When I help people look at how they eat and how they might positively change their relationship with food, I try to stay away from hard and fast rules and instead help them set up some structure.
We’re all very different, and what works for one person might not work for the next. That said, there are some basic tenets I like to follow and they break down nicely into eight little rules. Whenever I’m planning or prepping my meals, I always have these things in mind:
1. Make it delicious.
When eating becomes a utilitarian task, like putting on a raincoat when it’s raining, you’re in trouble.
Food is meant to be pleasurable. Along with sex it’s one of the most indulgent, pleasurable things we can experience. Take a few extra minutes to put some extra love into your cooking and the result will pay dividends on your health.
2. Is this harming me or helping me?
I ask myself that question EVERY TIME I put something in my mouth. It’s fine if every once in a while the answer isn’t “it’s helping me,” but just remember to keep a good balance.
And don’t underestimate the health value of sharing the occasional pint of good ice cream with great friends.
3. Sugar is the enemy.
I know this is beating a dead horse, but if you eat too much of it, you, too, will be a dead horse!
It’s important to recognize sugar in all its forms. One place that sugar tends to sneak its way into our bellies is through juices, particularly fruit-based juices. Because they lack the pulp and fiber of eating the whole fruit, our body absorbs the sugars more quickly.
Just like with rule No. 2, it’s important to be mindful, but the sugar police aren’t going to throw you in jail for the occasional sweet indulgence.
4. I find out where the food is from.
It’s very easy in today’s world to effortlessly and mindlessly consume calories. I know I’ve been guilty of taking down a whole bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips.
Most convenience “food” is designed to be craved, and we tend to eat it much faster than we should. Before your brain gets the message that you’ve eaten enough, your belly keeps demanding more food.
5. If you can’t pronounce it, you probably don’t want to eat it!
I know this sounds pretty basic, but when you’re reading a label, if you've never heard of the ingredients before or they don’t sound like food, it’s a safe bet to stay away!
6. Breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day.
Breakfast is the most oversold meal. We’ve been told all our lives that it’s the most important meal of the day and we've been encouraged to eat carb- and sugar-laden breakfasts of pastries, waffles, pancakes, “healthy” bran muffins, and other garbage.
If you start your day with a ton of sugar and carbs, you’re setting yourself up for a dip in energy midmorning, which will lead to coffee, more food, more sugar, and a roller coaster that will last all day.
Once you are able to recalibrate your metabolism and free yourself from a dependency on carbs and sugar to keep on an even keel, you’ll find it’s actually quite easy to go longer periods without eating.
The benefits of intermittent fasting are great, not the least of which is you’re hungry and excited to eat a delicious meal when it’s time to break that fast.
7. It’s OK to be hungry every once in a while.
We're creatures of comfort and as such, we’ve gotten really bad at being uncomfortable.
It gets a little too hot in the summer? Crank the AC! Too cold in winter? Turn up the heat! Hungry in the middle of the afternoon? Grab a “healthy” (read: sugary) energy bar.
What about enduring the discomfort for a little bit? We understand the importance of this with exercise, right? It’s good to feel a little hungry from time to time, and it's important to focus on making good, balanced meals of vegetables, protein, and fats that are delicious and satisfying.
8. Eat sitting down, or better yet ... squatting.
This is how we, as humans, evolved to do most of our resting, socializing, child birthing, pooping, cooking, and yes, eating. Over time, in the Western world, we’ve forgone squatting for sitting in fancy chairs with lumbar support, slouchy couches, and car seats.
We so often have our meals while sitting on the couch, talking on the phone, working on the computer, or even driving, instead of sitting around a table (or primally speaking, squatting around a cooking fire) with our friends and families.
If there's one consistent attribute to all cultures of centenarians, it’s the importance of socializing and joy — particularly around mealtimes. We can’t overlook the health value of stopping our busy lives and sitting down to break (gluten-free) bread with others.
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