Letting Go Of “Good” Foods & “Bad” Foods
What if I told you there are no inherently “good” or “bad” foods? I know, I know. I’m going to ruffle some serious feathers even offering the thought that gluten, dairy, sugar or any other particular food is not always “bad.” Or that kale and avocados are good for everyone all the time. But stick with me here. It’s worth it.
It’s not that I’m suggesting we should all eat cake and pizza every day. Some foods certainly have far fewer nutrients, may not be nourishing for certain people, or tend to be harder on our bodies.
But our attempts to make it black and white for everyone has led to a whole lot of struggle, confusion, and guilt around food. If the latest nutritional research has taught us anything, it’s that our nutritional needs are far more individual than we could have ever imagined. It turns out there is no one size fits all!
Depending on your health history and nourishment needs, some foods may be genuinely off-limits. For example if you have celiac disease eating gluten will make you very sick. Or if you have an allergic reaction to shellfish, it’s dangerous for you to eat it. Or if you are trying to reverse your diabetes through food and lifestyle changes, it maybe important for your health that you’re super consistent with your low-glycemic food plan. Notice here I’m talking about health conditions and therapeutic applications of nutrition.
In my personal case, I have some significant food sensitivities but no major medical problems requiring a stricter nutritional plan. My seasonal allergies get pretty bad if I eat wheat and diary regularly. My stomach starts to hurt. And I’ll even get frequent headaches with these foods. So most of the time, especially during my allergy season, I make other choices. I also love the way it feels to make supportive nutritional choices for my body, so I eat a lot of high quality foods that really nourish it. But you better believe when my Italian family celebrates Christmas there is pasta and good cheese involved! And the pleasure and connection I experience sharing this cultural meal with my family, as well as the gift I give myself of not expecting nutritional perfection, is a very important part of my nourishment.
Finding Balance In Our Nourishment
So even with our individual boundaries and needs, it is important to maintain a certain mental flexibility around food. A restricted mentality can really damage our relationship with food. It can negatively impact our body image and sense of self worth. It can diminish our ability to find pleasure in eating. It can take the joy out of social eating and thereby impact the important relationships in our lives. And it can just create a whole lot of unnecessary stress around food.
Our bodies are designed to digest food and utilize its nutrients optimally while in the relaxation state. In this parasympathetic state, more blood is sent to the vessels surrounding our digestive organs and our body can best utilize the food we ingest.
But if we are too worried about trying to uphold the perfect food habits, eating becomes stressful. Which greatly impacts our ability to both feel nourished on an emotional level and to be physiologically nourished in our bodies.
Now, I strongly believe in the healing power of food. I utilize food as medicine daily in my own life and with my clients/patients. So it’s all about balance here. I work with clients to make nourishing food choices–the majority of the time. But then we also practice fully savoring and enjoying, guilt-free, the moments when they have a glass of wine with a friend or eat that gourmet chocolate dessert or have too much turkey on Thanksgiving. And when I have clients for whom particular food splurges may just not be worth it (ie: celiac folks and gluten, diabetics and sugar, those with allergies, etc). We find other fun and indulgent feeling foods for them to practice this nutritional flexibility with.
This is the balance between acting steadily and consistently on our value to deeply nourish ourselves while also maintaining a mental flexibility around food. It’s a balance of diligence and suppleness. I liken it to the importance of being both strong and flexible in our bodies–and knowing that the two can not only coexist, but are vital compliments to each other. When you get into this kind of rhythm of honoring both, it is SO deeply nourishing on all levels. It’s one of the most important aspects of real nourishment–and one that we get a lot of mixed messages around!
A New Model: Staples & Spices
At Luminary we like to think of foods in terms of staples and spices instead of “good” and “bad”. Staples are the foundation of what we eat. These are foods that help our unique bodies feel great, are highly nourishing, and support us fully so we can be our best selves in the world. Spices are foods that don’t support our nourishment if we eat them too often or in significant quantities. But they are fun to taste, enjoy and experience in small doses, especially when shared with others.
Another way you can think of this is the 80/20 plan–a concept from the amazing women over at the Conscious Cleanse. The concept is to nourish yourself consciously with deeply nourishing foods at least 80% of the time. The kinds of foods that make your body sing. And then from an empowered place enjoy exploring a wide variety of food experiences the other 20% of the time. Eat that cake at the birthday party, enjoy a cocktail on Friday night, savor the cinnamon rolls your dad makes Christmas morning, delight in the homemade pizza at the dinner party. And when you do make that empowered choice to enjoy some “spices”, let the guilt and fear fade away. And genuinely savor the experience!
Because there is no “wagon” to get on or off of. There never was. Just a moment to moment opportunity to make nourishing choices for ourselves. Often times that will look like the most gorgeous balanced meal full of colorful, local, nutrient dense foods. And sometimes that will look like a flexible and joyful choice to experience whatever culinary opportunity is right in front of you. This is real nourishment.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, what are your favorite 20% foods? And what is your favorite way to enjoy them?
Have a lovely day Luminaries!