But where to begin??
Real food… paleo… gluten-free… primal… vegetarian…
Every time you turn around, a new study comes out debunking the last, and it is all so confusing that it’s tempting to put one’s head in a bag of Doritos and ignore all the advice.
My friend Cathy send me this email earlier this week, and I asked her permission to turn it into a blog post:
I have been doing my own research on changing up our diet. And I read your posts on whole foods and semi-paleo too. Then I found “Primal” then “Trim Healthy Mama” and I’ve followed Eat to Live for a couple months (big fan of Pollan). Anyhow – I’m overwhelmed and I have no idea what to do. How do those of us who are researching this and have to lose weight find an approach that works? Just when I find one that seems – wow – I could cook those ingredients, I read another article that completely debunks it! And I’m not a scientist who can compare study A with study B critically. Ya know? How about some newbie advice for those of us in the research phase?
First of all, let me say that I am also not a scientist who can compare studies critically, so my answer is not going to be highly intellectual.
When I started delving into the big question of WHAT TO EAT a few years ago, it was after reading In Defense of Food, a book by Michael Pollan. His position seemed to simplify all the noise out there, at least for me.
And that was to eat real food.
Of course everyone has their own version of what that means, but there is no simpler way to sum up the food rules that we would all do well to follow. (Pollan did actually come up with a small booklet he titled Food Rules, which I found clever and fun to read if not particularly earth shattering.)
But there’s no doubt about it, the more you delve into the world of real food, the more confusing it becomes because there are SO MANY variations of what that means and how it’s best applied to our modern lives.
This was my answer to Cathy. Mind you, this was my 30-second, off-the-cuff email back when I was trying to make my way through the deluge in my inbox, but I think it pretty much sums up how I operate.
I kind of go with how I feel when I eat certain things. I know gluten is not my friend, and carbs in general make me feel bloated. Sugar is the worst culprit. I still eat way too much of it though.
I like meat, it agrees with me, so I don’t worry about people who think it’s unhealthy. I try to eat meat from good sources when possible.
I know I need to eat more veggies. Whether it’s worth it to buy organic, I can’t really tell ya. Everyone has to go with what’s most comfortable to them.
The jury is out on legumes (beans and peanuts), but I eat them sometimes… not a lot.
I dunno… I go with my “gut” – haha – in more ways than one.
That may sound like a copout, but it really does sum it up for me. Listening to your body is very important when figuring out the diet that’s best for you. I’m not entirely convinced that there is one best method for everyone.
The big gluten debate is an interesting one. Some say there is no such thing as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I beg to differ. Gluten hates me. But perhaps it is something IN the foods that contain gluten that bothers me and not the gluten itself? I dunno. I try to steer clear because I feel better eating that way.
If there’s any one thing that almost all the “experts” can agree on, it is that sugar is an evil beast. But of course, I still eat more than my fair share. Because, YUM.
I love farm fresh eggs that were laid by chickens that were raised on grass. You will have to pry me away from my pastured eggs with brutal force. They’re nothing like the wimpy, watery ones in the grocery store.
I like wine, and it seems to settle my temperamental tummy so I’m not giving that up anytime soon. I drink coffee in moderation. I avoid soda like the plague. Except when I go to Chick-Fil-A. Coke goes with french fries like Sonny goes with Cher. In my opinion.
I think the key to eating healthy is to eat primarily real food, and get your food from good sources as much as possible. Beyond that, there’s a lot of information out there, and yes, it often seems conflicting. But I think you can rid your diet of A TON of crap if you just eat real food.
If you’re interested, I’ve done a series of What To Buy posts, breaking down the various categories of foods. You can find them all here (click on an image to link over to a specific post):
That said, I certainly don’t eat Real Food 100% of the time. We have boxes and bags in our pantry, and I cook with gluten-free mixes from time to time. I no longer make homemade bread for the family, and when we eat out, I sometimes *gasp* let my kids order a soda.
But overall, I follow my instincts based on how I feel when I eat highly debatable foods and ingredients and try to stick to whole foods as much as I can without giving up the other areas of my life that are important to me. I’ll never be a homesteader. At the end of the day, real food is not my religion. So I do the best I can, and beyond that, I figure whatever will be will be. Que sera sera!
I hope this advice is helpful for some. I realize it isn’t backed in any scientific research, but ain’t nobody got time for that.