Back to Basics: Rule #2 Eat Real Food
You are what you eat. It’s likely that you’ve heard the saying before. A simple concept that’s meant to shift your perception around the food you consume, and one that can yield powerful results on the journey to optimal health.
“Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food… or medicine will be thy food”
If you’re just starting out and looking to make healthy food choices, there are SO many diets to choose from; most people get overwhelmed and often give up before they see positive results.
But here’s the thing…you don’t need to go on a diet to lose weight or be healthy. Most people assume they have to make radical changes to achieve the results their looking for, but big changes aren’t always sustainable because they’re often restrictive, and hard to follow over the long haul.
My clients get results without dieting, and learn that optimal health is about creating a sustainable lifestyle, not adhering to restrictive diets that often lead to more harm than good (more on that in a bit).
The people who are successful create small changes over time that fit their lifestyle and lead to long term adherence. After all, the food you eat should be enjoyable, fuel your body appropriately, and make you feel good.
The following article is part of 10-part series called Back to Basics designed to give folks who want to optimize their health a starting point for creating positive changes in their lives. If you don’t learn the basics and create a strong foundation, you’ll limit your potential and miss out on all the amazing benefits that are ahead of you!
Early on in my health journey, one of the most important lessons I learned was that the better I ate, the better I felt. My junior year in college I was dealing with anxiety and skin issues after suffering a TBI (traumatic brain injury). I had trouble sleeping, poor energy, and the only solution that the doctor gave me was medication… there was no mention of the nutrition and lifestyle changes that I needed—badly.
While the medication helped in the short term, it left me with undesirable side effects. I was ready to accept that I would take these medications for the rest of my life just to feel normal.
Then, I moved in with a new roommate that was into organic food. I started incorporating more whole foods into my diet, experienced positive results and I was hooked! I began shopping at the local food co-op, preparing meals at home and learned that healthier ingredients were the key to success.
I discovered that the foods that made me feel poorly could be modified so that I could still enjoy the foods I loved without feeling like crap after. Now, I constantly remind my clients that there’s always a better decision when you know what to look for.
Knowing what I know now, it’s sad to see that information on how to eat is not readily available or taught in schools from an early age. Sure, schools teach some basic eating guidelines, but most are still pushing the Standard American Diet aka the SAD diet—and for good reason; just like the acronym, it’s SAD!
The SAD Diet
The Standard American Diet is still being recommended as a healthy way for Americans to eat and just like the acronyms, it’s SAD. The SAD recommends an abundance of carbohydrates (often processed ones, in practice) like breads, cereals, rice and pasta. Combined with the fake foods and fillers at fast food restaurants, sugar filled sodas and coffee drinks, and oxidized oils that 99% of restaurants use to prepare foods, it’s easy to see why American’s are so unhealthy.
These processed sugars, grains and oils are lacking essential nutrients and lead to inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of all chronic disease like obesity, heart disease, dementia, cancer and diabetes—what I consider lifestyle diseases. Meaning, they can be avoided or mitigated with lifestyle changes.
The best diet for you is the one you’ll stick to, but most fad diets restrict certain food groups and/or whole macronutrients. This dogmatic approach to eating can lead to confusion around which foods to eat, nutrient deficiencies, and poor health outcomes over the long term from low calorie intake.
“Eat less and exercise more” is a common mistake made by most dieters. Yes, getting into a caloric deficit does lead to weight loss, but when done chronically over weeks or months, the metabolism slows to adapt to smaller amounts of food coming in.
While this approach works in the short term, if calorie restriction is prolonged and the metabolism is reduced, what do you think happens when you eat more calories?
You gain the weight back and then some because your metabolism no longer supports the amount of food you ate before cutting calories. Sound familiar?
Pair this lowered metabolism with increased exercise and we get ourselves into even more trouble. The body takes on too much stress and raises the stress hormone cortisol which makes it impossible to lose weight.
Exercise makes us hungry; we do our best to restrict calories, but eventually hunger gets the best of us. We break down and reward ourselves with food because…we earned it! Now, we’re in a vicious cycle of eating less (which slows the metabolism), exercising more (which stresses the body) and we tend to overeat as a result.
Not exactly the recipe for weight loss if you ask me, but everyone else is doing it… ☹
A big problem I see with most diets is fake food. Take a walk through any grocery store and you’re sure to find all kinds of diet-approved foods that are deemed healthy like “low carb,” “low fat,” or “vegan approved” in attractive packaging to let you know it’s a health food, when it’s really not.
More often than not, these type of food products are lacking essential nutrients and full of empty calories instead of good nutritional value.
- carbohydrate-based desserts, such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, donuts, muffins, granola bars, and more
- sugary drinks, including soda, energy drinks, and fruit juice
- candy bars, chocolate bars, and hard candies
- some meats, including bacon, sausages, and hotdogs
- some full-fat products, such as margarine, shortening, and ice cream
- processed oils, such as soybean, sunflower, safflower and canola oil
- condiments, such as ketchup and barbecue sauce
- fast food, including burgers, wraps, pizza, and more
So, what do I choose to eat instead?
To answer the common question, “what do I eat?” I like to look to our ancestors and the foods that allowed them to thrive throughout history. As humans we haven’t evolved that much and the same foods that allowed us to rise to the top of the food chain and prosper as a species still hold true today.
Humans are omnivores and have developed a digestive tract to handle a wide variety of plants and animals including clean sources of meat, fish, foul, dairy, vegetables, tubers, nuts/seeds, healthy fats and natural sugars like honey, maple syrup and fruit.
When shopping with clients I like to direct them to the outside aisles of the grocery store because those outside aisles are exactly where you find real food!
The food pyramid above is MUCH more in alignment with how our ancestors ate, and a great resource to take with you on your next shopping trip to begin eating real food.
- Shoot for a wide variety of plants by utilizing as many colors as you can find.
- Make an effort to eat locally raised and sustainably meats* by looking for wild game, pasture raised beef, lamb and pork, free range chicken and wild caught fish.
- Healthy fats are a must. My favorites are animal fats such as lard, tallow, and duck fat, grass fed butter, olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil.
*If these types of meats are not readily available you can purchase online at companies like Butcher Box or purchase leaner meats instead (because the stuff we are trying to avoid is contained in the fat of the animal like antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides found in conventionally fed animals).
Life wouldn’t be as fun without an indulgence from time to time. When eaten in moderation foods like wine, dark chocolate, fruit, and dairy products complement a healthy diet.
You CAN have your cake and eat it too when it comes to implementing a healthy diet. Meaning, you don’t have to diet to lose weight and eating real food is a great place to start without cutting calories or missing out on your favorite foods. Start with small steps and stay consistent by making it a lifestyle. I promise, the results will speak for themselves.