Happiness Series: Nutrition

How does the food we eat effect our happiness? On the surface, the food we eat can physically make us feel good or gross, but I have found there is more of a link to happiness through food than just how our stomach takes it. The food we choose has a huge emotional impact. Food can be nostalgic or comforting. We view some food as a reward or a guilty pleasure. Craving “junk” can make us feel ashamed or deprived. Trying something new can make us feel adventurous. Food can be beautiful and sensuous, and artistic! Food can give us energy to live life! Food can even cure illnesses! 

It feels like everywhere I look there is a new fad diet popping up. The sheer volume of shaming and conflicting information we are bombarded with regarding food is overwhelming. Page after page of “Don’t eat this” and “Don’t eat that”, what are we left with? Searching for ideas on how to incorporate a healthier diet into our life, could almost convince me to give up on food altogether. But I love food! I refuse to live on a diet of celery and cucumber water. On the other hand, I don’t want to live on donuts and potato chips either.

We should want to fuel our bodies, so we have the energy to do the activities we love! We should be able to eat a wide variety of food that tastes wonderful and still provides the nutrition our bodies need! Let’s not aim for perfection, let the goal be balance!

I am not a medical professional and I needed guidance on what a balanced and healthy diet looked like. I consulted my primary care doctor and was referred to a nutritionist in my area.

From that first appointment my life and view of food was changed forever! 
These tips might just change your life too! 

Tip #1: Fat is not the enemy!
In 1961 Ancel Keys had a hypothesis that fat causes heart disease. One man started a rumor over 50 years ago that completely changed how American’s eat and how our food is made. After years and millions of dollars dedicated to trying to scientifically prove his theory, no one has been able to prove it. But the damage has been done. So why are we still basing our diets on this fat free rumor? The reason is because the “low fat” and “fat free” rebranding made a lot of companies, a lot of money. We need healthy fat in our diets to use as fuel, boosting energy, supporting cell growth, protecting your organs, aiding in nutrient absorption and our body’s ability to make and balance hormones. When we don’t have enough healthy fat in our food, our body starts panicking and demanding the quickest fuel available, carbs and sugar. When we eat healthy fat, it becomes energy. When we eat carbs and added sugar, it becomes fat. We don’t gain weight from fat; we gain weight from sugar! Adding healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and fish into our diets will dramatically change our lives!

Tip #2: Nature has already provided the answer!
Wild animals are not obese. Only humans and animals fed by humans develop obesity. That should be a huge red flag! We are doing this to ourselves! The arrogance of the human race is to take something that nature has already provided, in the exact state needed for our whole body health and try to remove what we think we don’t want, and add what we think we want (which are always changing), until the once nutritious food is now barely an “edible food like substance”. We work against nature, fighting it every step of the way, instead of working with it and accepting what it has naturally provided. The most important change we can make to our diets is stop gorging on processed foods and focus on whole foods. Grow and raise your own food, ok if that isn’t practical, at least buy food that is as close to how nature provided it as possible. I know the argument well, organic and locally grown are too expensive? That is absolutely true! We need to get involved in our communities to start community gardens and healthy food pantries. We need to convince our government to stop backing the fast food chains and start backing our health! 

Tip #3: Stop fearing food!
Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures! So why are we so afraid of it? We are fed so much conflicting information about what we should eat, whiplash is more likely than proper nutrition. We are told “this food will make you fat”, and “this food may lead to a deadly disease”. We have tortured ourselves through the centuries with fad diets. In the 20th century there were fads like the “all grapes diets” and “yogurt enemas”, now we think those sound crazy. Someday people will look back at our “Fat Free” and “Gluten Free” diet fads of today and think we are crazy. All we have to do is stop over thinking food and enjoy it in the way nature intended. More importantly, cut yourself some slack on occasion! Enjoy that ice cream from time to time. Allow yourself to have an indulgent snack in moderation! Building anxiety and guilt around food is setting yourself up for a life cycle of “failure and shame”. Food is not something we should be ashamed of, it’s something we should enjoy! 

Tip #4: Use food to treat and improve your total health!
I want to preface this with the disclaimer that I am in no way stating that medical treatment is bad. However, medicine targets one specific symptom or illness. Where, food can improve multiple organ and body systems that will then work together to improve our overall health. These days we seem to throw pills at everything first and foremost. Shouldn’t we try changing what we put in our bodies first? My husband has a serious and painful health condition. Through diet and exercise changes (with the help of our doctors); he has gone from frequent hospital stays and large quantities of opioids, to no pain kills at all and no hospital stays in over year! Research suggests a change in diet (reducing carbs and sugar, while increasing healthy fats and vegetables) can even boost your immune system to help prevent viruses and infections. We used to die from infectious diseases, and we developed vaccines to save lives. Now we are dying from dietary diseases, isn’t it time to save lives again? We don’t need to develop a cure; nature has already provided one. We just need to eat it. Let’s stop treating dietary illnesses with pills and start treating it with diet changes! 

Tip #5: Bring on the Omega 3s!
If you are a parent, you probably already know how important Omega 3s are for developing babies. Why do we then forget about it for our own diets? Omega 3s are amazing! They help fight depression and anxiety. Improve eye health and help prevent blindness. They reduce insulin resistance, inflammation and risk of heart disease. There is proof that Omega 3s have a role in improving a variety of mental disorders symptoms. Omega 3s can even help you sleep better! Where can we find this miracle fatty acid?  We used to get Omega 3s from beef when the animals ate green plants all day, but now they are stuffed full of corn to fatten them up. Instead now we turn to avocados, fatty fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, edamame, kidney beans, brussel sprouts & leafy greens like spinach, arugula and kale. 

Tip #6: Pay attention to your choices!
We already discussed that healthy fats are good, even necessary. So how do we make good choices? Choosing industrially manufactured vegetable oils poison our body on a cellular level. Good oils and lard help fuel our body in a healthy way. Choose real butter or lard over margarine. Choose oils that stay stable with heat like olive and avocado oils for cooking. Avoid any oils labeled with the word “hydrogenated”. How do we choose healthy carbs? when food companies took our grains apart in order to make our foods more convenient and appealing, they kept the sugary part and threw away the nutrients and vitamins of the grains that were good for us. You don’t have to swear off grains and starches entirely! You just need to be smart about it. Eat the whole grain to receive the nutritional benefits and not just the addicting instant gratification. Starchy vegetables are carbohydrates, treat them as such. Don’t eat a meal consisting of bread, potatoes and corn and convince yourself those are in the vegetable category. You can eat those things with your dinner but pick just one! Carbs aren’t evil if we eat them in moderation. We need to adjust our perspective of the food pyramid. Whole grains and starchy vegetables on top in the smallest portion. Fruits and vegetables taking up the largest section in the middle and protein and healthy fat as the foundation.  

Tip #7: Drink half your body weight in water!
Eight 8oz cups of water a day is perfect, if you weight approximately 128lbs. If you weight more than that, your body needs more water. Your body ideally needs half your body weight in water a day. We can’t survive without water, so why are we surprised when we get sick after years of filling ourselves with soda and juice instead of water? If you don’t “like” water, it is because you aren’t used to it. Push past your addiction to sugar and fill yourself with water and you will grow to love water! Add 4 oz more water into your day every week until you reach half your body weight. When you look back you will wonder how you ever lived without it! 

Tip #8: Feed your ecosystem!
We aren’t just feeding ourselves. We are feeding all of the life forms living in our bodies. Women who have given birth are more acutely aware of this while pregnant, when our babies dramatically make their presence known. We closely watch what we eat when pregnant and breastfeeding because we are feeding our baby too. We need to remember that there are other beings living within us every day that are harder to notice. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria making us feel worse and even causing serious illnesses. Fiber feeds the good colon bacteria, which help prevent colon cancer. Watch out for marketing scams though! Yogurt, for example is advertised as healthy for your good gut bacteria, which it can be. Some yogurt products however, contain high quantities of added sugar which feeds the wrong bacteria! Read those labels and make sure you understand what you are eating. 

Tip #9: Pay Attention when you eat your food!
Most of us aren’t aware of why we eat so much, or that we are eating more than we should. Studies have shown that the size of the plate we use dramatically dictates how much food we give ourselves. When we use a smaller plate, we eat less. The order in which we dish up our plates also has a huge impact on our choices. Serve fruits and vegetables first, we will take more of those leaving less room on the plate for everything else. When we fill our plates with empty calories it leaves us feeling hungry, leading us to eating more. Scientist have wondered how the French eat such decadent food but rarely suffer from obesity. The French culture treats eating very differently than we do here in America. They eat slower and make meals social events. They spend hours more eating then the average American. Unfortunately, most American’s absently scarf their meals while buried in television or computers. We need to take the time to take pleasure in the food we are eating, without digital distractions. The more we pay attention to what sensations our food brings us with each bite, the less likely we are to overeat. We will also feel happier and more satisfied after every meal! 

Tip #10: Take control of your diet
We aren’t taught proper nutrition in school. Leaving a big gap, just waiting to be filled by advertising. We first learn how and what to eat from our parents, and our culture. As we get older, we branch out and adapt new styles and preferences. For the sake of your happiness, take the time to assess what and how you eat. Take steps to ensure you are fueling your body in a way that will serve your long-term life happiness. Talk to a dietitian; learn what your body needs to thrive. It really is as simple as eat and enjoy real food! 

If you are interested in learning more, I strongly recommend “The Magic Pill” on Netflix and “In Defense of Food” on Amazon Prime.

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