So…what DO you eat?
I often get teased over my daily salads, homemade granola and frequently get asked.. “so what DO you eat?!”. I thought I would post a little about my approach to food and a few tidbits I picked up in grad school. Let me get something out there right up front….I don’t believe in adhering to any one ‘diet’.
Let me begin with a small aside about what I picked up in 2005 while getting my Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology.
Lets step back and think about diets for a moment. Take ANY of the popular diets out there you know: South Beach, Atkins, High Raw, Master Cleanse…Insert yours here. Next, take a person who is not currently minding their dietary intake and say they give it try. What happens? They drop pounds in just one week! Just by virtue of cutting out whatever junk and excess they were consuming and trading it for the new, structured, junk-less diet plan they have subscribed to, they have now begun to see a change. It’s never a matter of if one can lose weight on a diet plan, the problem is LIVING on a diet plan.
In graduate school I worked under Dr. John Jakicic at the University of Pittsburgh Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center on a behavioral weight loss study. This means that the participants in the study were taught new, healthy behaviors to replace the old habits of eating poorly and leading a sedentary life. The program promoted behavior change and lifestyle modification, not a strict pre-planned ‘diet’ to be adhered to “or else”. When learning behavioral changes, we learn to view our individual ‘diet’, as our own unique way of eating that works best for us. Behavioral weight loss programs allow us to choose what we want to eat (obviously within reason) and eat intuitively, not just from a rigid plan that does not translate to real life. This is why behavioral plans such as Weight Watchers are on top!! When people begin talking about a diet they are on or want to try, I like to think to myself “Would I be able to go out to a nice dinner with friends or go away on vacation and still maintain the essence of that way of eating?”.
So, back to my initial comments: people frequently ask me what it is that I eat. So my approach is this: I choose to eat mostly vegetarian, occasionally vegan, and basically always gluten free.
We know that a plant based diet is the way to maximize nutrient intake and minimize our risk of chronic diseases like atherosclerosis, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, as well a plethora of other maladies. I love a good salad and have not met a fruit a didn’t like. I also know that animal protein is acid forming and makes the gut really stagnant. I never really LOVED meat growing up, so as I got older, it naturally phased out of my diet. Plus, once I cut it out I saw a huge upswing in how I felt physically and saw a big decrease in GI problems. I eat seafood and I still incorporate grass fed, organic beef now and then, especially in the winter months.
Enter the caveat. Let’s call it the Bourdain principle. Example: If I am at our friends’ beach house for the weekend and they have gone to the butcher in town the day before, marinated steaks overnight, and prepared a full on feast….you better bet I’m going to take a little slice of steak on my plate & enjoy it. In addition to being delish, it is also the right thing to do. Your friends, family, significant other, granny, or whoever has planned the special occasion at hand would love for you to share in the bounty. Think back to a time when you prepared something and really, I mean reeeeally wanted someone to share it with you or have a little slice of what you spent time making for them with a pinch of extra love! Just imagine if you got shut out and your loved one did not have a taste! Ouch. Here is my point: Most days of most weeks of most months, I go the way of the veggie. But if it’s a holiday celebration and all mom wants is to see me put a piece of turkey on the plate, I am just going do it. I know it’s not for everyone and I may get criticized by true vegetarians out there, but so be it.
Many days, I go without dairy. In fact, I don’t even notice it’s gone. I use almond or coconut milk for my oatmeal, coffee, etc. But if run out of coconut milk I’ll have 1/2 and 1/2 with my coffee, no problem. I’m not beating myself up over that!! Secondly, I can’t totally kick the cheese habit. I know what some of you may be thinking—the hormones, the fat, its addictive nature (cheese has morphine like compounds that impact your brain creating a drug-like rush) and on top of it all, it just isn’t that great for you. I get it. But now and then a little buffalo mozzarella happens. Or pecorino. Or Parmigiano Reggiano. Now and then.
Basically Always G-free
Gluten and I have a contentious relationship. After many trips to the gastroenterologist and years of GI issues, I steer clear. The story of feeling better within days after cutting it out (following years of GI problems) is a long tale to tell so I will spare you the details. I started avoiding gluten in 2005 and have essentially stuck with it in earnest for the past eight years. But in full disclosure, I knowingly have a little gluten every now and then. Things a little birthday treat, or maybe mom’s homemade biscotti make the cut. This is a couple-of-times-a-year cheat only and is always a decision made after consideration! If something really looks irresistible I have to decide if it is “worth the gluten or not worth the gluten” and if it’s worth it, I have a bite or two. But to be clear, no huge bowls of pasta, no splitting a baguette, no entire pizza! So don’t get me wrong, if I go off the rails with more than a couple bites, I get a big painful belly and an itchy rash to show for it—which is usually SO not worth it.
The Bottom Line
So what does it all mean? YOU are the expert on YOU. It is KEY for you to know what works for you and know how to really tune into your body! Some people love oats for breakfast, for others they feel sluggish and weighed down. Some people feel bloated and ravenous at midnight if they have a big salad for dinner while others notice peaks and valleys in their blood pressure and heart rate after foods with sodium. My point is that no one can tell you EXACTLY what ‘diet’ to follow and what exact meal plan will make you feel your very best. Only you can feel that! Not omnivore, not high raw, not paleo, not vegetarian. You have to be a YOU-etarian! Maybe it is not as easy as eating the same rote meals that a diet plan would tell you to consume–but I believe this is truly the way to having a lasting dietary intake that supports your body in the most healthful way possible!
Becoming my own “Meg-etarian” is something I’m constantly working on… and don’t forget, this has been over eight years in the making!!
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 which includes my top tips on how to make the subtle shifts in your meal plan and how you can become a “you-etarian”!!