Here are some food philosophies I have learned and developed over the years:
The 80:20 Rule
It’s what you do 80% of the time that counts, not what you do 20% of the time. The pursuit of perfection can be a fruitless exercise, especially if we beat up on ourselves and exist in a constant state of dissatisfaction as a result. I prefer being compassionate, patient and kind towards myself by cutting myself some slack and allowing myself to be human. I may have food principles that make for perfect health when I adhere to them, but there are times when I eat something that isn’t so healthy either because my inner child wants to, or because I can’t control the situation I am in. Sometimes I discover, after the fact, that the beautiful meal someone just made for me has a little wheat in it, but I can bear the physical consequences with a smile and a happy heart, because it was made for me with love. What I do 20% of the time won’t kill me, but if I get too rigid, stress about my diet, become paranoid and pedantic…. that might!
Listen to Your Body
I write about this more on my ‘Food Sensitives’ page, but the essential gist of this philosophy is this: we are all different and the only true way to know your personal relationship with a food is to listen to what your body is telling you. We all have foods and ways of eating that don’t agree with us, but most of us don’t join the dots because we have become resigned to substandard health while ignoring our body messages with great expertise! As a naturopath, I take particular notice of inflammatory and immune conditions, because these suggest a person is eating foods their body is struggling to break down, digest and process. Where do you start with identifying foods that are compromising your health? Look at your diet and notice what you are over-eating. What appears in every meal? What are you addicted to? And what are you averse to?
Listening to your body also means learning to stay present with your body and manage things like hunger, cravings and loss of appetite. I have learned to make friends with hunger and enjoy the light feeling that comes from eating light. For an over-eater, it can take practise to really hear that feeling of fullness and honour it by responding to it appropriately. If we go ‘unconscious’ when we eat, and stop being present with our body, we can’t so easily hear these messages. With practise, we can refine our ability to hear, and respond to, messages from the body about when and how it needs to be fed. If we listen, we can develop a deeper insight into our subconscious drives, recognising that hunger might actually be boredom or stress, rather than real hunger, or that a loss of appetite might be due to too much adrenaline running through the body from excess caffeine or stress.
Eat Whole Foods
Perhaps it was from growing up with a health-conscious mother who loved holistic naturopathic principles, but I can’t ever remember not knowing that foods should be eaten whole. The more we process a food, the more unnatural it becomes, making it hard for the body to recognise and manage during digestion and elimination. Our human body has co-evolved alongside nature over a very long period of time and our current ‘cleverness’ with foods is such a recent and sudden change that our bodies are struggling to keep pace and find new ways to adapt. These new ‘foods’ are alien, artificial inventions, often concocted in laboratories, genetically modified, and processed beyond recognition.
As much as possible (80:20 rule), I stick with plant-based whole-foods. If I eat pre-packaged processed foods, I prefer for the list of ingredients to be small and relatively pronounceable, with few or no ‘numbers’ (additives), and I avoid strangely messed-with foods like ‘low-fat’ altogether. Eating whole-foods also means eating a whole orange rather than orange juice. I am fiercely protective of my natural fibre not only because it’s part of my whole-food philosophy, but because as a herbalist, I understand how magical the healing properties of natural fibre can be. Plant-foods are filled with a truly astounding array of healing, nourishing nutrients all perfectly in balance with one another, just the way nature intended… and science has barely scratched the surface.
I like to keep my diet varied and diverse. I love challenging food addictions and food stagnancy in my diet because getting rid of an over-eaten food always opens up my world to a smorgasbord of new food adventures. In mainstream society, we tend to over-eat certain foods and get sucked in by marketing hype and peer pressure. Besides the fact that these foods are often highly processed and empty of any real nutrition, the over-eating of them impairs our ability to digest that particular food and this leads to imbalances. Can you imagine your sugar management system saying “Oh no, not more refined sugar!”, and promptly fainting from exhaustion? Or your gut saying “She’s eaten that six times already today and now I have to find more of this enzyme to break it down!? I think I’m going to strike. Union rights!”
Food is fun! Like travel, it can be an adventure, a journey into new territory, a voyage of self-discovery. It’s lovely to keep some old food traditions alive in your life and to fit in with people around you, but beware the stagnancy that can come from ‘doing as the Romans do’ and ‘I’m going to eat the same way my father ate and his father ate before him, it did them no harm…. (waffle, waffle)’. To discover new food horizons, we need courage to lose sight of familiar shores and a willingness to experiment. I love learning and inventing new recipes, and discovering new foods I haven’t tried before.
Be Ethical and Empathic
I also love thinking deeply about the nature of food, cultivating curiosity about my relationship with food and learning more about how my choices impact not just me, but the world around me. With population growth and erosion of the natural environment around us due to human actions, I not only want to reduce my personal negative impact, but to find a vision that leads me into the future. How can we collectively move forwards together in harmony with the planet? If we don’t, we won’t, as a species, survive.
Personal health is integrated with social health and environmental health. We are all connected as a single ecosystem and our collective choices affect one another. Being fortunate enough to be thriving instead of just surviving, my thoughts naturally expand outwards to include others, making me ponder not just my own well-being, but the well-being of my descendants, as well as humanity, the planet, and all life on it. That might sound a bit heavy, but when you bring some joy and surrender into it, it’s actually a great feeling!
What Else Am I Consuming?
It fascinates me to consider what else I might be consuming when I eat or drink…. but to also ask myself what I am consuming in other ways, from the world around me. I can’t help seeing the links between everything, like a giant interconnected web. Where does my food comes from? What is in it? Does it feel good? Am I feeling nourished? Am I consuming more than just food when I eat this? How was it made? What was taken away or added before it became what it is now? How much energy was needed? Is this efficient?
The curiosity of my inner child busts me out of my little-box-without-any-windows, leading me into a big wide world of possibilities and choices. And it isn’t just about food… when I put something on my skin, I am consuming it, my body is ‘eating’ it. When I smell something, it’s because I’ve just breathed it in and that something has now become part of me. I can also make consumption choices about the beliefs, stories, attitudes and emotions floating about me in the world…. some look like tasty morsels but they give me indigestion afterwards. Others might not seem all that flash but it’s their authentic naturalness that will ultimately sustain me and enrich me.
Eat a Rainbow!
Colours! No secret how much I love colours. Mum was always happiest with her salads and dinners when they contained rainbows. “Yellow is missing!”, she would declare and rummage about in the fridge for the missing colour. This is a family tradition I have kept alive, not only because it’s fun, but because it makes eating more joyful and healthy. All those colours are made from different plant chemicals combined in unique ways…each colour is linked to specific health benefits. While we can’t colour-code our food into neat little boxes of ‘white = this health benefit’ etc, we can be certain we are consuming a sensible array of nutrients needed for optimum health by keeping the rainbow alive on our plates. Plant-based whole-food rainbows = nutrient balance.