I was walking home from the grocery store last night, and I ran into the maintenance guy for the building where I live. Coincidentally, I had just been thinking about him the day before. Specifically, I was thinking, “What does a guy like that eat?”
For the sake of protecting his privacy, let’s call my maintenance guy ”Dan”.
Dan is a bachelor who lives in a tiny, stinky basement apartment and does maintenance for the landlord. He smokes, works two jobs (including night shifts), and always smells terrible (Sorry Dan). And I know he drinks (it’s part of the smell). However, Dan is responsible, good-natured, never gets sick, and is fairly healthy looking. Minus his smoker teeth…Geez, I hope you never find this blog, Dan.
I’ve run into Dan on his way home from the grocery store, too. Everytime I see him, his bags are filled with nothing but potato chips. When I ran into him yesterday evening, he was polishing off a family size bag of barbecue Lay’s.
Now, Dan is an extreme example, but I bet we all know a few people who don’t give two toots about nutrition, yet have great bodies, glowing skin, and lots of energy. You may also know some people who eat impecably, but who may have complaints of fatigue, break-outs, and stubborn pounds.
What is going on?
I look at a diet like Dan’s and think, “Yuck! If I ate like that I would be sooo unhealthy! I would have pimples galore, my blood sugar would be all over the place, I would have no energy, I would be overweight, and probably constipated…” Etc, etc, etc. I think of my diet, with tons of veggies, whole grains, low sugar, healthy fats, green smoothies, low processing, multivitamins, and occasional treats, as pretty ideal. In fact, sometimes I think it’s so great that I am scared to abandon it. I am the girl who goes to a Chinese food restaurant and asks, “Is there MSG in this?”. I reject products at the grocery store as soon as I see refined flour, white sugar, hydrogenated fat, or any kind of scary chemical additive. I get excited about vitamins and hypoallergenic food.
Oh god, I’m such a ding-dong.
But that’s my confession.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love the way I eat. Even though my diet is 80-90% of the above, it also includes treats like good quality chocolate, ice cream, aromatic cheeses, or a mellowing nightcap. I truly believe that sometimes, when you’re really in the mood, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is health food, because it is healthy for another part of you that is separate from digestion, blood cleanliness, and metabolism.
I suspect, however, that sometimes I get too caught up in extremes with this 80-90%. And I know it’s not just me. I’ve noticed that for those of us who eat strict diets (by choice), the foods on the “no-no” list become almost feared. For example, if you start to read a lot of pro-organic promotional material, it’s easy to start feeling like every time you bite into an apple that’s been grown with the use of pesticides, you’re eating poison. If you’ve gotten into the raw food world, and read about the superiority of uncooked, live nutrients, you may find yourself looking at a plate of spaghetti marinara with the thought: “This isn’t even real food. Why would I eat this?”
Let’s get back to Dan. I am assuming that Dan never looks at the ingredients. I doubt he cares about things like the glycemic index, and I will bet you that he doesn’t worry about making his diet more alkaline.
Why is it that you can eat well, and feel sick? Why is it that you can eat terribly, and feel good?
I was listening to a lecture given by Wayne Dyer the other day and he said something that really struck me. He said:
“Whether or not you believe something is true, you’re right.”
This is an incredible concept that implies that your beliefs are your reality. The bushy-browed doctor’s words really connected with me.
If you are so obssessed with eating “perfectly” (and perfection can vary according to your individual standards), any minor aberration could seem like a catastrophe. Let’s say you hold a belief that all fats are bad, and you find out (after you finished the meal) that the salad dressing you had at the restaurant wasn’t fat-free. You might feel sick and panicked, and then attribute that feeling to eating fat.
If you aren’t concerned about the nutritional profile of a meal, and eat it in a relaxed, joyful way, you’d probably feel good, right? I’m guessing this is what happens when Dan eats his giant bag of crisps.
Dan’s brain says: “I like chips.”
Dan’s mouth says: “Man, I love crunching!”
Dan’s tongue says: “Oooh, love that tangy barbecue!”
Dan’s tummy says: “I’m so relaxed with these chips hangin’ out inside me.”
…And so on.
Considering our stomach is one of our most emotional organs, often behaving to the tune of our feelings, our beliefs are especially important when it comes to eating. But it doesn’t stop at the stomach. Consider the placebo effect! This is now a highly-recognized, well-documented phenomenon that can only be explained by a person’s belief. Did you know that when people with allergies are presented with a wax replica of their allergen (in the study I read it was a flower), the subjects began to experience allergic reactions? There you have it: If you believe something is true, it is.
So what can we learn from people like Dan who eat chips for dinner?
…No, it’s not to eat chips for dinner!
It’s to relax. Aim for health and balance, but don’t create a fear towards your “no-no” foods. If you can’t stop the flood of “this-is-bad-for-me” thoughts, try to focus on breathing slowly, and remember why you are eating this particular food. On some level, it’s good for you, remember? If it’s an indulgence, don’t spoil this pleasurable treat by fretting the entire time you are eating.
In our diets, just as in our lives, we do the best that we can, and we enjoy it.