Not knowing what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat are looming thoughts many of us experience. These questions can surface as soon as we sit down to read a menu at a restaurant, or maybe when standing in line at the office cafeteria.
The feeling of overwhelm and uncertainty clouds your gut instincts. When the waiter asks “What would you like?” you reflexively say “the salad with dressing on the side” because that’s what you were told to do when you eat out.
I hear you and I was in the same position. I reverted to salads at nearly every restaurant I went to. Something to note, I enjoy salads, but I also enjoy burgers, pizza, pasta, a juicy steak etc.
Food has become so utterly……confusing. Decision making around food has become a long lost skill. Everywhere we go we’re fed information about the next best thing: “Eat Kale because of “x”, don’t eat Kale because of “x”.
Following up on Part 1: Do or Donut, I received the following questions based around nutrition:
Not knowing how to eat: keto verses vegan verses paleo- what’s best?
All of the conflicting information on the market
How do I know what’s best for me?
So how do we know what to eat?
How do we know that this is what works for us and our bodies?
Before you continue to read, let’s first start by taking a nice inhale followed by a deep and long exhale.
Ok, here we go.
Food is multifaceted. In my personal opinion, it fits into a bunch of categories:
Digestion and Personal Biology
In order to uncover what works for you, you’ll want to consider all of these different sub-categories.
Keep in mind that how you prioritize each sub-category will change depending on what life is demanding of you at the moment. For instance, maybe you’re expecting a new baby and you’re focus is now on getting as much vitamins and nutrients for your body and the baby, more of a nutrient focused approach.
#1 Enjoyment: I’ve often have clients mention to me “I am the eat to live” type of person or “I am the live to eat type of person”. If you’re the “I live to eat” type of personality, but struggling on how to manage your “foodie” tendencies with your goals, this section is for you. I love a great fresh loaf of bread toasted with loads of butter and sea salt on it. I love going out to a delicious sushi dinner. I love fresh pastries. Knowing and understanding how to fit food enjoyment into your goals comes down to:
Experimentation with how flexible you can be on your meal planning and an honest exploration of your values.
Experimentation with how flexible you can be: I went through a phase where I LOVED donuts. I ate one literally every day for about 2-3 months. I was happy and fulfilled. However, after the 2-3 months of consistently satisfying my donut fix. I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling all that “great”: my PMS symptoms were a little more intense (more emotional, more cramping, more fatigue). I also noticed my skin get a little drier. So, I went to the drawing board and decided I might as well experiment with transitioning my donut routine. I opted to have less. And as more time passed, I first noticed my skin improved. So I kept it up and after a full month of having a donut every week verses every day, I noticed a significant improved in my month to month PMS symptoms. I still enjoy donuts, I just figured out a way to enjoy them so that it fit into how I FELT. The goal isn’t to remove food groups, rather it’s to explore how you can still enjoy the foods you love in the context of how well you want to feel. Personally, I wanted to feel better than I had been, and so I replaced the habit of enjoying a donut everyday to enjoying a donut every now and then. Donuts were still there, I just figured out a way to enjoy them so that they weren’t too disruptive to my health.
Start somewhere: What do you feel like your body is struggling with right now? (Digestion, skin, energy, muscle fatigue/tightness?)
Take some notes: What are you currently doing and enjoying?
Experiment: Adjust ONE thing. Not 1-2 things, just one. You’ll have a better reassessment if you adjust one thing at a time.
Reassess: Gather some notes as to what you noticed. Do you feel the same or different?
Then continue to reassess: Remind yourself that this is an ongoing journey of self experimentation.
Client story: One of my favorite client stories had to do with a morning “latte”. My client, was curious if the latte was preventing her from achieving her goals. So we agreed to give it a shot and see what potential outcomes would occur with this experiment. We replaced her morning latte with black coffee and collagen peptides (*it’s best to replace a habit with a habit, rather than removing it completely). Just a couple of mornings into our experiment, she walks in and tells me: “You know Alyssa, I really miss my latte. I think it makes me really happy.” She noticed that her morning commute to work was more cumbersome. Her mood was a notch lower and well, she just wasn't happy. We gave it a couple more days before she decided, her morning latte was coming back into her routine. In this scenario, we weighed our options and she determined, that current approach of removing her latte, wasn’t worth sacrificing her morning pick me up. I share this story, to remind you that figuring out what to eat, should and always come from you. You can have people, articles, and even professionals suggest or tell you what to do, but it should always pass through your filter.
Honest exploration of your values: Your values will consistently come into play when it comes to identifying how exercise, fitness or nutrition fit into your life. Let’s say for example, you’re someone who values compassion and opted to be vegetarian. You would be less likely to succeed or even try something that is meat focused and less plant based. I would encourage you to spend some time jotting down the things that matter to you most:
What are some values you stand by? Need some help? Click this link for some ideas:
Coming up with 3-10 values that mean something to you, will be a pivotal step in helping you understand how you want to approach your nutrition plan (Ex. Compassion + animal rights verses Paleo)
Understand that reaffirming your values will take time, patience and experiments
Aligning yourself with your values is an amazing space to be in, but will again, take time, patience and experimentation
Favorite Foods Blog: As we know, food is also very tasty. I would also suggest referring to blog I wrote about food enjoyment. When we enjoy what we eat, we may notice a drastic increase in compliancy and therefore success.
#2 Social Connection
In my opinion food also fuels connection. Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas and even weddings. They all gather around food. Learning how to work with these events in life will be a useful strategy to ultimately understanding how food works for you. I would encourage you to reflect on the following:
What is your current lifestyle like? (ex. dining out often, social work environment, single, mom?)
What are the “realities” that arise from the role or lifestyle you are in? Ex. If you’re a mom, most likely you’ll be cooking for more than yourself, which may mean you need to find creative ways for everyone to be satisfied after a meal.
Food is larger than ingredients and macros, again, it’s typically about who we’re sharing a meal with and how we can connect with those people. Calories aside and connection forward.
#3 Digestion and Personal Biology:
This has been a large topic on my Private Facebook Group. There seems to be a lot of questions that have surfaced regarding “how do I know I digest it well?”. Below are some great reflection points to ask yourself to begin identifying which foods may or may not be working well for you:
Do you experience any gastrointestinal pain or discomfort like cramping, bloating, gas?
Do you get tired or feel lethargic?
Do you notice an increase in anxiety, depression or stressful thoughts?
Do you notice any skin changes (this one may take a little longer to identify as it may surface a few days later)?
Deciding if a meal plan, diet or program will work for you will also depend on what your goals are. If your goal is to develop a healthier relationship with food, it will most like not be in your best interest to follow a plan that reinforces restriction. Restriction wires us neurologically to feel addicted to food and become more food obsessed. Spend some time with your goals. Spend more time with your values and understand that your food choices will depend on both.
Not knowing what or how to eat anymore is more common now than ever. If you’re struggling at where to start, I would suggest referring back to my two blogs:
These may help serve as references for you as you continue this journey in understanding your body and becoming a better expert. I would encourage you to keep the following in mind: nutrition has become confusing, but it is meant to be simple. You and you body have the answers, it’s just about pausing, taking the time to be curious and passing everything through your filter.
Also, if interested in creating a larger support network, please join me on my private Facebook group. I aim to open up conversations that help all of us feel more supported.