Generally speaking, I am happy with how we eat. We follow a whole foods, plant based approach because this is what we've found works best for us. I incorporate lots of superfoods, as a nutritional boost, and follow the latest news in health and nutrition to keep abreast of what is new and exciting in the field. Are there things we can do differently? Of course. There are definitely things I would like to do better, but I generally feel good about where we're at. I also am aware of perfectionist tendencies within myself, and try to keep tabs on how much I am indulging them where nutrition is concerned, as I know it can be a dangerous road that leads right to orthorexia (aka an unhealthy obsession with eating foods that are perceived to be healthy).
Last week I found myself challenged, in a really big way. I picked up a gorgeous new cookbook, full of amazing and exciting information about a way of eating that is pretty far removed from where we are at. I started out feeling really inspired, but the more I read, the more I felt doubt creeping in. Is this what we really "should" be doing? Am I not doing enough? What about where my kids are concerned? There were aspects of the book that were in complete contradiction to what I believe is healthy (it was anti-fermented foods, no mushrooms), but that didn't seem to matter, I still felt the ugly seeds of doubt seeping their way in.
My intention was to make this fabulous new book the basis of our weekly meal plan, but instead I found myself sitting at the table in a bit of a daze, leafing through jaw droopingly beautiful pictures for the next half hour. I felt at a loss as to how to fit this brand new and shiny philosophy into our current lifestyle. We've found a food approach that works for us, that accommodates the fact that we have young children, a strict food budget and a crazy busy homeschooling lifestyle. The vast majority of the food we eat is made from scratch out of whole foods. I felt really good about all of this, until I started leafing through my new cookbook. I put the new book aside and went on with my weekly meal planning, feeling all the while that I was somehow falling short of the mark.
When my husband got home, I had a long discussion with him. He kindly asked me if I felt so uncertain about how we eat that I would allow this to drastically get in the way of my confidence. He also reflected that the author had found their "niche market", which was an important reminder to me that this is just one way of eating, not the ultimate, "right" way. It is simply another approach. One of the most important things I took away from IIN is that there are a billion and one different ways of eating out there and that each of those approaches can sound very convincing, but at the end of the day it is about what works best for your individual client. Or in this case, for us. Meghan Telpner often says "labels are for tin cans", which is another reminder that it is not the label you attach that matters (gluten free, vegan, alkaline, paleo) but rather finding a label-free way of eating that works for you, ideally within the parameters of making healthy choices. Stress is a huge factor in healthy digestion (and a healthy life in general), which makes stressing out about what you are eating pretty much the worst thing you could do.
It is also important to keep in mind that the very idea of what constitutes "healthy" will shift and change over time. Kale is a superstar one week, the next it is demonized because of a new study that has emerged in main stream media. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? Maybe, but apparently only if you eat the right kind of apple, paired with the right foods to avoid a blood sugar spike. The sky is the limit when it comes to food philosophies and studies touting what is healthy and what is not. So much comes down to the philosophy of the person writing the article, and the outcome of a very specific, targeted trial that focuses on one outcome and may not take into account a wide range of different factors. Not to mention the industries funding these studies, who may very well have their own agenda propelling the research. At the end of the day we are all unique human beings, with our own unique combination of requirements when it comes to food intake. It is up to us to determine what that combination should be.
After a lot of reflection, I realized that it is not about being "perfect", within the context of yourself or someone else. It is about finding what works best for you, at this point in time. There are so many considerations to take into account, food sensitivities, family food preferences, time availability, budget, geographical location, food supply and emotional attachment to specific foods. I have found my way around the latter by recreating foods that I used to love in a healthier context. Does that mean they are perfect? Probably not, but nor do they need to be.
Will I be donating this shiny new cookbook at my earliest convenience? Surprisingly, no. When I finally dug myself out of my cavern of doubt, I realized that we can easily incorporate some of these wonderful recipes into what we are already doing. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. We are doing the best we can, and that is enough.
What are some of your biggest challenges when it comes to health and nutrition? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
* As a footnote, there is a webinar happening tomorrow night on this very subject, entitled "Jude Blereau on food culture, food guilt and stress!" Jude Blereau is the author of some excellent whole food cookbooks, and also has a fantastic website: http://wholefoodcooking.com.au. You can find a link for the webinar here.