- by joeylott
Listen, if you’re obsessed with eating healthfully, then I’m going to guess that you’ve got some mistaken ideas about what health food is. I know I did…for a very long time. Here’s a brief history of some of my ideas about health food:
- healthy food contains no fat
- healthy food comes exclusively from plants
- healthy food is whole food such as whole grains
- healthy food is raw food
- healthy food contains no salt
- healthy food is grain-free
- healthy food is low carbohydrate
- healthy food is no carbohyrdrate
- healthy food is vegetable juice
- healthy food is grass-fed beef liver and raw grass-fed butter (and maybe the occasional piece of organic red leaf lettuce) and nothing else
The truth is that there is no such thing as health food in the universal sense because what is healthful for one person at one point may not be healthful for another person or even for that same person at another time.
I contend that what makes food health food is the following:
- The person eating the food eats it because they feel a desire for the food and joy in eating the food
- The person eating the food releases all stress and anxiety about food, eating, or anything else before, during, and after eating
We all have our reasons to seeking out “health food”, and I would suggest that a good many of those reasons are dysfunctional and really don’t serve our health. For me the search for health food started as a way in which to rid myself of breasts. After years and years the habit of seeking health food was so ingrained that I lost sight of the underlying reason that started it all, but I kept going with the obsessive search for perfection. I wanted to be superhuman, pure, and achieve what amounted to god-like status through diet. But as my health food continued to lead me further and further into a downward spiral of worsening health, eventually weakening my digestion, my metabolism, and my immunity to the point where I could barely eat 1500 calories even on a good day, I was irritable, I was fatigued, and I was caught up in a full-blown nightmare of obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. I know I’m not the only one either. I have heard from others. I have read others’ stories. I know that this is a well-kept secret epidemic that affects millions of people. Millions of people who are bloated, insomniac, cold-intolerant, depressed, constipated, dehydrated, and/or suffering from all sorts of other mysterious ailments. And the search for health food is a big part of the problem, not the solution.
If someone has to tell you that some food is health food, then it probably isn’t. Most of what passes for health food isn’t. That isn’t to say that for some people on occasion a raw vegetable salad or wheatgrass juice or a zero-carbohydrate day or a grass-fed beef liver only day might not be healthy. But the key to knowing what is health food is listening to your body and your desires. What truly feels as though it would be the most delicious and satisfying food or meal for you right now? Chocolate cake? Lifesavers candy? Peanut butter? Jello? Sourdough bread and cheese? Ice cream? Or maybe a baked potato with butter and lots of salt? Pretzels? Yum!
Tell me if when I listed off those things you didn’t have objections. Maybe you’re on a gluten-free diet or a low carbohydrate diet. Maybe you don’t eat refined foods. Maybe you don’t eat dairy because of lactose or casein intolerance. Maybe you’re on a low salt diet. Peanuts have toxins, you say. Ice cream will make you fat. You don’t eat sugar. But forget about all that for a moment. Granted, there are some rare cases in which a person knows they have a genuine, intense, negative reaction to a food. In such a case it is prudent not to eat that food (for now.) But tell the truth: most of us don’t have Celiac disease. Most of us just have an idea that gluten is bad. Or maybe we have a mild discomfort from lots of gluten. But that’s different from full-blown Celiac. So this requires real honesty. And if you find yourself craving bread and pretzels and cheese and ice cream…maybe that’s your body telling you what you need.
See, I subscribed to this whole notion that the body cannot be trusted for a long time. I believed that I needed to look to external authorities for help in discovering what to eat. I thought someone else could tell me what is health food. But sometimes health food is raw vegetables and sometimes health food is gluten-rich, chocolate cake with ice cream and goitrogen-containing strawberries and salicylate-containing peppermint and caramel all made with refined white sugar and refined white wheat flour and lots of refined table salt. You can know which is which with a really simple test: what do you want to eat? What does your body want? I’m not advocating for extreme diets. I’m not advocating for eating lots of white sugar…unless that’s what your body wants.
Listen to your body. Trust your body. Stop stressing about the food. Stop stressing altogether. I know it sounds as though it’s easier said than done. But I’m writing this as someone who obsessed for 20+ years. I was so obsessive that I spent years washing my hands and turning in circles every time I even thought the word “sugar” or “McDonalds”. I believe that I know about stress and obsession and anxiety more than most. If I can do it, you can do it. And I’d be glad to help you if you want to reach out and ask. The key, in my experience, really and truly, as simple as it sounds, is to physically relax. Let the thoughts happen and just relax your body. Relax your jaw. Relax your belly. Relax your forehead. Relax your shoulders. And just keep relaxing. And eat what you desire, as much as you desire whenever you desire. Don’t worry about it. Things have a way of working out. Your body will tell you what you need, and it will change over time. So don’t worry about it.