I cannot wait to share my food philosophy with you! Some of you will find it shocking. Some of you will cheer. Some of you will be mad. But that’s okay. First though, I need to tell you a little bit about how I came to have this perspective about food.
A Little Bit About Me
I was an average kid I would say–on-the-go always and active in sports throughout high school. I was an athlete (not a good one) but 2 hours of sports practice a day tends to keep you in great shape. But then, also like the average teenager, I went to college and traded my workouts for cafeteria food and beer.
Enter the “Freshman 15.”
So that following summer, my mom and I tried out the Atkins diet. It did make for some fast weight loss, but I couldn’t live on meat, cheese and eggs forever. Plus, when I went back to school, those few pounds I lost came right back with me.
So now, in my sophomore year, I was miserable, tired, and still chubby. On my small 5′ 3″ frame, 15 pounds is a lot. So a friend and I vowed to keep each other accountable. We found a weight lifting program online, printed it off, and headed to the gym nearly EVERY day, all spring semester. I ate as healthy as I knew how to on cafeteria food, which mainly meant cutting out the treats and ice cream. WOW. By the time I was done with my sophomore year I looked and felt great.
That summer I moved to Omaha for grad school. I was fortunate to live with a health nut who loved to run. Also, several of my friends were runners. So for a couple of years I coasted by, thankful to live across the street from the school’s fitness center–a huge gym PLUS classes like step aerobics and Yoga that I very much enjoyed. In my fifth and last year of school though, something happened.
I still don’t know whether to blame it on stress or something unexplainable. I was newly engaged, studying for boards, planning a wedding, and already thinking about job interviews. I started running more, and eating less. Then I started adding up calories, and adding on miles depending on how much I had eaten that day. Although I didn’t know it at the time, and was in denial for a long time, I was exhibiting classic symptoms of disordered eating. My family was worried, my roommates were worried, and even though I felt like I was so healthy, my baggy clothes were falling off of me and my weight had dropped to 112 pounds (for reference, right now I am at my healthiest weight which is 125 pounds).
I will spare you all of the boring details, but that fall I got married, and with the support of my husband, I started eating “normally” again, and ditched the habit of running 6 or more miles EVERY day.
Fast-forward a few years later. I had a two-year-old and was pregnant again. I wanted to be as healthy and active as I could–because this was a NEW kind of tired that I had never experienced. So a friend introduced me to a portion-controlled way of eating developed by a nutrition expert and fitness trainer that allowed me to not have to count calories, not be hungry, AND it gave me so much energy because I was finally eating a BALANCED diet of lean meats, veggies, fruits, healthy fats, whole grains, nuts and seeds. I realized how deficient I had been in so many vitamins and nutrients and how unbalanced my diet had been–I needed WAY more fruits and veggies in my diet.
So, here we are. Thank you for staying with me–my past has a big influence on my views. I have grown and learned so much in the last three years since joining the health and fitness community. I have read so many books and done so much research that I feel like I should have a degree by now. Someday. But for now–you won’t find me claiming to be an expert. Not even close. But I do know what works for me, and what has worked for COUNTLESS friends and clients of mine.
So, now that you have a little insight into my background–do you think I am a “clean-eater?” I am not! Would you peg me for a Paleo diet follower, excluding certain “bad” food groups like dairy and grains? Nope! Do I simply restrict calories to maintain my weight? HELL NO. Do I just do a detox or a cleanse every few months? Gross. Definitely NOPE!
So What is My Food Philosophy Then?
I’m actually going to start by telling you what my food philosophy does NOT include.
First, let’s talk about why I actually HATE the term “clean-eating.” What the heck does that even mean? Food that “doesn’t have a speck of dirt on it?” Or that some foods are considered clean and others are dirty or that YOU are dirty if you eat them??
I actually love most of the principles of “clean-eating,” and I will admit that “The Eat-Clean Diet” by Tosca Reno was one of the first nutrition books that I read that got me really excited about treating food as fuel for my healthy body. A popular definition is that “clean” food is “anything nutritious that is as close to possible to how it occurs in nature.” So for example, just to name a few principles:
- Fruit instead of fruit juices.
- Fresh or frozen veggies over the kind in a can or bag that have been loaded with salt and or/unhealthy sauces with 12 added ingredients.
- Whole-grain bread and oatmeal instead of white bread and sugary cereals, cookies, or crackers.
- Lean meats, fish, eggs, poultry instead of fast food.
- Water over alcohol or soda.
- Avoiding over-processed, refined foods, especially sugar.
- Consume adequate healthy fats each day.
- Avoid foods that are calorie-dense but nutritionally devoid (think cracker and cookie isle foods).
Simple right? Well, kind of. But here’s where I think it gets complicated. Type in a google-search for “clean-eating” and you will be bombarded with a plethora of recipes that claim to be “clean.” But a simple scan of the ingredients reveals simply replacing white sugar with coconut sugar or honey or some other sugar substitute.
Folks, news flash. Sugar is still sugar is still sugar. Sure, choose honey to sweeten something because it does have a few more nutrients and antioxidants than white sugar (which has none), but your body–mainly your pancreas–doesn’t know the difference between honey and white sugar.
The other trap here is that by labeling something as “clean” it misleads many to think that they can eat five “clean” cookies instead of one “unclean” cookie. Let me help you–you are better off, in my opinion, to simply eat a damn cookie or two on occasion. As long as it is occasional cookie eating and not part of your daily norm – you’re fine.
Another issue with the whole “clean-eating” craze is that I think it can lead some down a dangerous road to possible eating disorders. It has been 10 years since I have been on that road, but even today, if I try to be too restrictive with my diet, I catch myself falling right back into those old unhealthy habits. I believe that for many personalities, being too obsessive about whether a food is “clean” and then the possible feelings of failure because you ate something that is not “on the diet,” is simply something not worth getting into.
Lastly, I simply cannot support a “diet” or lifestyle that is so adamant about the fear-mongering practice of preaching such things as to eat all organic, non-GMO, and/or to eat meat that has been fed grass only. There are simply too many problems with this practice to delve into in THIS blog post, but fear not, I will be addressing it in the future. If you want a head-start, here is one of my favorite explanations of why we should not fear foods that have been genetically modified.
Let’s move on to the Paleo diet. I have actually followed this way of eating for a few periods of my life. I read several Paleo “Bibles” and also love a few of their beliefs, such as the following from “It Starts with Food” by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig:
- Food should promote a healthy psychological response.
- Food should promote a healthy hormonal response.
- Food should support a healthy gut.
- Food should support immune function and minimize inflammation.
All good things! I also like the aspect that because of those principles, added sugar is out, highly processed foods are out, and soda and alcohol are out. The lifestyle is VERY veggie, lean-meat, and healthy-fat dependent. Those are excellent things! But let’s talk about why I don’t believe this is a healthy diet solution.
The Paleo diet specifically completely eliminates ENTIRE food groups, such as grains, dairy, beans/legumes, and even some nuts! That is crazy to me. Unless you are part of the VERY small minority of people who has a diagnosed food allergy or gluten intolerance (statistically less than 1% of the population for gluten!!!) there is no reason under the sun to miss out on the tastiness AND nutrition of those food groups!
Secondly AND thirdly, it goes back to my same opinion of the restrictiveness of the “clean-eating” diet AND the same issue of the fear-mongering about conventionally-raised foods.
Calorie-Restriction and Crazy Detoxes or Cleanses
We have all tried this haven’t we? It works in the short-term. It’s simple math. I love math. But like many fad-diets, simple calorie restriction isn’t sustainable in the long-term. It’s not something you can commit to for life, nor should you.
When you deprive your body for too long, not only does it wreak havoc on your metabolism, but it causes you to go into “starvation mode,” meaning that when you do eat a normal amount, your body is going to try to hang on to every. last. calorie. When you ditch the method, all that weight you might have lost and then some comes right back on.
Weight aside, I believe that food is fuel for your body. Why would you deny your body the nutrition you need to function at your best?
Along the same lines, I just cannot support a fad-diet trick known as a cleanse or detox. Do you have a liver? Do you have kidneys? Then you don’t need a “detox.” “The only thing that a fancy expensive detox detoxes is…….your wallet.” I wish I could remember where I read it, because it’s SO true!
Now if you want to spend a period of time cutting alcohol out of your life, or cutting back on foods with added sugar, that is great! But I’m talking about paying big money for fancy juices, or a soup-only diet, or any other crazy thing you have seen advertised that promise to “cleanse” your body. You know that’s just another term for “might as well find a good book because you won’t leave the bathroom for a week.” You won’t ever find me signing up for that!
My Food Philosophy
Finally! Are you prepared to be shocked? My food philosophy consists of eating real food. What?!?! Preferably a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. This happens to align with the La Leche League’s definition of a healthy diet, and you could also make the argument that it fits the definition of “clean-eating” as well. But I am different and I’ll tell you why.
I think a lot of fad diets actually have a lot of great components, as I mentioned above. So why not keep the good and throw out the crazy?
“Eat food in as close to it’s natural state as possible.”
What does that mean? To start with, simply eat whole fruits and vegetables and care not whether they are fresh, frozen, or canned. Don’t buy into the marketing hype that you have to spend twice the money on organic produce. They are all nutritious and nutrient dense. For more definition–see the list of “clean-eating” principles above that I kept.
Ahhhh, nutrient-dense. Nutrient-dense foods are ones that contain a big dose of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in relatively few calories. THIS is what’s missing from many “diets.” Especially in America, we have been so brainwashed by advertising to believe that low-fat or fat-free equals healthier. So you’re getting a lot of calories, but not many nutrients. At my house, you won’t find anything labeled low-fat or fat-free. Because do you know what they do when they take out the fat? They replace it with salt, sugar, or some other ingredients that you do not need to be eating. Why do they have to replace it with something? Because when you take out the fat, you take out the FLAVOR. We have been preached to for so long that low-fat is the way to go, but fat is SUCH an energy powerhouse. It’s critical to many metabolic processes. Fat also provides satisfaction and satiety, meaning you need to eat less to feel full.
I could spend a lot of time talking about why you should eat HEALTHY fats, like mono-unsaturated fatty acids which come from foods such as avocados, nuts, olives, and olive oil and even saturated fats (GASP) from lean meats and butter. The harmful saturated fat comes from eating too many refined carbs. Stay away from trans-fats too, found in foods labeled with ingredients containing “partially-hydrogenated” anything, that are mainly found in processed cookies, crackers, and potato chips–which also happen to be nutritionally-devoid of many nutrients anyway. Throw them out. Go buy some butter. You’re welcome.
Still on the topic of nutrient-dense foods, I also include plenty of lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, whole-grains and dairy in my family’s diet. I have written about why I choose lean beef as a nutrient-dense source of protein over other sources here.
And, I’m not talking about the store. I simply recommend you shop the perimeter of your grocery store because that is where you will find the un-messed with foods: fruits and veggies, meat, dairy, usually the whole-grain bread. I urge you to become a label-reader. Healthy foods usually have very few ingredients.
Portion Control and Number of Servings
Guys, this one was a game changer for me. When I look back to a typical day for me 3 years ago, it probably included six servings of carbohydrates, about three servings of protein, maybe one fruit serving, and maybe a veggie or two on a good day. I’m willing to bet this looks a lot like the average American diet too.
Sadly, it is so off balance. Do you feel tired and sluggish every afternoon? Do you rely on coffee or caffeine to get through the day? Are you hungry soon after you eat? I have been there. When I changed this simple aspect of my diet, my life changed. My body changed, my energy changed, my attitude changed.
I now eat 4-5 servings of protein every day, healthy fats from oils, nuts and nut butters, seeds, avocados and dairy, 4-5 servings of veggies, 2-3 servings of fruits, and 2-3 carbohydrates per day from whole grain breads, pasta, oatmeal or quinoa typically. Not only is this a balanced breakdown of the macronutrients that I need for my active lifestyle, but I also started paying close attention to the serving SIZE.
How many of us pile our plates high with spaghetti and then top it off with the sauce? A carbohydrate serving is HALF a cup. HALF a cup of pasta or spaghetti, or one slice of toast, one pancake, etc. It did take some practice and getting used to at the beginning, but I am NEVER hungry, I never want to pass out every afternoon from the “afternoon slump” and I have ample energy for my workouts. These are all signs of a healthy, balanced diet.
The thing is, when you fill up your plate with healthy foods, it leaves very little room for the unhealthy. This balanced diet also has the beauty of “wiggle-room.” There is no counting calories, no having to make elaborate meals or find fancy ingredients or to cook different meals for yourself than your family (because NOBODY has time for THAT!!). And there is no stress if you eat one extra serving of protein one day or fall short on a veggie the next day.
When you have this lifestyle, you truly are eating a balance of vitamins and nutrients, so there is no reason to stress over a less-than-perfect day. This lifestyle was created by a fitness and nutrition professional, and I would love to share more about it with you–feel free to comment of email me at macc_15@Hotmail.com.
I’m sorry if I have disappointed you with my simple and non-shocking views on food. But I simply view food now as something I use to make me healthier, feel better, and able to maintain my busy lifestyle. And I happen to get to enjoy a large amount of delicious, nutritious, satisfying foods. The following, however, may shock you…
Keep the Bacon, Butter, and Birthday Cake
I just have a little more to add, and I realize that it is not necessarily the popular opinion in the health and fitness community. But these are MY final food principles.
Eat bacon. Just eat ONE serving though. 2 slices. Savor it. Save it for your weekend brunch or a special garden-fresh BLT in the summer. Bacon is not going to kill you.
Eat the real butter. It’s less than 35% saturated fat–again, the saturated fat that is dangerous is that found in processed foods like crackers and cookies in the cookie-isle. Plus, it’s delicious and if sauté-ing veggies in a tiny sliver of butter gets you to eat your veggies, then double-win. But also, coconut oil is delicious.
Don’t fall into the habit as using food as a reward, or stress-relief. Indulgences shouldn’t be used as a “cheat” food or weekly habit. BUT, last but not least, eat the damn birthday cake. I mean this quite literally. Life is too short to miss out on special occasions like birthdays, weddings, or holidays.