Friday, February 13, 2009

What I Believe about Food: The Ongoing Development of My Food Philosophies

Just to be clear here, I'm using the word "diet" in my post to mean the foods I consume and I'm not referring to some "diet" for losing weight. There is so much negative connotation with the word "diet" in our society and we play havoc on our psyches and the psyches of our daughters when we go on and on about being "fat" and "needing to go on a diet." The damage we do to ourselves emotionally when we become obsessed with dieting puts most of American women on the eating disorder spectrum and puts us smack dab in the middle of diet mentality

So, when I refer to diet today, I'm talking about what I am and am not consuming as a part of this allergy-free diet that my doctor recommended. 

How is the allergy-free diet going? 

I'm still feeling good about it. I think my mind is much, much clearer since starting this. My body feels better. I have more energy. I'm not experiencing such emotional highs and lows. My emotional state tends to be much more calm. All in all I like eating clean like this. I've always liked it when I've done it. 

And thus, we come to my predicament: Will it last? Are my current food philosophies filled with truth? And can I be open to further changes and adjustments of those philosophies?

In the past I've tried different types of diets for different reasons: no-sugar diet;  food-combining diet;  a vegetarian, dairy-free, sugar-free diet; low-fat diet; low-glycemic, low-carb diet, and now, essentially a grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free diet. 

A few things I've learned along the way about my particular body. My very particular body. 
  • Protein: I do better with protein. My body responds to lots of lean protein: eggs, turkey, chicken and fish. I just respond better to a diet with solid protein. I was vegetarian, nearly vegan, for two years and I really, really wanted that to be the holy grail of my health success. It was not. I was not a big protein consumer after that until 4 years ago when I started eating 2 oz. of protein 6 times a day. I felt immense amounts of latent guilt as I was still carrying around a lot of my assumptions that the vegetarian lifestyle was somehow a more righteous lifestyle. My diet experiment with protein proved me wrong though. Protein is better--much, much better--for my body. 
  • Dairy: I was never much of a milk drinker. Or an ice cream lover. But once I discovered really good cheese, well that's where I loved my dairy. As a teenager I believed most dairy was really not good for you. That's when I first started experimenting with different kinds of milk like rice milk and soy milk. That belief has been modified a bit. I think if you are going to consume dairy it needs to be raw milk products or really, really good cheese or plain, full-fat, made-from-raw-milk yogurt. In my mind, we do our bodies a disservice when we ingest anything that has been processed. If you are going to eat something, eat it in as close to a natural state as possible. Then your body will have less trouble dealing with it. That said, I don't consume dairy right now because I'm trying to find out if I'm allergic to it. 
  • Vegetables: I eat loads more vegetables now than I ever have in my life. Part of that is a growing taste awareness and part of that is a body awareness: my body responds joyously to lots of vegetables. Its like the gears unstick and the drains unclog and the whole conglomeration of body processes improves. My body likes the way it feels after lots of vegetables. My habits though still tend to a heavy-grain proclivity. The only veggies I stay away from are corn and carrots or the high-glycemic veggies.
  • Fruit: Fruit and I were born as kindred spirits. I love fruit. And fortunately, fruit loves me. I often make smoothies in the morning comprised of blueberries, raspberries, spinach, almond milk and a touch of agave nectar. I try to add ground flax seed too as often as I remember. Those smoothies are yum! I tend to stay away from high-glycemic fruits such as bananas, cherries, watermelon, grapes, etc. but I will eat cherries and grapes occasionally. It's all about balance for me. 
  • Grains: This is the area of greatest conflict for me. I'm feeling pretty good about the other areas of my diet, but grains and I are dancing a little tango and I'm still not sure which way its going to go. Will I have to say effectually "bon voyage" to most grains in my life? What is moderation when it comes to grains? I feel a lot of guilt about this matter as well because of the LDS Word of Wisdom that talks about grains as the staff of life. What does that mean? How do I interpret that for my body especially when I seem to do so much better emotionally and physically when grains play a minor role in my diet? When I emphasize vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and good fats and limit my grains to some brown rice that is when my body seems to operate optimally. I have not experimented yet with quinoa or teff or amaranth but it seems when a grain includes any kind of gluten I tend to do much better to stay far, far away from it. I even have to be cautious about steel cut oats. Right now, they are not a part of the allergy-free diet so I don't consume them. And the only other heavy carbs I consume are red potatoes, yams and squashes. So grains seem to be something I have to be terribly cautious about consuming. 
  • Good fats: Olive oil, avocados, raw nuts and nut butters and fish oil are all considered good fats in my book. I continue to work on improving their appearance in my diet. The other fat that I consume quite a bit of is grapeseed oil. While it is not an omega-3 fat, it does have a high smoke point for cooking and I like it much better than canola oil. Good fats are ESSENTIAL for a healthy body. This is a lesson that was deeply implanted in my psyche after I spent 15 months in 2004-2005 on a diet that met all my other specifications--low-grain, dairy-free, good proteins--but was essentially a no-fat diet. I remember thinking after a couple of months on that diet that if I could just have olive oil, avocados and raw nuts than that diet would be just right. I ignored that inspiration and continued the diet only to have it EXPLODE in my face after 15 months. I then began consuming any fats or grains I could get my hands on. I think if I had been eating really good fats (and supplementing with an excellent source of fish oil) all during that 15 months that I would not have had such a spectacular emotional blowout. I also would not have thrown out the good parts of that system of eating like I did when I dove head first back into old patterns of eating. So, good fats are a necessity. 
  • Treats: I think treats are an important part of any diet. Treats often are a social, happy, celebratory part of what we eat. Social togetherness and celebration are an important part of feasting. Now, having said all of that, I think what passes for treats in most of America is pre-packaged, poor-quality, loaded with chemicals, white-flour-based and filled with high glycemic loads. Even homemade treats. So, I want to revamp treats entirely. This is where my favorite food blogger, Elana, comes in. Her treats are my kind of treats. They are made with good oils, no dairy and are gluten-free. The glycemic load of her desserts is often lower because she relies on blanched almond flour, coconut flour and agave nectar to do her baking. And she also is very much into excellent dark chocolate. As am I. 'Cause really, we all know that chocolate is what makes the world go 'round. At least my little world. 
Just a few other notes about food and my thoughts about it. 

  • Real food: I'm trying as much as I can to eat whole, organic, natural foods. I think whatever we consume whether it is dairy, grains, protein or treats we should do our best to consume those foods in their raw, unprocessed or minimally processed state. To me that means organic fruits and vegetables. That means whole grains like whole wheat flour or whole grain flour--even to the point of grinding those flours ourselves from the grain kernels so we know the flour is as fresh as possible. For protein that means to me nitrate-free foods like bacon and hot dogs and organic, grass-fed beef and poultry as well as cage-free, organic eggs. That means not consuming most foods that come in a can or a box or a package and spending more time cooking at home and pulling together meals from the freshest possible ingredients. 
  • Enriched Flours: I already mentioned my issues with grains and how my body responds to them. I think that one area that is a toxic loading dump to good health is using enriched flours for baking and cooking. I think we were sold a bill of goods in the 1960s in America when food companies started "enriching" flours with "vitamins and minerals." If you are going to use flours then I believe it is best to use minimally processed, whole grain flours that are not "enriched" by man. And I think that white flour should either never be used or be used with extreme caution. For the glycemic load alone, it is one of the worst foods we can consume, not to mention its utter lack of any nutrients. It is much better, in my opinion, to consume whole grains if you consume grains at all. Remember foods in as close to a natural state as possible. 
  • Chemicals, additives, preservatives, MSG: It is hard with our current food culture to stay away from these items entirely. Which is why I find that making things from scratch as much as possible is the best way to go. Then I always know what is in my food. 
  • High-fructose corn syrup: I stay away from HFCS. I think once again the American public was sold a bill of goods when food manufacturers started using corn syrup to extend the shelf life of food. I particularly think that HCFS is a massive, massive problem for anyone like me with glycemic issues. I stay as far away as possible from this item. 
  • Partially hydrogenated oils: Just don't do it. Don't eat foods with partially hydrogenated oils. They offer no nutritional value and will harm rather help your health. Then cut out most packaged, boxed and baked goods from your diet because they are full of it. 
  • Kid Food: Oh the great experiment. What to feed kids and how to feed them when they are surrounded in everyday life by food-like substances such as chicken nuggets, french fries, hot dogs and fish crackers. I don't know the answer to this one except that if they eat good, yummy, wholesome food while in your presence than at least the majority of the food they consume as little children is going to be good for their bodies. Where I would likely turn into a tigress around food with kids is if my child had food allergies or food intolerances. Then I would be vigilant and loud to anyone and everyone about what my child could and could not eat.
  • Attitude Adjustment: Having said everything that I've said about food and knowing that I tend to have pretty strong opinions about food, I believe that a vital ingredient of good health and spreading the love of good health is an open, caring, willing to listen attitude. I once knew a person whose family was in the health-food industry. I was impressed with many of things this family did to live a healthful lifestyle. What I was not impressed by was the attitude of judgment that I felt when exposed to their food philosophies. I think that sometimes when we try to live a healthy lifestyle or we are forced to eat different than the norm of American society we can get labeled as hippie, granola, extreme, or crazy. This puts people on the defensive because so often they are criticized for going against the society norm. But the other side of that coin is that people with strong beliefs about food and health often see themselves as better than the normal, plebeian consumers of the Standard American Diet. It is an attitude I struggle with. I've had so many food issues for so much of my life that when I do eat better or more in line with my perceptions of good eating, I find that I can quickly start to compare myself to others and assume that somehow I am better than someone else whose grocery cart is filled with white flour, ice cream and boxes of mac and cheese. What that usually means when I start thinking that way is that something is hard or difficult in my life and I'm using a false sense of self-esteem "I eat better than so and so" to soothe my own harried emotions. There is no place in discussions of good health for this attitude of comparison and division. I think too often that attitude just overwhelms anyone who is trying to make baby steps towards better health. It discourages people from eating healthy because they feel unless they are doing everything perfectly than it isn't worth doing anything at all. I find it so much more helpful instead to be open to all kinds of discussions and opinions on healthy eating and to find as much common ground as possible between our differing food philosophies. Spread the love and celebrate really good food together. 
In the end, I know that most everyone wants to eat better and feel better. I know that road doesn't look the same for everyone either. I have to write these things down to remind myself what I think about good health because I get so easily distracted and confused. I think that I should be more easygoing about food or that I put too much stock in how food affects my health and my emotions. Then I start eating things like sugar, more grains, more packaged or fast foods and I grow more emotionally volatile, less calm, bloated and tired, and angry. I work constantly to find balance towards eating well and eating sensibly and eating with moderation. And then that balance seems to constantly evolve as well so I have to be prepared to consume or not consume some food that I used to preach for or against in a previous food philosophy. 

What I'm saying is that I'm going to mess up and I'm going to make mistakes and I'm still learning and growing when it comes to good health and how it looks in my life. If I can give myself--and thus, everyone around me--room to breathe and make those mistakes and learn then I think I'm on the right road. I want to be open. I want to lovingly welcome others to the paths of good health. And I want to encourage myself on my own path to better health. 

And that's why I keep talking and want to keep talking about food. 

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