Eating: It’s Not That Complicated

Eating is something we all do.  It comes very naturally to us.  So why do we seem to think it’s so complicated?  Well, it’s not.  There are really only about six guidelines you need to keep in mind in order to make eating simple again.  Allow me to explain…

To begin, let’s think about why we eat.  Yes, our taste buds are a pretty active part of eating, but they’re really not why we eat.  We eat because our bodies have jobs to do, they need fuel with which to do them, and can only get that fuel by either eating it or making it.  Now, this doesn’t mean that eating has to be boring, just that if we keep this in mind, it makes eating a whole lot simpler.

Here are a few guidelines to remember:

Your body needs to recognize the food as fuel.

I don’t think my body knows what to do with disodium inosinate, does yours?  What about titanium dioxide?  Trouble is: if your body doesn’t know what to make of a substance you’ve eaten, it doesn’t merely get “flushed out”… substances for which your body does not have instructions-for-use end up just hanging out (think: weight gain or bloating).  Additionally, they don’t help your body do any of its jobs either – thinking, rebuilding muscles, strengthening bones – it doesn’t do anything for you.  It’s like putting pumpkin purée in your gas tank… what would your car do with that?

So, what does your body recognize as fuel?  Pretty basic stuff.  If you recognize it and/or can pronounce it, chances are, so can your body. The closer your food is to its original form, the better the odds are that your body will know what to do with it.  Think vegetables, fruits, meats from farms or butchers that don’t go through processing plants, real cheese (that doesn’t come in individual wrappers), frozen instead of canned (if you can’t get fresh), and if you can get locally grown or produced foods (I realize how difficult this is in some areas), that means it’s spent a lot less time in-transit and didn’t need preservatives to keep it looking good until it got to the shelf – you’ll not only feel better without the preservatives, but your taste buds will be happier, too!  (Yes, it does actually taste better!)

There is a little more to food than fat, protein and carbs.  But just a little…

If what you eat is something you think about, even just a little bit, you probably think in terms of fats, proteins and carbs.

There is a bit of important info left out of this picture, though.

For starters, carbs come in two forms: sugar and fiber.  If you’re cutting out carbs, you’re probably not getting the fiber you need, and since most of us don’t get enough even without cutting carbs, you may want to reconsider this choice – instead, you can simply be a little more choosy about your carbs.  Fiber: good.  Sugar: well… it depends.

The quality of your sugars is also important.  Complex: good.  Simple: bad. Simple carbs are made up of refined sugars and things that end in “ose” (fructose, glucose, galactose), while complex carbs are generally whole foods which break down slower, allowing your body to use the energy over time instead of storing it quickly (think: potatoes, whole grains, or multi-grain breads, etc.).

Fats are interesting – animal fats aren’t terribly useful and are linked with all sorts of physical ailments, while vegetable and nut fats aren’t – if you have an avocado or some nuts you aren’t eating because of their fat content, go ahead, they’re much better for you than the skin on that chicken.

And lets not forget proteins.  Yes, proteins are good for you, and best in their most original form (i.e., not necessarily a smoothy)… but most of us, in thinking that “proteins are good for us”, eat way too much of it.  Do yourself a favor and look into how much you actually need to consume (here’s a good site).  If you’re engaged in activities (e.g., working out) that will have you regenerating or repairing more muscle, you’ll likely need a little extra protein, but not a whole lot more… and definitely not double.

Now, you’re probably wondering, “what’s missing?  Didn’t you say something was missing?”  Yes, I did.  Fats, proteins and carbs are only the beginning.  Many ailments are related to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, though many are available in abundance in fruits, vegetables and sunlight.  Here’s the thing, if we’re only thinking about “fats, proteins and carbs”, we’re forgetting that the quality of these things matter as much as their classification.  Less-processing means more of the vitamins and minerals are preserved for you.  And if it says “enriched” or “added”, there’s a long version of this story, but you won’t actually absorb / use many of these “enriched” items the same way (or with the same efficiency) that you would from the natural sources.  (Why eat things that are “good for you” if they won’t do you much good?)

What’s really interesting is that the colors of foods tend to indicate what nutrients are in them – so a good rule of thumb is to make sure your plate of food has multiple colors on it. (For example, orange/yellow foods like carrots are high in carotenoids, and red foods like tomatoes or strawberries are high in lycopene or anthocyanins.)

Your body needs all of these food types, and good quality versions of them, too.

Remember, if a diet calls for you to avoid an entire food group, ignore it.

Water.  No kidding.  Drink it.

Ok, we’ve all heard how absolutely necessary it is for us to drink water… that every cell in our bodies need it, and can’t get any if we’re not drinking it (or eating foods that have a lot of water in them).  So why aren’t we drinking enough?  How much do you really need to drink, anyway?  Here’s a pretty good way to estimate that

Since we already know we need to drink it because it’s good for us, here are some additional items you may want to know about:

  • If you’re not drinking enough water already, some of your weight is very-likely due to dehydration.  Drink your water for a few weeks and see how your body changes.
  • You’ll sleep better.  This kind of goes back to the “your cells need it” part, but is a little more specific.
  • You will have to try a lot harder to have a hangover.  Hangovers have a lot to do with being too dehydrated to process all the alcohol in your system, so it’s still there when you get up… if you’re hydrated, you’ll have an easier time processing your beverages.
  • You won’t really visit the restroom more frequently… you’ll just have more productive visits.
  • Your skin will look better… possibly even younger. You can’t hydrate your skin from the outside no matter how hard you try.
  • Flavored water is ok, but steer clear of carbonated beverages whenever you can.  Carbonated beverages actually dehydrate you.

I realize this post is a little wordy, but some explanations were necessary.  So, now for the elevator version!

Here are the six guidelines to keep in mind each time you eat or drink something:

  1. Eat foods that are as close to their original form as you can – it’s best if you can pronounce (and identify) all the ingredients.
  2. Eat foods of all different colors.
  3. Don’t short-change yourself by cutting out food groups – high-quality is key.
  4. As for carbs, complex: good, simple: bad.
  5. For fats, vegetable and nut sources are better.
  6. Drink water.   Seriously.

See?  It is simple!

Now go forth and eat, drink, and be merry…

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