Ever wondered what the ‘perfect diet’ is? The one that will solve all of your health problems, resolve your anxieties, and make you feel like Giselle Budschen on a good day? After many years in practice, my own experience and education in Nutrition I need to tell you something: It does not exist!
There is no one box you can find yourself in ALL of the time through out your life whereby your emotional, spiritual and nutritional needs can be met by one specific eating plan. I say this with gentle coercion to those of you who are die-hard healthy and happy vegetarians, vegans, paleons etc etc….. hear me out. My life and career pivots around healthy eating. I have spent years (decades) as a Vegetarian, at times Vegan, sometimes Paleo, and sometimes Carbohydrate Crazy. I have enjoyed aspects of each of these stages in my culinary life. I have made mistakes, been ‘off the wagon’, wished I could eat a certain way better, and had to define a ‘better diet’ to hundreds of people walking into my clinic. And over time, I came to realise that a better diet is one that meets certain needs at certain times. It is not a box, a belief, or religion in its own right.
Our desire to belong to a community is a valuable instinct. It is why various ‘food fads’ become so popular in social media. When we begin to subscribe to a specific way of eating we become part of a food-cult by definition [a cult is a social or religious group with socially deviant or novel beliefs and practices]. Pete Evans and his devout Paleo followers are glowing examples of this. Does it make the Paleo diet wrong or unhealthy? Hell no. However, I have many people who declare they are Paleo like they are non-practising Buddhists. It is a confession of sorts and it sounds a bit like this:
“I am Paleo …. well sort of, I do eat rice sometimes and I like butter too”
They are self conscious about naming their eating style in an act of contrition. And I am afraid that we are becoming lost in a sea of black and white nutrition. It is the same with the tired argument of Alkaline Vs Acidic foods – after 20 years of scouring websites, lists and text books I am yet to find a formal nutritionally unbiased list of what foods are Acidic Vs Alkaline. It makes me wonder about the anxiety I see in patients who are trying to eat a pure Alkaline diet in order to achieve what they see as digestive perfection. They take it pretty hard when I tell them that there are organs in their body which rely on acid for health and that there is such a thing as being too alkaline which can result in poor health. So are alkaline foodies wrong? Hell no. Alkaline foods happen to be most vegetables, and those which are organic.
During times of stress when Cortisol and Adrenaline hormones are high eating Alkaline foods rich in minerals makes sense – that would be my 1st example of Intuitive Eating. Women are cyclical creatures with a deep sense of natural intuition. In the same way that we sense and map our feelings throughout our day, week, heck – lifetime we can eat and create lifestyle rituals to compliment our nutritional needs. I believe we can challenge our ideas about cult-nutrition and eat in a way that nourishes and honours our body for what it asks for and what it needs at any given time. This is not about giving in to our cravings in a kind but deviate way. It is about having common sense, so ask your self these questions first:
Am I overeating?
What foods dull my senses (bloat me, tire me, push me)?
How am I feeling (tired, stressed, invisible, unhappy, overweight….)?
What foods could make me feel better?
Can I eat more of these?
When am I most hungry?
When am I most stressed?
What kind of relationship do I want to have with my body? with food? What foods make me shine?
If you answer these honestly you may form a picture of the changes you need to make for you to BE a nourished version of yourself: to shine, and to go with the cyclical flow of your body and what it needs to carry your soul. Try it out for a couple months. Become sensitive to your cycle, your emotions and most importantly your digestive tract.
Let me give you an example for women: Early in the month as you regain your energy and restore your nutrients post-menses eat in a Paleo way chosing your meats carefully and ethically. True Paleo eaters do not make meat the hero of the dish, it is simply an additional form of texture, iron and protein – all valuable nutrients as we rebuild our stamina and blood. Around the time of ovulation you may give yourself a vegetarian break, increasing your fresh produce and vegetable juices to nurture the release of the Ovum and support the hormones such as Progesterone needed for this to occur. This might be a good option for those women with menstrual or fertility problems, or those suffering from high levels of stress. You may feel that in the time leading up to your next cycle (or bleed) that eating in a Paleo way suits you again, or perhaps you crave carbohydrates at this time? Your body may be asking for nurturing and warming foods as it yearns for quiet & hibernation. In this case you can choose healthy complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, chic peas, legumes, lentils, or sprouted breads to add into your daily food intake.
And though this all sounds so easy – there is a knack to being nutritionally intuitive. You must LISTEN to your instincts. You need to PRACTICE listening, often. You need to be inspired by others. You need to feel good about taking what YOU need for YOUR body and be 100% accountable for those decisions. No blaming others, no more guilt. The choice is YOURS, there is power in that. So rise up and OWN IT. For some reason we have medicalised and popularised food into a state of disrepair. I know that there are hundreds and thousands of people out there who have healed their body’s and their ill’s within a box of nutrition. I applaud you – but boxes do not work for everyone, and for those who they don’t there is an alternative and empowered way to connect to your body and well-being.
Consider WHERE you eat? Are you distracted? Is there a TV or Radio going? Are you looking at your food as you eat it? Consider HOW you are eating your food? Are you in a hurry? Can you feel any textures? Are you stressed? Consider WHY you are eating? Are you hungry? Are you bored? Are you sad? Be accountable and present when you make your food choices as often as you can. Make it your default, make peace with your body, make peace with your food.
Melanie Robinson is a Naturopath BHSc, Home-cook, Food-enthusiast, Realist, Mother of 2 boys, and presenter of ‘Food as Medicine’ at this years IGNITE 2015 event in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. If you want to know more about this style of intuitive eating and using food to honour your journey go to: http://www.ignite2015.com.au