Keeping It Simple

If you find yourself confused by the “perfect diet,” as so many out there claim to be, you’re not alone. Many bill themselves as the perfect diet, sure to change your life, and you may try one or two before becoming disillusioned because it didn’t deliver on what you understood to be the promises.

Most people undergoing a radical diet revamp are doing so because they feel they have only two options: scary prescriptions or overwhelming dietary modifications. For some, examining their diet is the only possible answer to the mysterious symptoms they’ve been suffering. For others, it’s treating disease factors attributed to lifestyle: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, etc. These diseases are now understood to be more lifestyle-based than genetic, although in some cases genetics do play a role, simply not as broad a role as we once understood.

The easiest response is to become completely overwhelmed and throw up your hands. You’ve spent a lifetime learning how to eat, and how you eat is likely deeply emotional, linked to social situations and emotional reactions. You associate certain foods with comfort, family, or happy occasions. Realizing suddenly that some of those foods aren’t going to make the cut when you start cleaning things up is often met with a very visceral reaction. Think of how many of our preconceived ideas about food are tied to our emotional state!

So where to start? You’ve overwhelmed and don’t know what’s most important. You’re about as likely to know what you’re doing in the grocery store as you are to likely pick up Mandarin as a second language, overnight.

Keep it simple for yourself. You already know that “whole” and “unprocessed” are very friendly words, but what does this mean? It’s not a life filled with kale smoothies, if that’s your worry. (You know, unless that’s your jam.) Could you work a few more veggies into your diet? Would a gigantic salad make you feel better than your standard lunchtime sandwich?

In my household there is no real classification for our diet. I’ve never developed a taste for red meat–and I’m the one who cooks, so there you go. While we do eat wild-caught, sustainable fish and pasture-raised chicken, the real key seems to be vegetables: as many fresh vegetables as we can possibly stuff into our mouths on a daily basis. (Let me tell you of the wonders of a roasted vegetable platter sprinkled with a hint of Pecorino-Romano–and drool all over myself at the thought.) If you question the powers of a veggie-dense diet, give yourself 20 minutes and watch this. Be prepared to experience total disbelief.

We haven’t entirely limited dairy, as evidenced by our love of cheese. However, we try for organic as often as possible when having cheese, ice cream or milk. This is because of the high levels of pesticides stored in animal fats.

When searching for produce, helpful lists to keep in mind are the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15.

While we do incorporate some grains, we try to largely limit our wheat consumption, due to the fact that Celiac disease runs in my family. It doesn’t seem wise to poke the monster. However, we do incorporate the occasional serving of wild rice, or pseudo-grains like quinoa and buckwheat.

Start small. Be realistic with yourself and don’t expect to overhaul everything overnight, especially as this is a huge and sometimes burdensome learning process. Be kind to yourself, as you can’t possibly plug your brain into some great database and learn All The Good Ideas at once.

Where did we start? We stopped eating breakfast cereal, as silly as that sounds. Instead we swapped in scrambled eggs with sauteed kale and cherry tomatoes. Or a “souffle” of eggs, sweet potatoes, spinach and cheese. You’ll start with a couple “go to” recipes and expand your repertoire as time goes on. (I’ll provide you with links to some of my favorite recipe bloggers in a near-future post.

What are three of the fastest ways to cut out the majority of the junk? Take a deep breath with me, because this might give you vertigo:

  1. Wheat
  2. Soy
  3. Sugar

Did that just make you mentally review and throw out 80% of your pantry?

I don’t suppose you need much convincing about sugar, as you’ve seen the studies, the papers, the articles published by doctors saying things like “It’s not the fat that’s killing you, it’s the sugar.” Good, healthy fat is essential to our survival and to the very health of our brain, but none of us has a sugar deficiency.

There are a number of reasons that most functional medicine doctors, naturopaths and even nutritionists will now point out why wheat isn’t the best option. Not only are most grains drenched with glyphosate during the growing and harvesting process, but most strains of wheat have been so heavily modified that the argument is the body can no longer recognize these grains as food. (Chris Kresser has an excellent article showing the link between gluten intolerance and thyroid dysfunction here.)

As for soy, quite simply put, it disrupts hormones (your endocrine system). It’s a popular food additive (filler) given that it’s a subsidized product and is therefore cheap. Eating it in the quantities we do wreaks havoc with our hormones, as it has estrogenic properties. It’s no surprise, when you consider this, that puberty is striking at horrifically early ages and boys are growing breast tissue.

The point is to do what you can, where you are able, when you can. Even something that seems a small and insignificant step is the first step on your journey toward wellness.

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