During my junior year of college, something compelled me to start taking small steps toward better health. Although I had always considered myself pretty healthy- I was active and ate moderately well- I was still constantly stressed, sick, and tired. I think this happens to a lot of people during college, with the heavy load of classes, work, and new-found freedom.
But I was ready to start feeling better. I challenged myself to try cooking with one new vegetable each week. Growing up as a picky eater, the options seemed endless with this new challenge. I challenged myself to drink only one non-water drink each day. These little steps helped me immensely and now, five years later, I feel healthier and stronger than ever: I get sick less and when I do I get over it faster, I trust my body to take on long hikes and cross-country ski trips, I have more energy and less stress.
I credit this a lot to taking those small steps and building on them over the last few years. I credit it a lot to yoga and pilates. I credit it a lot to a mountain lifestyle (there’s nothing to do here if you’re not playing outside 🙂 ).
And over the years I have tried various cleanses, abstaining from certain foods, and so on….like most people who are looking for a healthier lifestyle. But lately I have been thinking a lot about trusting intuition, listening to my body and how certain foods and activity make it feel, and doing everything in moderation, letting go of that guilt that nags when you’ve eaten something that you know isn’t the best for you.
As I look around for new healthy recipes these days, I find so much fear about health (like many other parts of life): gluten will KILL YOU, sugar will KILL YOU, raw cruciferous vegetables cause thyroid problems,….if you don’t eat raw cruciferous vegetables you will get cancer. On and on it goes.
Of course, it’s not good for you to overload on sugar and carbs and fried food. So maybe we are being cautioned against that. Maybe this fear is a basic educational tool…but it seems to have gotten a bit extreme lately. Partially, I believe that all of the extremes about health food and all of the fears are very much the American Way. We are a very extreme culture, and a very fearful one. It seems that we don’t believe in moderation so much. For instance, quinoa. We hear that quinoa is good for us, so we think we should eat it as a breakfast porridge with fruit, on a salad with lunch, and in a stir fry for dinner. Suddenly, we think it’s vital to starting sneaking quinoa into our baked goods and snacks too. Extreme, right?
The truth is, I feel worse when I start worrying about all these problems than I do when I actually ingest food that is ‘bad for me.’ I don’t think I am ignorant about unhealthy foods, and there are certain things that I avoid as much as possible because I think they are icky, like food dyes and foods with unecessarily added sugar (peanut butter does not need added sugar…).But I get sick of the fear that bubbles up in me sometimes when I am just trying to look at a darn recipe! Although I am a big fan of being aware of what you eat and eating with the intention of fueling your body, I get sick of the guilt that sometimes sneaks up when I want one of those foods that everyone says is so bad.
I try to remember, though, that too much of anything throws your body out of balance, even too much of the good stuff. I try to remember the importance of balance, variety, and even the emotional satisfaction that comes from eating a food you really want (people say this is bad too…but with all of the socialness that is tied into cooking and eating, how can it not be somewhat emotional?). I try to remember the importance of paying attention to my own body, because I am not the person on Pinterest that wrote the article about how bad gluten makes her feel. I am me. A bit of gluten doesn’t make me feel bad, so I think I can eat a bit of gluten. But a lot of gluten makes me feel bogged down, so I don’t eat it at every meal. Lately, I am working on basing my diet and recipe choices off of my own body awareness, rather than the latest food-abstinence trend.
I believe it’s important to be informed about nutrition, and not to ignore the cautions about certain foods. And I know that for some people a strict diet is the key to feeling healthier and stronger and for getting rid of certain health problems.
But, 5 years after starting down the path to a healthier me, I believe in moderation more than anything, and in letting go of the worries that come with eating foods that are less healthy, in moderation, (sometimes I still worry, but I am working on it :)). I know that depriving myself of certain things, like grains and sugar, isn’t sustainable and realistic, although I have done cleanses like this to ‘clean up’ my body at certain times. But, in my everyday life I know there are going to be times when I want some candy and times when I want scrumptious toast with jam. That’s okay! There are also times when I crave a good smoothie or some crunchy veggies. It’s up to me! It’s my job to decide what my body and mind needs 🙂
There’s no real timeliness to this post…just something I’ve been contemplating lately!
So, cheers to a happy and healthy and well-balanced Tuesday 🙂