If you have an interest in nutrition and enjoy reading up on the latest information and trends, you’ve likely noticed that there’s a certain blueprint for how things work in the field of food and health. Correct me if you see it differently, but most of the articles or books or blogs on this amazing topic focus on one of the following: the latest super-food, the newest supplement, the next toxic food you should stop eating, or the hot breakthrough diet that will help you lose weight. That’s pretty much the template for what the field of nutrition looks like for the average consumer of information. And for sure, this formula can certainly titillate some brain cells and keep our curiosity piqued – up to a point.
The challenge for me is that about 20 years ago, I started to get a little bored. I wasn’t feeling any nutritional turn-on anymore. How many times could a nutrition guy get excited about the next miracle food, the newest fat burning pill, or the latest evil food? Enough already. We need something more.
The field of nutrition is stuck in an old habit. It keeps repeating itself as if it had a strange case of amnesia. After decades of dieting, we’re still getting plumper. And nutrition-linked diseases such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, digestive disorders, fatigue, mood issues, and attention deficit concerns are skyrocketing. On a deeper level, our relationship with food and body is also at an all time emotional low. Some eye-opening surveys and studies are telling us that 9 out of 10 women dislike and even hate their body, and over 8 out of 10 women are on a diet. And approximately 40% of 9 year old girls claim they are dieting, or have dieted.
It’s time to wake up, smell the coffee or the tea or whatever you may be drinking, and do something different – and for no other reason than what we’ve been doing nutritionally and emotionally clearly isn’t working.
So, in the spirit of being interesting, creative, explorative, and maybe even a bit bombastic, I’d like to offer to you a list of 7 nutritional nuggets worth considering. These are intended as wake-me-ups, concepts that have the chance to get the nutrition world out of its’ perpetual spin cycle and into a place of depth, breadth, and wisdom. I’m interested to know how these land for you:
1. Nutrition Experts Need to be Consumed with a Grain of Salt
We’ve become so reliant on outside advice that we’ve lost the ability to access the wisdom of the greatest nutrition consultant on the planet – you. I love experts, I put myself out there as an expert, and I am happy to see every expert questioned, doubted, challenged, and occasionally spanked. Most experts tend to read their own bodily experience and translate it onto your body. They erroneously believe that if a specific diet works for them, it must therefore work for every human alive. This is as unscientific an approach as one could imagine, yet it masquerades as intelligent. Yes, there are plenty of general nutrition rules that apply to huge subsets of people. But for me, the deeper cut is that nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all business. Indeed, it’s a uniquely stunning field where biology, chemistry, lifestyle, and the inner workings of our psyche converge in a highly specific way for each individual. Most nutrition and health experts binge on power, fame, cash and glamour. They also get high on being the “one expert who is right.” Stop giving your power over to the experts. Give them a hug instead. Start believing in your own wisdom, experience and insights. Use experts as “consultants” – listen to what they have to say, then make choices from your own sense of dignity and authority.
2. Let Go of Your High Fact Diet
I’ve noticed that far too many people are in their heads about what to eat. We’re looking for the perfect diet, the one way to eat that will have us happy and healthy and fabulously chic for the rest of our lives. We also tend to believe that if we only had the correct facts, the right information that’s been carefully guarded by mysteriously smart people who know more than us, then we can be happy. Yes, facts and science and information are beautifully important. And, at the same time as we honor facts, we need to drop out of our worries, our endless search, our constant self doubt, and embrace the wisdom of the body. Listen to your own desires. Listen to what you crave. Experiment. Make mistakes. Get feedback from your body. How do you feel now in relation to what you ate then? Can you notice how a particular food impacts you? Can you sense how a supplement or pill affects you? Can you feel the subtleties of your own body? Can you quiet your mind enough to access the brilliant wisdom of your biology that’s ceaselessly giving you feedback and information about food and health?
3. Stop Worshipping Ancient Systems of Healing and Eating
I have watched too many friends, students, and clients get hooked on traditional systems that are old, wise, often brilliant, well thought out – and not always 100% applicable for humans of this day and age. In particular, many people embrace Ayurveda, Macrobiotics, or the concepts of the Paleolithic diet. Yes, these approaches bring tremendous insight and practical knowledge that we have long forgotten. I’ve benefited greatly from studying and practicing the principles of these diets. At the same time, the over-reliance on these systems often results in an intense fundamentalism, personal and nutritional isolation, and a waste of time in trying to follow in a precise and unwavering manner – principles that may have worked great eons ago, but don’t necessarily translate fully into our world today. Every old and ancient system needs some updating. Macrobiotics is a great example. The principles in this worldview are powerful and far-reaching. The problem is, most people are practice a form of macrobiotics that works fine if you’re from Japan, but not so well let’s say, if you’re a white dude from Mississippi. The challenge is, can you be bold and creative enough to take what truly works from these approaches, and toss out what doesn’t?
4. Do We Really Know What Health Is?
When I first started practicing in NYC about 30 years ago, my high-powered Wall Street clients fascinated me. For one thing, they made gobs of money. How did they get so rich? They were incredibly motivated and educated, and they were all following intense workout and running programs despite long hours at work and a family at home. Many had excellent diets. Yet they all had some type of intense health complaint – digestive issues, fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, and low immunity. What especially caught my attention was that they were all shocked as to why they weren’t “healthy.” The logic was, “I’m doing all these healthy things for myself, so I should certainly look and feel healthy.” We tend to limit health to nutritional, metabolic and exercise factors. And collectively, we haven’t quite made the connection that health is also given by who we are, how we think, what we feel and believe, how we conduct ourselves in the world, how honest we are, how authentic we are, our sense of spiritual connection, the degree of love in our life, of pleasure, rest, play, purpose, and so much more. Health is not just about what you do (diet, exercise) – it’s also about who we are at the deepest place of our being. Can we be daring enough to go there?
5. Your Health Issue Isn’t a Problem – it’s a Solution
Most of us are taught to see our symptoms and diseases and unwanted habits as problems, and as an enemy we must attack and defeat. Clearly, these experiences aren’t much fun, they can ruin a life, so it makes perfect sense to treat our unwanted health issues with any strategy that helps us conquer and crush it. Or does this make perfect sense? Here’s a another view, long held by the ancient Greeks, and taught about as well in the mystic tradition of the Kabbalah: every symptom or disease or unwelcome habit is really a visitation from your guardian angel. It’s a divine intervention, a deep and holy experience designed as a course correction for the soul. However we have been straying from our path, or whatever we need to evolve our character and grow spiritually – our disease provides the framework for that. We’re learning a lesson. Perhaps we’re learning about humility, or patience, or slowing down, or letting go of our usual distractions so we can go within. Perhaps the lessons are very obvious, or maybe their complexity is revealed over time. Whatever the case, once we can hear the message that the symptom is delivering, we then have the best chance of letting that symptom go. Ignore it or fight it, and the dis-ease will tend to grow louder. What would life be like if you saw every health challenge you face as an opportunity to grow and evolve? What if we let go of fighting our illnesses, and simply listen a bit more first? What powerful lessons might they be teaching us?
6. What You Eat is Only Half the Story of Good Nutrition
The other half of the story by the way, is who we are as eaters. Meaning, what we think, feel, believe, our level of stress or relaxation, the amount of pleasure in a meal, our attention to the eating experience, the inner story we are living out, the speed at which we consume our food, the degree to which we feel nourished, the intention with which we choose a food – all of these, and more, powerfully, literally and scientifically impact the metabolism of every meal we eat. The ancients were surely right on this one all important point – that mind and body exist on a continuum, are not separate from one another, and indeed have a powerful energetic influence flowing between them. The new field of Mind Body Nutrition clearly asserts the simple science behind these concepts, but the proof is in your own experience. Can you feel how nutrition is more than just the food you eat? Have you noticed that eating under stress literally diminishes your digestive power? And can you see how the thoughts you think and emotions you feel are constantly bathing your biology in their energetic waves of influence?
7. The Best Nutritional System Always Has a Higher Purpose
Many people follow their healthy diet so they can be healthy. Sounds sensible. Others eat a good diet so they can have oodles of energy, or endurance, or strength, or a slender body. I’d like to suggest that this isn’t always enough. The field of nutrition has become a bit religious. It tells us to follow its’ commandments devoutly, piously, and if indeed we do adhere to our dietary system perfectly, there’s a feeling that we’re somehow good boys and girls – clean, holy, and assured of a place in nutritional heaven. I’m still surprised how so many people are on a “health crusade.” For sure, I love health, I practice it as best I can, and teach about it with a lot of passion. But I’m suggesting that good health and long life is not enough. So what if you live to be a healthy 100 years old – yet you’re a total jerk. The people around you would rather have you dead a long time ago. Health by itself doesn’t always have meaning. Humans need a reason, a purpose for being here, alive, on planet earth. So what if you spend a ton of energy sculpting a skinny body. What else is happening in your life? What’s your skinny body for? What gift are you here to give others? Is your life purpose simply to eat vegetarian, or raw food, or low calorie, or macrobiotic? A healthy body is a grace. Are you willing to use it to give back to the world? Can you see that the body is meant to serve a deeper and more beautiful purpose in the world that’s more than just being pretty, skinny or healthy?
It’s a powerful act of self-evolution to question our own assumptions, examine our health strategies, and to put our cherished beliefs under the microscope to see what truly works. The complexity of the field of nutrition and eating psychology makes it both frustrating and fascinating. I believe that if we can have a good tolerance for differing viewpoints, for scientific studies that conflict with one another, and for a multitude of experts who espouse that their way of eating is best – then we are well equipped to smile about the subject of food, and enjoy a good meal – whatever that meal may be.
How has our dramatic exposure to contradictory nutritional information affected your relationship with food?
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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