I had a really great talk a few days ago with Vanessa, who was my trainer in London and now lives in Toronto starting up her coaching business, about labelling how we eat. I explained to her that recently I’ve been spending time thinking about my relationship with food and really trying to work on building a healthier mentality. For example, finding a long-term approach to eating that is healthy but isn’t overly restrictive or involve being “on” a program. In the past, I’ve really struggled to find balance when I’m not following “rules”. If you’ve read this blog, you are probably very aware of this fact.
I mentioned to her that I’m starting to feel more optimistic and pretty happy with following a mostly paleo template. I explained that in the past, I was reluctant to: a) use the term paleo, and b) adopt a style of eating that is less flexible. Both were related to my identity and how I wanted to be perceived by others. I didn’t want to be seen as “difficult” or following some questionable “fad diet”. But recently, I’ve been listening to my body, and I realize that my insides aren’t angry when I eat this way. And, frankly, I don’t really care if someone believes I’m trying to eat live a caveman – I’m not. Since my mindset has shifted about how I perceive paleo, it has been freeing.
This discussion led us to talk about labels. As in vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo, ketogenic, flexitarian, etc. I think I’ve been caught up with them in the past because having a label helped define my approach. And there is nothing wrong with identifying with a label, but Vanessa pointed out that labels really aren’t necessary. As she listened to me define how I’d prefer to eat long term, she said, “it sounds like you want to eat foods that taste good AND make you feel good”, and a lightbulb went off. That’s exactly what I want.
It’s so simple, and it’s better than me trying to find a label that defines my approach to eating. It also acts as a good guideline for the long-term*. It’s a healthy way to think about food. It’s also very appealing – I want my food to taste good and be exciting, and I want to feel good after eating it.
Vanessa also mentioned that occasionally, I’ll choose to eat food that tastes good but doesn’t make me feel good. And that’s alright, but instead of feeling guilt, shame, and throwing in the towel (might as well eat ALL THE THINGS!), just recognize that that choice didn’t work well for my body and return back to my standard for the next meal.
As for choosing foods that neither taste good nor make me feel good, I’d like to think I would have the good sense to avoid doing that. However, I can recall eating a few desserts that weren’t as good as I hoped but that I finished anyway.
My talk with Vanessa was really well timed as shortly after, my copy of Food Freedom Forever by Melissa Hartwig (co-creator of the Whole30) arrived in the mail. As an aside, I found it incredibly exciting that my pre-order book arrived a full 4 days before the official release – a book nerd’s dream. Melissa’s messages echo Vanessa’s, and I think the term food freedom is a really good one. Though I haven’t finished the book yet, I think it’s a really valuable tool for anyone that wants a healthier relationship with food.
*Note: While the guideline “I eat food that tastes good and makes me feel good” is great for me when making choices, it’s not all that useful for making restaurant plans with others. When asked where I’d like to eat, I described my newly-adopted mantra with pride – then quickly realized this information is completely useless without context. Useful lesson for future restaurant planning.