As a holistic nutritionist, it is safe to say that I spend a good portion of my time thinking about food. Over the years, I have had a very dynamic relationship with food—sometimes loving it more than I would like to admit, other times doing all things possible to avoid it.
I studied Holistic Nutrition to get to the bottom of what it means to actually eat healthfully but along the way I found peace. Through this peaceful relationship with food and understanding of nutrition, I have found clarity. This clarity exists beyond all of beliefs I once held about how I should be nourishing myself, and beyond all of the misinformation and social pressures surrounding health and wellbeing.
Somewhere along the line, nutrition became really complicated—avoid this, less of this, and definitely none of that. I have found some fundamental ideas that can bring simplicity and enjoyment back into eating.
Here are my holistic hints for healthy eating:
1. Nutrient dense, not calorie scarce.
A healthy meal consists of more than the right balance of macronutrients or correct number of calories eaten. A healthy diet is one that provides nourishment and energy in the form of vitamins and minerals from whole foods. The word diet by definition simply means the foods that we habitually eat.
Our diet is a tool, not a punishment. Focusing on filling your plate with an abundance of vibrant food with a colorful phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals is much more important than minimizing the number of calories, carbs or fat that you consume. If we choose to do the latter, we ignore the importance of the vital micronutrients that we need at a cellular level to grow, move and mend. Adopting the approach of maximizing the amount of nutrients you ingest rather than minimizing the number of calories, serves to supply our bodies the nourishment necessary to thrive, not just survive.
2. Unprocessed, unrefined.
The majority of our food should be unprocessed and unrefined, which means real food in its naturally occurring form. Our bodies are designed to eat, break down, digest, assimilate and eliminate real food. This is the simplest and most important change that you can make to the way you approach food.
Choose food that has been grown and nourished from the earth rather than manufactured and sold in a package. The significance between these two kinds of foods lies in the difference in nutrient content. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains are a rich source of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies require. While processed foods may be enriched or enhanced with vitamins and minerals, they are rarely the forms most bioavailable to our bodies. When you eat food that is vibrant and alive, you invite that vibrance in your own body.
3. Crowd out the crap.
Whether you add an extra serving of vegetables onto your plate, or mix in a new whole-food focused recipe, bringing new into your diet allows less room for the old. Allow the good to crowd out the bad. Focusing on what we “can’t do” or “shouldn’t have,” brings about resistance and makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy change.
If our choices are grounded in restriction rather than self-care, we are more likely to fuel feelings of resentment towards ourselves, and fall back into less nourishing habits. In contrast, if we focus on bringing in more good, we create a positive mindset that allows us to feel the physical and emotional benefits of making healthy choices.
4. Listening over labels.
Whether we choose to eat a paleo or a vegan diet, the most important thing is to do what is right for us in that moment, while being receptive to the flexibility of our needs. Attaching a label can help us understand values and needs, but it can become restrictive when the rules associated with that label prevent us from getting what we fundamentally need. Where we can all grow is from listening to what foods make us feel good, leaning in to how different foods affect our energy levels, and learning to navigate and nourish our bodies as the vessels that carry us through our lives.
The intuitive aspects of eating have been stripped away for a more mechanical process of eating to silence the grumbling in our bellies. Intuitive eating may sound intimidating but all it really means is eating in alignment with your bodies actual needs. While one specific framework or paradigm of eating may suit you for the majority of your life, it is important to listen to the ways in which it may or may not be serving you.
5. Do your best, enjoy the rest.
The idea of using food as fuel really resonates with me but it is important to notice that we fuel more than just our physical hunger. Sometimes we fill our plates with choices that feed our emotions, and whether you are conscious of it or not, our food choices fuel our relationship with ourselves as well. While the satisfaction of giving ourselves the gift of a truly nourishing meal cannot be overstated, sometimes there is something else going on that needs to be fed.
Comfort food is aptly named and in my opinion, should be enjoyed when it is truly needed. Deciding when it is truly needed requires a practice of self-care in which you are able to distinguish the difference our true needs and our circumstantial desires. Try inviting in a state of mindfulness at the dinner table, grocery store so you can truly understand what you as a mind, body and soul need in that specific moment.
Make the best choices you can, and try to enjoy the ‘learning curves’ along the way aka midnight pints of ice cream. As humans, we have strong emotional ties to food and our emotional state actually impacts our physical ability to optimally digest food. Thinking of more indulgent foods, or foods that may not in alignment with our goals as a treat rather than a cheat makes it easier to remove the guilt component, and enjoy something that we know will make us feel emotionally satisfied. After all, would you rather treat yourself, or cheat yourself?