Why We Shouldn’t Be So Black and White About Our Food Choices
I just spent three and a half glorious weeks working and traveling around London, Paris and Amsterdam (I’m actually writing this on the plane back to Seattle hoping my battery doesn’t die before I get out all of my burning thoughts!) This trip was a very momentous occasion for me because it was the first time, ever, that I’ve been able to work remotely and take my business on the road. I haven’t been away from nursing in the hospital setting for this amount of time in almost 6 years. Having the freedom and flexibility to travel and do work I love is something I’ve always dreamed of, something I always felt was possible for other people but not for me. It felt really good to make it a reality because it was something I designed and created.
Traveling, exploring and immersing myself in new cultures is what I love and something I value deeply. If I’m in your hometown I want to eat and drink everything you do and fully embrace what it means to be from that corner of the world. It feels important to me. If I’m in Paris I want to drink wine and eat fromage, pâté and baguettes and be all fabulous strolling along the Seine, ok?! (I may or may not have purchased a beret…ok I bought two.)
I also want to feel good in my body, eat to fuel myself and keep my stomach, skin and immune system happy. These things are also important to me.
So where do I strike a balance? How do I navigate between these two desires in a way that isn’t totally stressful?
This trip brought up something really powerfully me to me that I’ve been thinking about a lot and exploring with literally all of my clients. That is the “black and white” mindset of being healthy.
I work with so many clients who say they do really well with black and white guidelines, when they have clear restrictions on what they “can” and “can’t” eat. They may avoid dairy, gluten and sugar for periods of time during healing diets and although it’s challenging at first, they feel good with these strict boundaries because there is no ambiguity. When they begin to add in foods and things like travel, work events, holiday parties, and dinners at friend’s houses come up, however, they have a really hard time navigating this grey area.
It’s this gray area that I’ve been thinking so much about. This grey area is so important because really, it’s life.
It’s easy to hand someone a list and say avoid these “bad for you” foods and eat these “good for you” foods. We know we should eat vegetables and avoid excessive doughnut consumption. But what prevents us from doing so on a regular basis? Where the real transformation happens and the real work gets done is in navigating the gray area with intention.
Five tips for navigating the gray
1. Get clear on your "why"
It is so crucially important to get clear about why you want to eat healthy or feel a certain way and what your real motivations are. For me, the reason why I don’t just go for it and eat chocolate croissants and macaroons every day (just some days) is because I have a genetic predisposition to autoimmune disease. I know how eating those foods makes me feel and affects me at a cellular level, and I do not want to feel that way.
Excess sugar, grains and dairy affect my gut, which affects my immune system and symptoms of autoimmunity, makes my skin break out, alters my mood, sleep and overall sense of well being. I choose to eat whole, nutrient dense foods 90% of the time because they keep me feeling great and not getting sick. That’s a very powerful “why” for me and makes it pretty simple to stick to my guns when choosing how to eat (note: his has been a lifelong journey to be sure). My why is different to yours though and it’s important to get clear on what’s true for you.
What is your why? Do you want to feel good in your body? Reduce symptoms of disease? Improve frustrating bloating? Maintain energy to run around? Look good naked? Take a minute to think about it and write it down. If you first come up with “feel healthy” go deeper and keep asking “why” to get to the powerful core (there is always one).
2. Start with a good foundation
To be able to make good choices you need to know what works for you and what doesn’t. We are all so different and thrive with different foods in our bodies. In general it is advised to avoid overly processed foods and refined sugars and eat a diet with lots of nutrient-dense vegetables. From there however, we must take into account our own unique bodies and needs. This involves tuning into your body and experimenting with what works and what does not.
Once you really know how certain foods make you feel and you consistently incorporate foods that make you feel good while taking out foods that make you feel bad, you create a great foundation and your body responds accordingly. Once you have a solid foundation of health, it’s easier to veer off and come back to your baseline. You become more easily able to tune into how you feel and you know exactly how to bring yourself back. I work with people to uncover sensitivities and move towards a healthy, whole foods diet that works specifically for them in order to create this solid foundation. It can be really helpful to have a guide through this process so message me if you want some assistance!
3. Follow the 90/10 Rule
If you focus on putting good, nutrient dense foods in your body 90% of the time and do whatever the heck you want 10% of the time you are doing great. So great. This rule helps you to maintain a good foundation without restricting yourself on a daily basis. Perfection is not the goal, sustainability is.
5. Cook for yourself
When you are traveling, going to dinner parties, and living daily life, cooking food for yourself is the best tool you have. Nothing fancy, and yes you can do it. I swear. When we prepare food for ourselves we know exactly what ingredients we are eating, and we can make simple, affordable meals and snacks that help give us a good solid foundation. Eating out every single meal and snack while traveling makes it tough to strike a good balance. Also, it makes it less special or enjoyable once you do go out to a lovely place.
If you have access to a kitchen you can easily whip up an omelette, have rotisserie chicken and greens, microwave a sweet potato, boil some eggs, make avocado toast, etc. If you are going to a dinner party and you have no idea what food will be there, bring a nutritious dish you know makes you feel good to share. That way you can load up your plate with 90% of the good stuff and go from there. Cooking is the ultimate act of empowerment. It gives you control over what you put in your body and therefore how you feel.
6. Everything in moderation even moderation
Sometimes you just gotta do bad things. Even when you know they’re bad (I’m talking about food here not felonies people). Constantly being “good” and vigilant has it’s benefits for sure but it can be exhausting. And boring. What usually happens is that thing we were building up for so long in our heads turns out to not be that great after all, and we learn about what we really want for next time. Sometimes it’s really good though, and in that case you should enjoy the shit out of that bacon-maple doughnut without feeling once little ounce of guilt. Oh and once you enjoy whatever it was you were pining after, move on. No feeling bad and guilty and vowing to do a juice cleanse when you get home or run 20 more minutes on the treadmill. Move. On.
That’s how you live in the gray.
If you are always “black and white” about food and health and feel like you are constantly “on the wagon or off the wagon” without any in between, I've got your back.
I always offer free 30-minute discovery sessions for you to get crystal clear on your main health goals and the blocks that are holding you back. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and together we can create a plan that works for you and your unique body. Book your free session with me by clicking the link below! I can't wait to hear your story :)