Desperately Seeking A Healthier Diet . . .

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.

real-food-what-to-buy

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):

eggs-what-to-buy

milk-to-buy

seafood-what-to-buy-620x930

chicken-what-to-buy

beef to buy featured

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.

Comments

  1. says

    I, too can get a little overwhelmed with all the info out there. I don’t eat meat, not a good subject for people who follow paleo. I try to eat real foods but am not 100%. I’ve cut my sugar consumption way down and feel so much better. That’s the one thing I know for sure. I agree with you…I know what foods are okay for me based on how I feel. But I think it can be a sticky subject to discuss. Your post makes good practical sense. Thanks!

  2. Shari says

    If you can believe it, I’ve been researching this very subject all afternoon. I got tired of all the conflicting info, so went to my Feedly. Opened my Must Reads folder and here was this post! :-D Clearly the universe is trying to tell me something. haha

      • Shari says

        Specifically sugar, and how it relates to the inflammatory process. I’m thinking it may be making my RSD/CRPS worse.

        • says

          Ah, that is very specific. I haven’t delved too much into the specific issues that sugar affects, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s affecting you.

          I would love to go off sugar entirely and break the cycle and see what I feel like but I can’t make it a day… much less the time it would take to break the addiction. The people who know who have done it describe the weaning off process as brutal.

  3. says

    I have had IBS problems for the past year. Sugar DOES seem to be my problem, specifically lactose and fructose. Those with fructose issues are suppose to avoid wheat- not for the gluten but for the specific sugar involved. This may be your issue, too.

  4. says

    it’s SOOOO overwhelming!
    I’ve kind of resigned to just doing what I can.
    I’ve drastically reduced my intake of sugar and I feel much better… BUT I still love me some dessert ;)

  5. Charis Eschweiler says

    I just want to thank you for your awesome posts! You are so easy to read and your humor helps the ‘tough stuff’ go down better. Eating better, healthier is definitely my goal and has been for years. But reality is the great equalizer, and you get that!! Thanks for your postings and just know you’ve got a posse! lol Keep up the terrific work!

  6. Sarah R says

    This is really helpful. We’ve been “leaning in” to a more real food diet for several years now but we are far from perfect. Lately I’ve been trying to limit carbs, which leads to limiting sugar. I’ve been eating a lot of veggies and lean meat and I do feel pretty good but it’s hard to stick with. I still eat a bit of dairy, mostly full fat sour cream and cheese. I’ve lost some weight but not a ton. I think there’s a definite difference in eating healthier vs. losing weight. If I eat healthy food, but too much of it, I won’t lose weight. I think I fell into the trap of thinking if it’s healthy, I can eat as much as I want.

    I’ve been following your blog for several years and I remember your posts on homemade bread. I’m curious – what made you switch from homemade bread? Was it too time-consuming or does your family just not eat a lot of bread?

    • says

      Yes, I’m realizing I should have addressed the full fat dairy. I definitely stick with all full fat dairy products and I don’t ever buy artificial sugars. Those are a few things I’m rigid about.

      But there is DEFINITELY a difference between eating healthy and losing weight. I still eat too much, and without the exercise regimen I’d grown accustomed to, I’m currently battling a few extra pounds.

      As far as the bread — it’s time consuming, but also after going gluten-free, it was particularly painful to have in the house. I love bread sooo much and not being able to eat it was miserable. We bought a few loaves when I was in a busy period, and it was a slippery slope. I bought organic whole wheat bread for a while, but now I admit that we often just buy whatever’s at the grocery store. YUCK. It’s not nutritious at all, and I’d really like to get away from the sandwich rut, but during the school year, it’s simply the easiest way to pack lunches. I reassure myself that school lunches are far worse than my PB&J on storebought bread, haha.

  7. Kathy G says

    Amen sister. Just like working out, you have to figure out what works for you. I started the paleo diet only 7 weeks ago, and I’m down 14 lbs. I’m not a huge girl either. I have a set schedule for when I’m allowed a cheat – one meal a week and one dessert a week. I think that’s what kept me going. Because there is just too much yummy stuff out there to give it up for good. Eating to fuel my body rather than eating because something tastes so darn good is a transition. But I feel better and I look better. Oh, and this…”Coke goes with french fries like Sonny goes with Cher”…is hilarious and dead-on.

  8. Lora says

    Jo-Lynne, I love you even more now! This post summarizes exactly how I feed my family. It really does come down to whatever works. Some weeks we have far, far more fruit & veggies in the house than others. I’m completely gluten free, but the rest of my family is not. We make our own bread, but cheat now with a bread machine (I used to make it by hard before going gluten free). I don’t really like bread to begin with (I know! What’s wrong with me, right?) So I dont really care if its in the house or not. We just discovered the magic of zoodles. These are noodles made out of zuchinni. I bought a fairly inexpensive julienne peeler and make them with that. Perfect for when you crave pasta but can’t eat it! Great post, I really enjoyed reading your take on what makes for a healthy diet.

  9. lisa says

    Have you looked at the King Arthur Flour Company’s website and/or catalog? They have a lot of gluten-free mixes, including cakes, as well as popover mixes that I can attest are delicious!

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