Alright, it’s been a few weeks now and I still haven’t told you guys my personal opinions and beliefs about food!
I’m a big believer in the power of real food – whole food! – for improving health. As I briefly touched on last week in my post about sugar, food has a huge effect on our health. It’s easy to see the negative effects – obesity, diabetes, heart disease, links to certain cancers. Overweight, not to mention obesity, is now a leading risk factor for death. But you don’t hear about the positive effects of food as often. It’s harder to find those happy stories of someone who was sick, cleaned up their diet, and is now healthy. It’s easy to find weight loss and fitness stories that follow that theme, but it’s harder to find stories of people who have actually had a diagnosis of disease and managed to heal themselves through food. Those stories are out there, they just don’t get as much publicity.
So in theory, let’s just not eat the bad food that makes us sick in the first place, right?
Right. That’s the basis behind my opinions about food. Make whole, nutrient dense food the majority of what you eat, and let everything else be a special treat. But I have to admit that it’s really easy for even me to lose sight of.
So what do I mean by whole, nutrient dense foods? In an ideal world, we’d eat vegetables, protein, and fruit and use everything else to add a hint of flavor and enjoyment to our meals. Because enjoying our food is just as important as eating healthfully.
But we don’t eat in an ideal world. I’m an emotional eater and I’m just as susceptible to the addictive nature of the deadly combo of sugar, salt, and fat that’s added to processed foods as anyone else. And I absolutely rely much too heavily on energy dense foods that have no true nutrient value (aka bread). Working at a bakery doesn’t help. Great Harvest bread is amazing and I probably wouldn’t keep bread in the house if I didn’t get a free loaf each shift I work. Plus the boyfriend likes to have it around for lazy dinners when my food is too healthy or uninteresting for him.
Someone I follow on Instagram recently said something about how if you eat a meal or snack significantly lacking in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, protein, fat) your body will continue craving food because that need for nutritive building blocks hasn’t been satisfied. Kind of like if you eat a candy bar at 2pm, you’ll be hungry again by 3 because your body quickly processes and stores the sugar (probably as body fat) but there’s nothing more that the body can use to repair or regenerate cells and tissues that naturally breakdown and get worn out through normal daily living. So we end up eating more to try to get those nutrients, leading to weight gain and heightened disease risk.
And that’s what contributes to health. Being able to properly repair and maintain normal body processes and tissues, and for that we need protein, vitamins, and minerals. But as much as I’d love to say that I only eat veggie scrambles and bacon, chicken stirfries, and roasted vegetables by the tray-full, that’s not what happens. The other stuff just tastes so good!
That’s because the combination of sugar, salt, and fat that food companies add to processed foods to increase their shelf-life, and by extension their profitability, seems to actually have the same effect on dopamine receptors as addictive drugs like opium and heroin. Dopamine makes us feel good! It’s a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s pleasure and reward centers. And that sense of pleasure and reward is addicting. We like feeling good. Some researchers even argue that the sugar, salt, and fat in processed food is as addictive as alcohol and tobacco.
I have to admit, this is my usual set-up while blogging. My favorite coffee shop with a latte and one of their wonderful house-made scones. It’s my weekly treat, my weekly “me time.” And of course those bites of the top of the scone with the granulated sugar on them are my favorite. But this coffee shop is also a bakery, that scone is made from scratch, from real food ingredients, and as a result it leaves me satisfied instead of craving more sugar.
(For Colorado locals, I love The Little Bird Bakeshop in Old Town Fort Collins.)
Do you ever feel like you lose control around certain foods? Is there something you just can’t keep in the house because you’ll eat it all in one sitting? Chips? A certain type of cookie? Cake? I certainly do. I don’t buy Goldfish crackers. I don’t bring certain breads home from the bakery. I only keep dark chocolate around for those nights that I want something sweet after dinner. I told you, just because I know how to eat healthfully doesn’t mean I can just ignore all those temptations if they’re right in front of me. I just develop (good) habits to avoid them. And there are times when I fall out of the habit and have to go through the painful process of building them up again. I quickly seem to be developing a habit of grabbing a bag of chips with my free lunch at the hospital and saving them for an afternoon snack. I’ve fallen into the bad habit of having a piece of bread or two and several spoonfuls of peanut butter in addition to my planned dinner, because it’s what my taste buds want.
Do I know I should focus on consuming the greatest number of nutrients with the least amount of calories? Absolutely. Is it still a constant back-and-forth for me between what I know I should be eating and what satisfies me emotionally? Definitely. Will I always be a work in progress? Probably. Do I have a new resolve to clean my diet back up after writing this post? Yes I do. But will I still come back to the bakery each week to write my blog post? Yes, I think I’ll do that too.