery, quitting an addictive substance cold turkey is often one of the critical first steps to take. And it’s doable in most cases. You can avoid bars and cut out alcohol. Although withdrawal can be treacherous, you don’t need alcohol to live. You can be sure to never go to places where people sell heroin, ever again. Even with sex addiction, you can decide to be abstinent for three years while you begin your healing journey. But for a food addict…hmmmm. You can’t walk two millimeters (I’m Canadian) without seeing an add for a burger drizzled in cheese with epic French fries flying out of the container next to it, as if saying, “Eat me now lady!” But seriously, with food, total abstinence is not an option.
When food addiction is at play, there are different versions of abstinence and sobriety that can kickstart a lifesaving approach to eating. For example, an extended cleanse can serve this purpose. When I first read Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live, I followed his protocol for close to three months. For me, this formally started my food addiction recovery journey for reals. This gave me the chance to re-set my palette and notice that there were certain “old faithfuls” that I no longer craved. Things like salt to not be added any longer. The volume of greens went up. My intuitive and attuned eating emerged—which was nothing short of a whole new relationship with my body that had at its foundation a newfound trust and reliance.
So if you’re okay with not eating meat for a while (or forever), I highly recommend Eat to Live. And if you are a meat-eater, Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat For Health offers yet another option for food sobriety and freedom.
FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD
Here on my new site, welcoming different perspectives and methods is a core part of my ethos. I’m a huge fan of the “many voices” conversation—bringing together teachers, authors, and leaders who are each on their own personal leading-edge of research, experimentation, and encouragement. I particularly resonate with the health and wellness teachers who encourage people to explore, to listen to their own bodies (from taste buds to intestinal tracts), and to trust the signals they receive from within—doctors who encourage, as I do, being attuned to our own bodies. In fact, part of this attunement can be having regular blood work done so you can track the positive effects of the changes you are making, as well as tracking which changes remain to be made in order to see a benefit to your health on both subtle and gross levels.
As I’m writing this piece, high in mind are several friends of mine who are just unbelievable chefs. I’m getting choked up thinking about them. They are the culinary artists whose favorite form of expression comes through beautiful food—food that heals, nourishes, delights, and hopefully sends those eating it into some degree of ecstasy. They remind me of just how much I love food … especially now that I’ve learned to listen and notice and heed and respond.
There will be regular recipe installments from said culinary artists on this site. I’ll also feature from some of the latest research, recipes, and wisdom from people like Dave Asprey, the creator of the Bulletproof Diet; T. Colin Campbell (The China Study); Mark Hyman; Neal Barnard; Renée Loux; Geneen Roth; Rachel Carlton Abrams; Alicia Silverstone, and many others.
And I’ll shine a big, warm light on healing food plans, including the GAPS Diet (Gut and Psychology Syndrome), the no-grain diet, the Ayurvedic approach to eating, and others—with every step taking metabolism and glycemic index and spices and superfoods and much more into account.
TRUSTING OUR OWN BODIES
I have done so many diets in my life. All of them have served a purpose, and all have been centered around certain goals. I would say that 99 percent of the time, I reached my stated goals. But only temporarily. I had yet to find a place to land that was sustainable.
The begged questions at the end of each diet were: And now what? What IS the sustainable approach? Since I don’t want to keep yo-yo dieting, what is the integrated approach? How can I keep doing what I have learned and have it become a way of life?
This inquiry has led me to where I am now. Where I have arrived is a place of trust. Trusting my body’s appetite and impulses. And ebbs and flows. And bloats and alkalinity. Trusting that when I feel hungry for a certain thing that must mean my body craves the nutrients to be found there. Remembering that I have options and replacements and higher-nutrient alternatives for things. Trusting that what I am craving just may be the thing to satiate and take care of this sweet temple that has helped me move and dance and sing and climb and jump and pivot my way through life.
This trust has been hard-won. Until about 15 years ago, I didn’t even know what feeling full or feeling hungry meant. I would override every natural indication from my body for a certain kind of sustenance. I wouldn’t know if I was craving protein or more sodium or less sodium. I wasn’t attuned to the subtleties. But now, blissfully, I am increasingly attuned to…
what to eat.
when to eat.
When to stop eating.
where to eat.
Why I am eating.
What I am truly craving on a nutrient level.
God bless getting older.
I am so excited to support you on your own continued journey into health and wellness and trust in your own precious body.