Before we move forward, I want to get one thing out of the way:
What we eat matters.
I want to yell this one out loud on top of the moon until it reaches the ears, hearts and bones of everyone on this planet.
This is a fairly obvious yet wildly underrated fact. Food is fuel, food is nourishment. What we eat directly and undeniably affects our stamina, focus, disposition, mood, productivity, mental clarity, strength, and literally everything else concerning all aspects of our health.
If we are feeling unhealthy in any capacity, it may be time to try making some informed dietary changes. For many of us (maybe even the vast majority), this can be enough to bring us to real, live healthiness.
The tricky part is getting these informed changes right.
Proclamations about food and health are ubiquitous. We’ve all heard the contemporary buzzwords—GMO, organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, raw, vegan, Paleo, Monsanto, cage-free, hormone-free, cruelty-free, superfoods or whole foods.
I feel very grateful to be living in a time when health is so trendy, but there is still a spiraling wasteland of conflicting information going around, plenty of which is unhealthy.
Many of us can agree that we don’t want GMO’s and that Monsanto is wholly corrupt and vicious. Plenty of us can agree that animal cruelty and factory farms are horrific. Lots of us (most? all?) have a desire to be and feel healthy. There is plenty of common ground for us to sink our roots into. This is an exciting time to be alive for this very reason– it seems hopeful that our society is moving forward into a more unified and heightened consciousness.
But we, as a whole, are still missing two essential truths:
- There is no short cut to health
- There is no “One Fits All” approach to health
Nutrition information is conflicting. Different cultures will tell you different things.
Traditional Chinese nutrition believes that dairy is no good for our bodies, whereas Ayurvedic tradition believes that cow’s milk is essential due to the nurturing and motherly energy that it contains.
The FDA constructed the “food pyramid” for us in the US, which suggests that every person needs a diet based on mostly grains, then vegetables, then meat and dairy, and then sparing amounts of sweets and sugars. If we are to believe in the food pyramid, how can so many vegans possibly be healthy? This goes for Ayurveda and traditional Chinese belief and every other nutritional declaration—how can people who don’t follow these specific guidelines be healthy?
Because everyone is different. Some people do best with dairy in their diet, some do best without meat, some do best with only small amounts of fruit, some bodies don’t like large amounts of raw vegetables, etc etc, ad infinitum.
Many may think that this makes things more difficult, but I see it as quite the opposite. Instead of trying to follow someone else’s calculated rules, bring the power back to ourselves. Notice how we feel after we eat certain foods.
Energized? Anxious? Sluggish? Creative? Motivated? Irritated? Impatient? Relaxed?
Notice the reasons we decided to eat in the first place. Plenty of times in our society, we are not eating because we are hungry. We eat when we are nervous, happy, sad, angry, we eat to connect with people, we eat because we are bored, etc.
Notice why we eat, notice what we eat, and notice how we feel in the following hours. Cultivating a sense of nutritional self-awareness may take some concerted practice to get the hang of, but the benefits are far beyond just “eating right”.
Our physical, emotional and spiritual health are all wrapped up in each other. They listen to one another and depend on one another and feed off one another. Optimally fueling our bodies snowballs not only into feeling better physically, but improved mental health.
A friend and I were talking the other day, and he equated being healthy to “not dying”. Plenty (most, I would dare to say) are not operating optimally, but also not actively dying due to serious illness.
Being healthy is far beyond what many of us understand. It is more than “not dying”, it is more than consuming a certain number of calories each day or exercising a specific amount of times per week.
It is an individual journey of self-awareness and self-discovery, a journey that I believe to be one of the most important but also the most misunderstood. There are worlds of gray between the healthy and not-dying, and every single one of those worlds (and even the worlds between “not-dying” and “dying”) can benefit from increased nutritional self-awareness.
Knowing ourselves means being able to look at the world around us through a clearer lens. It means being able to make sense of our gifts as well as our flaws and learning how to use them to best serve ourselves and others.
Products that claim to be a quick-fix into health and happiness fail to take into account the inexplicable value of self-empowerment and self-awareness through nutrition.
Beginning the journey may seem daunting. Keeping a food log can be effective—writing down everything that we consume will bring our attention to our absent-minded snacking or cups of coffee or cans of soda, as well as organically assisting us in making connections about which foods trigger which physical/emotional responses.
I am not suggesting that the professional advice of a nutritionist or dietician is not helpful, and in plenty of cases, necessary. I am not an expert in this field, and I don’t wish to inspire any ill-informed decisions.
But I do believe that many of us don’t give ourselves enough credit or control when it comes to our health.
At the end of the day, only we can decide what is best for us. If we all spent more time learning about ourselves, the world would be an easier place for us all.
Do your part. Eat for you.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Alessandro Valli at flickr