Let me know if this sounds familiar: you’ve put on a few pounds after a major life change. Having a baby, starting a career, moving across country, etc. Based on your pants fitting snug or brain feeling foggy, you suspect you may be reacting to a certain food, but have no idea which one. You continue your usual exercise routine, eat more salad, turn away more desserts, but the extra weight won’t budge. You don’t feel comfortable in your own skin. You are sick of feeling sluggish mid-day, and have been heard to tell your friends “I just want my brain back.”
Your friends direct you to the ‘greatest’ blogs or books they swear by. You sign up for a program, buy the worksheets and recipe books, dive in. At first, you notice changes and are encouraged. But after a few weeks you start to stress as progress slows down. Frustrated, you watch other people continue to lose weight. Your cravings for whatever it was you cut out come back. You think about what “not to eat” every morning, and the thought “I’ll do better tomorrow” carries you to sleep each night. You don’t realize that constant stress can work against your metabolism, even if you follow a diet perfectly and hit your low calorie goal each day.
You try for another month, continually wondering “what am I doing wrong?” After three months, discouraged, you donate the books, vow “I am a terrible dieter,” feeling lost. You gradually return to your previous food patterns. The cycle continues when you meet one of your “fit” friends for coffee. “What plan are you following?” you ask as you quarter a muffin and sip a mocha, which you vow is your last. And so it continues.
Sound familiar? It does to me as well. With the onslaught of diet books, fads, and social media, we find ourselves inundated with information. “Eat this, NEVER eat that.” “Lose weight fast, follow these five easy steps.” “Never diet again! Try _______for 30 days, lose 20 pounds.” The diet book industry is at an all-time high as we busy, multi-tasking people try to keep up with the trends, confused the whole way.
We want to feel vibrant, happy, healthy and fit, and we want it fast. We love food but we think we aren’t supposed to, so what we put into our mouths become part of a cycle. Crave, eat as reward/stress relief/comfort/social outlet, feel guilty, swear that food off, deprive ourselves, while continually feeling tired and unfulfilled.
Through trial and error, I have discovered another way. A sustainable way to break the cycle of food controlling our lives rather than us controlling our food. Food nourishes, sustains, fuels us, and also gives us pleasure. It creates an impossible expectation to be “good” or “perfect” about our eating 100% of the time. Even 90% can be tough to maintain for more than a short period of time. Besides, what does “being good” mean?
This is why I adopt an 80/20 philosophy. 80% clean, whole eating, with 20% wiggle room for what I call “life eating.” When we commit ourselves to feeling our best, the vice on our thinking about food can lessen. Instead of wondering “what am I doing wrong?,” we can ask “what is my body telling me?’
Our bodies are complex, intricate biological machines, constantly sending us signals. Every person must eat to stay alive, true, and everyone can benefit from eating more veggies and drinking water. But that may be where the similarities end, since each body works a bit differently than the next.
As a big part of our beautiful, complicated, multi-dimensional lives, food should give us fulfillment and joy, just as much as a satisfying career and loving relationship does. But where to start? Zone, vegan, South Beach, Atkins? Your neighbor on a strict Paleo diet may thrive whereas you, with your own complex biodynamics, find yourself sluggish and irritable on a diet so high in animal protein.
The trick lies in finding your own bio-individuality when it comes to nutrition. Once you learn to read your body’s signals on how to best fuel it, you can adopt a nutrition plan for life. Instead of following a diet, you learn how to eat effectively so your brain can work efficiently along with your amazing body.
How do you discover your own bio-individuality? How can you free yourself from the yo-yo cycle of food inhibiting your life rather than adding to it? The best way, we have found, is to become a “food detective.” Keeping a food journal, noticing how you feel, physically, mentally and emotionally when you eat a certain food, honoring your cravings, interpreting your body’s signals.
Certain nutritional discrepancies that show up in blood work may need a corrective phase before launching your own Food Detective campaign. Once our doctors help a potential issue stabilize, your body can be at an ideal place to start the process.
It took a long time, but I now allow myself room to eat for my best health as well as weekly emotional “rewards” and occasional social treats. I’ve learned how to get back on track. If I splurge with dairy, I know I will feel bloated and my stomach will hurt. I will eat lots of greens and drink a ton of water the next day to flush the inflammation out. For someone else, gluten triggers a reaction. Caffeine may negatively affect your friend’s ph balance, affecting sleep, whereas your morning coffee provides you with just the physiological boost to start your day.
Time to stop thinking of food as “bad” or yourself as “messing up” on one diet after the next. Instead, imagine yourself going on a search. A “Food 101” adventure, with your own body being the subject of investigation. It can be powerful and freeing to explore your nutritional needs and feel your body respond with vitality.
Once you start this journey, it can be hard to go back. Knowledge empowers us. “Diet” is a four letter word, whereas “80/20” is a lifelong pursuit. Your own bio-individuality awaits, and we are here to support you as you discover it. Our bodies are smart, as are we: they want to heal themselves, if we can discover the tools to listen.