"What Should I Eat?" The Importance of Body Wisdom.
Nutrition is a complicated thing to study. This might be one of the reasons why you'll find so many conflicting answers to the question "What should I eat?" Have you ever searched for the answer to this question? If you have, I bet you've gotten all sorts of complicated answers with a confusing array of mixed advice. Lists of foods to avoid. Advice about the best diet. How to lose belly fat fast. Such and such celebrity's secret diet. Some miracle food to cure you of all your woes, or some evil food to avoid. I can completely understand how this would be confusing and overwhelming for anyone trying to find a real answer.
The question "What should I eat?" is complex, so there isn't a simple answer. The answer to this question is different in each moment for each person. The real truth is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are no quick (healthy, long-term) fixes. Perhaps we're becoming too focused on finding a one size fits all solution that doesn't exist. There are some general principles to follow (keep reading), but that doesn't mean these foods will be the right answer at all times for every person.
The problem might be that the question "What should I eat" is an intellectual question that ends up straight in the information processing part of our brain. It doesn't involve listening to our bodies. It is usually asked assuming that there is a right and wrong answer, and reads almost like a mathematical equation. "Eat x + y, get z result." Most of the information we read is not individualized, and yet it's often presented like it's the answer for every individual.
But have you ever noticed that this isn't the case? And how come when Sally ate x + y her result was great, but when I try to copy the same equation my result is not the same!?
Nutrition is far too complex for this kind of mathematical breakdown. It rivals the most baffling of mathematical equations. Nutrition involves the interaction of biology, the environment, genetics, psychology, hormones, emotions, food, cooking and probably other things as well. And these things are all very specific to each individual, and even specific to different times of life, times of day, times of year. Each part of this complex equation interacts to form a constantly evolving moving target. This equation is different for everyone, so perhaps the answer to "What should I eat" is different for everyone. Perhaps it's different for the same individual depending on the situation. Wow.
So how do we figure it out then, if the equation is so complex?
I do have to say that when it comes to what to eat, there are a few no brainers - things that stand up time and time again. Things that you'll hear across the board.
Eat your veggies. Get enough protein. Drink lots of water. Fiber is important.
Sound familiar? I hope so! And while what to eat on the whole (as in what makes up the bulk of your diet) is somewhat important, perhaps we are getting too caught up in the details. As in which fruit or vegetable is best, and should I avoid bananas altogether? Is maple syrup better than honey? Should I eat vegan? Paleo? There are so many little details to worry about, I could go on and on. When we get overly focused on our intellectual task of solving this puzzle it becomes difficult to listen to what our body is actually telling us.
Perhaps we're so focused on solving the equation we're missing the most important piece of the puzzle.
That important piece is listening to our bodies. Tuning in to what you need in the moment. Something called body wisdom. We're born with it, we have hormonal systems set up that support it, and yet over time we teach ourselves to ignore it. Remember that whole "finish your plate" thing? That's teaching us to eat with our eyes rather than tuning into our bodies for cues to stop eating. By focusing too much on the finer details of what to eat, are we losing touch with our ability to listen to what we actually need?
What is perfectly nourishing for my neighbour may not be for me. Now nourishing doesn't just mean biologically, there is more to food than that. We can all agree that drinking a glass of red wine is not particularly physically nourishing, but how about the enjoyment that comes along with it? I'd say that enjoyment, in balance, is also nourishing. So rather than feeling like we need to be absolutely perfect, digging into the minutia of what to eat I'd suggest that what might actually be more nourishing is to take a step back. Take a deep breath, and listen. Listen to your body's natural wisdom. Make choices that nourish your body and your soul - both are important.
Now just to be clear, I'm not saying that you should eat croissants three times a day because you think they nourish your soul. What I am saying is that there has to be a balance between what is nourishing to your body, but can also nourish your soul. What I am saying is that you have to look beyond the immediate gratification, beyond your taste buds - and really understand how your body is feeling as well. That whole bag of candy was probably not actually nourishing to your soul if you keep paying attention. Why did you eat the candy in the first place? Were you hungry, or filling some other need? It may have provided immediate gratification, but when you continue to pay attention that might change. If you're feeling jittery, full, bloated, or guilty you didn't listen to your body. But don't get discouraged! Learning to tune in and building that body awareness can take some practice.
Building body wisdom:
Here are some questions you can ask, instead just of focusing on that overly black and white "what should I eat"
- Am I hungry?
- What food is my body calling for right now? why?
- What would best nourish me in this moment?
- What would satisfy my desire for something that feels good and my desire for something that is healthful for my body? (little tip - sometimes this might not be food!)
When you're using these questions as a guideline, you're teaching yourself to tune in to your body and your natural intuition. Tune in to your body when you eat. Eat when you're hungry, and stop when you're satisfied. Enjoy your food. Then continue to tune into your body and how it feels after you've eaten. It might not be a perfect process, and you may find that the food you thought you needed didn't leave you feeling good at all (physically or emotionally). Use this as a guide and really pay attention to how you're feeling before, during and after you eat. Then adjust accordingly.
You might be surprised at how well this can work, and how much YOUR BODY, not your friend/coworker/cousin/aunt, can tell you about what you need.
Like this post? For information on the different types of hunger, click here