I was talking with Lisa last night about choosing a healthy margarita mix. We were discussing the merits of how you select the type of sugar you put in your body. How do you weigh the considerations against each other? Is it natural? What type? How much is okay? When should you consume?
The brief discussion we had from the store to the playground with our boys prompted today's topic for me. How do I make my decisions around food?
I want to give you my thought process in sequential questions when considering my choices to nourish my body. The precursor to these questions is that they are somewhat natural to my process now. After years of trial and error and uncovering excellent and bad outcomes related to my nutrition, it's easier for me to process on the fly and make experienced choices. More than anything, I wanted to create a process that anyone could use effectively to get better with his/her food choices... without further ado.
'Is this natural, and who grew it or raised it?' First and foremost, I'm aiming for the real deal, Holyfield! I want food that has been unprocessed and packs a natural nutritional punch coded into our ecosystem. If it's not real, where it's grown becomes less critical. Who is producing it, processing it, and where the raw materials start still matter; I just have more questions about it before I get there for processed foods. The who is really about understanding how healthy the ecosystem is behind the food and how much the producer considers the entire ecosystem (farm to table and farm to global health).
'What are the ingredients of what I'm eating?' The second question is about understanding ingredient values, food processing as a business, and food labeling as a practice. These areas make this the most intensive question to unpack. Ingredients alone can be overwhelming to learn. What is their respective value or non-value to your nutrition? Add in the highly murky waters of food processing and dubious marketing practices that go into food labeling, and it's easy for us to get lost or give in. I like to stick to the fewer ingredients, the better (5 or less is a good rule of thumb); additionally, if you can't pronounce the ingredient(s), you likely shouldn't consume it. That one is from Michael Pollan, the great food journalist, and author.
'What has my experience been with this food or set of ingredients?' This is a question you are already processing both subconsciously and consciously. The level to which you are aware of your patterns and steer your consciousness can be the difference between health and not. We all make easy judgments without much thought about our food of whether it's safe to eat or not. We can determine by smell, taste, and touch whether a food is safe to eat. After determining safety, it's really about understanding the relationship to the food we've already established. Is it genuine sustenance or palate satisfying trickery? How does our body react to this food, and in what quantity? What about the timing of eating this food? This is why processed food presents such a danger. Our brains cannot easily discern that they are harmful because they are engineered to fulfill our evolutionary tastes in an addictive fashion1. Add the way we relate to food through emotional memory, and we become helpless in the onslaught of our favorite flavors created to capture our attention and mouths. Dialing in on your practice means identifying a line in the sand for your health and working at it in a meaningful way by learning and experimenting.
'Why does this matter to me?' Finally, this last question might be the most important because if you can't relate to your food in a meaningful way, why would you care about what you consume. We may want to hit a particular weight or body composition, but rarely are those goals satisfying in my experience. To trigger a long-term pursuit of knowledge and practice around more mindful nutrition, I believe you have to have a deeper why. What will weighing a goal amount give you? Or looking a certain way? What does a healthier you truly unlock? Why do you need to be healthy?
More about the processed food traps in this video 📺