The difference between healthy eating and unhealthy eating has nothing to do with food. It has to do with context. Most people put the onus on what you eat. I say it’s how you eat. Healthy eating is as simple and as hard as that.
What healthy eaters do
Healthy eaters eat what they like. And they stop when they stop. They don’t second guess, pre-plan, moralize or apologize for their choices.
They eat what their body desires not what they ‘think’ they should. A healthy eater will prefer to deploy his mind to creative pursuits rather than analyzing what’s healthy to eat. They’d rather leave food choice to the appetite; being designed specifically for that task and all.
Healthy eaters take time to enjoy their food; tasting and noticing and appreciating until they are satisfied.
Healthy eaters ignore food fads. They trust their body, so they don’t force themselves to eat food they don’t like. They don’t look at research to tell them what is good or bad for them. Instead, they tune into what works and leave the rest.
Healthy eaters eat more when food is delicious and in social situations. And less when they are not interested. Sometimes they eat til bursting. Healthy eaters can do this, and not feel bad because they are confident their body won’t bother them to eat until it is hungry again.
Healthy eaters understand eating is not a moral issue, or an irritation to be managed, it is nothing more than a delightful and enjoyable part of life.
Healthy eaters are not more disciplined than anyone else. Instead, they’ve learned the art of trusting their appetite and honoring it. What I’m getting at here is self-respect.
What unhealthy eaters do
Unhealthy eaters misunderstand context. They place an intense focus on food itself, continually assessing if something is good or bad for their health. And this obsession is precisely what makes them unhealthy eaters.
The unhealthy ones presume every morsel of food will either add or subtract to their health. It’s important to unhealthy eaters to ‘know’ this information. Unfortunately, intellectualizing food choices can result in ‘unhealthy’ patterns developing, as a person becomes increasingly closed off to their bodies natural feedback system. As the unhealthy eater starts over-riding her intricate and intelligent biological desires and instead eats what she believes is healthy and avoids what isn’t, her body responds by upping its demands. She meets these signals with annoyance; and will attempt to disregard them in a defiant act to be healthy. In response to being ignored the body elevates its desires — to the point she can no longer ignore them. I don’t need to tell you what happens next.
After falling off the wagon, rather than respect her body and agree to never treat it with such deft opposition again, she believes she is a bad person, a failure. Her stress levels rise.
And stress, as we know, kills.
Why don’t health-obsessed eaters just relax and follow the call of their gut? Why don’t they just stop all the management already? Why do they have to be special and talk about what they will and won’t eat? Why do they feel they have to tell us what is healthy and what’s not? Why do they have to judge others for eating ‘badly’? Because they’re afraid of getting sick. And often, even more terrified of getting fat.
So really, they are not wicked, judgemental people. Most likely, they are misinformed and scared (mostly scared).
It’s no wonder we’re focused on ‘what’ not ‘how’ when it comes to food.
How often do we get invitations to up our health? And how often is the answer said to be found in eating more of this and less of that? Research about what we should and shouldn’t eat gets dished up to us on a regular and relentless basis.
Add to the research, a global fixation on the dangers of obesity, fat, fast foods, sugar, toxins. Then mix in, hero-worshipping the likes of organics, raw, paleo, vegan.
You’ll find yourself with the perfect recipe for stress elevated, ‘what’ fixated, eating.
Almost nowhere in these muddy waters do we see suggestion regarding how to eat this or that in a healthy manner. How often is food related research designed to include the stress of restriction, fat-phobia, human appetite or sociability? I cannot tell you exactly, but I’ve seen almost none.
In other words, a bunch of exploration into which foods increase our health and which don’t may only tell us correlation and nothing about causation. Let’s take the relationship between ice-cream and drowning to spell out what I mean. Ice-cream is correlated to drownings all over the world; places with high ice-cream ingestion you’ll often find high incidents of drowning (you know, summer being the thing that connects them). But it’s ridiculous to think that to decrease drowning we need to stop eating ice-cream.
Telling us what to eat for our health without careful consideration of wider context may be as helpful as suggesting we need to give up ice-cream to decrease the chance of drowning.
How to be different
A lot of healthy people attribute their good fortune to knowing what to eat. I used to be one of them. Arrogant and well-read, I took the moral high ground. But I wasn’t that healthy. I had bulimia. I was obsessed with food. I hated myself. My stress? Up the wazoo.
To inch back my self-respect I took a road less travelled. I decided to trust myself. I made friends with my body and stopped listening to food advice.
I took the following six rules, commonly believed toxic, and ate my way to freedom.
- Trust your appetite. Eat what you like. Follow your satisfaction. Give yourself new experiences. Offer greens and foods high in nutrients but don’t get caught up in shouldn’t and should’s. If you hear a call to go deep in the cookie jar, please, for the love of your body, heed it.
- Eat to soothe your feelings. Self-soothing is a precious, healthy tool. Develop it. It’s okay to take a bath, binge watch netflix, have a glass of wine. It’s okay, too, to eat. I’m not suggesting you never deal with your feelings. But you are human, and sometimes you can’t drop everything and deal then and there. It’s okay to eat to get through. The more you allow self-soothing with food, the less you’ll need to eat to do the job. That’s because your body knows you have it’s back. It doesn’t have to call for a bit extra, just in case. It doesn’t have to shout past guilt and shame to be heard and understood.
- Eat to be social.
- Taste your food. Take time, enjoy it. Open your heart and mind to the glory of eating. Allow your taste buds to relish the heaven-sent pleasures of flavour. Get curious. Ask — do I like this? How does it sit in my stomach? Do I want more or less? Savor every mouthful.
- Appreciate your uniqueness. Everybody has a different size, shape, and weight. There are thin ones, fat ones. Small ones, tall ones. Ones that work like a freshly oiled motor; others that don’t. Give up wishing your body different. Trust me, leaning into what works about your body (rather than what needs fixing or changing) will instigate the biggest transfiguration of your self-worth. Do this one thing, and you won’t know yourself (in the best way you can imagine).
- Eat for pleasure. Allow yourself the full rainbow of delights food has to offer.
Make a choice
Opting out of the ‘it’s healthy for you’ conversation is hard. All you can do is choose to be different. Keep your mouth closed in those ‘healthy food’ conversations unless someone is ready to hear what you have to say.
Ban ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from your vocab. Food is food. Any food will kill you if you eat enough of it.
Read widely. Look for titles that include mindfulness, intuition, self-love, self-respect, and health at any size. Find your own way to relate to food and eating.
All of this, when you boil it down, means treating yourself like a worthy human being who has the great fortune to inhabit a biological masterpiece.
Take time to know the greatness of your own body; it will make all the difference to your health. Be my guest. Start today.
Call to Action
You only have one body. And you’re only alive for so long.
Which means your body is too precious to be disrespected. The question is, are you willing to take action?
Appreciation and respect and pride in your physical self is possible at any age, size, shape, health. Stepping out of cultural norms that tell us we need to be different doesn’t happen on its own. So whether you join me, or deepen your self-love somewhere else — take action, OK?