These days, it seems like you can’t browse the web without getting bombarded by messages about what you should be eating.
You have to be vegetarian (or vegan) — the average person gets too much protein; meat is destroying the planet; think of the animals!
You have to be paleo — it’s what our ancestors ate; it’s the best biological choice; vegans are dumb.
You have to eat raw… or slow carb… or Mediterranean… or Atkins… or McDougalls… or do juice cleanses…
Or, you should eat nothing but air, and compost your pocket lint.
A quick spin through the “comprehensive” list of diets on good ‘ole Wikipedia includes just under 100 different branded diets.
And while these diets might be a good place to start for those who are trying to figure out what they should (and shouldn’t) be eating, trying to bend yourself to someone else’s definition of diet is just plain unnecessary.
Seriously… You Are a Freakin’ Unicorn
Remember the post from a couple of weeks back, about how you are a complex, unique beast?
After reading that post, you might be wondering: what’s a unicorn supposed to eat?
One of the most important things to do when figuring out your own nutritional plan is to listen.
Listen to your body — pay attention to how your stomach feels after you eat something, how quickly you get hungry again, how you feel the next day. Are you sleeping well? Is your skin dry, or too oily? Are you really cranky some days, or feel like you can’t get through the afternoon without coffee on others?
You’ll probably also want to play around with how often you eat, and at what times. There are lots of variables to work with, and lots of potential areas for change and improvement.
But every experiment needs a control group, right?
Start With a Baseline
You don’t have to go so far as doing an elimination diet, but it’s good to start with some kind of healthy baseline.
I personally like Michael Pollan’s advice:
Not too much.
In the article, he also cautions us that, “if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.”
It may take some time to find the baseline that works for you, and your nutritional needs will shift and evolve with time, so be gentle on yourself while you’re figuring it out.
Know Where Your Food Comes From
As well as Pollan’s advice on the types of food to eat, there are a few other considerations that you can mix into the equation.
I personally like to know where my food comes from.
If I’m eating something that comes from an animal, I want to know that the animal had a good life. We humans share this planet with all of the other life forms, and as much as possible, I really do believe that we should take them into consideration as we make our decisions.
Eat local. This helps with the preference above. I know a lot of the farmers who raise the food we eat, because I see them every week at the farmers market. Having a human connection to the food and farms just feels better. Go hug a farmer. Seriously.
Eat organic, or low spray. If you can’t eat local, or there are things that you can do to minimize your exposure to the toxic chemicals that come along for the ride on conventional produce. Eat cleaner, and your body has less crap that it needs to process and get rid of.
Or, even better: grow your own! You don’t have to have a giant piece of property to have a garden. In fact, if you have a sunny balcony in your apartment, you can container garden and grow at least a little bit of the food you eat. I don’t know about you, but digging around in the dirt and then watching things sprout and grow is some of the best stress relief out there.
Your Skin Eats, Too
Did you know that your skin is your body’s largest (and fastest growing) organ?
And, much like our stomachs, our skin processes all the things that we put on it. When you put lotion on your hands, whatever ingredients are in that lotion get absorbed into the skin, and then into the body.
Have you read the ingredient label on your lotion, body wash, or any of your body care products?
My general rule of thumb is that I need to be able to pronounce the ingredients (or at least recognize and be comfortable with the source of the ingredient) — and I have a yoga teacher who recommends only using body care products that you would feel comfortable actually eating.
It can feel like a lot when you start to delve into what diet works for you. Trust me, I’ve been through many years and lots of mental anguish around food, and it’s something that I admittedly still struggle with.
Like most changes, the easiest way to get started… is to just start.
Pick one thing. Maybe it’s eating more vegetables (honestly, I’d start there if you’re lost as to where to start). Or maybe it’s cutting out refined sugar, or cutting down on your caffeine intake. Maybe it’s making sure that you’re staying hydrated.
There’s a reason most New Years Resolutions fail — it’s because people get these big audacious ideas in their head, and decide to make massive sweeping changes. And then 2 weeks later, it gets hard or they realize they can’t actually implement everything they wanted to. And then they fall right back into old patterns.
So instead, what one small thing can you do to start working on this week, for the proper feeding of your inner unicorn?