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Eating Well and Resting Enough (Part II)

July 11, 2011

This week I will talk about what it means to eat well and rest enough, it is not obvious for everyone and it may change according to our own individual needs, but I will go through some general principles.

Nutrition is another one of my long time passions, and there are volumes to say about it, however, I have tried to keep it short and concise, but still, this issue is longer than usual, so you may want to print it out and read it later.

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Our food is our fuel, without it we wouldn't be able to function at all! What we put in our mouth has a direct impact in our well being: it affects our mood, our energy, our strength, and ultimately, our health.

Even though eating well has become more and more challenging as our societies have evolved and our cities have grown, if we really want to eat well, it is not that difficult to do.
To keep it simple, let's say that the key to eating well is based on the following rules:

  1. Choose ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible
  2. Eat a large variety of foods, in moderation and in the right balance
  3. Create a Feeding Ritual
  4. Develop a healthy relationship to food (if you don't already have one)

1. Choose ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible

Nowadays we can find all sorts of products in supermarkets, but many of them are chemically or otherwise processed, and although these processed meals can save us time or satisfy cravings, the truth is: we are not genetically built to successfully digest and break down foods with chemicals, dyes, sugars, refined ingredients, etc.

Most of our shopping should be done in the produce aisles, trying to avoid produce that has been chemically treated with pesticides. Buying organic is a good option but it's also very expensive, so, unless you have the budget to go 100% organic, I recommend using the "Dirty Dozen" list as a buying guide.
This is a list of the 12 produce that have the highest pesticide residues and the 15 that have the least, in the US. You can print a wallet-size list and keep it handy.

Buy produce grown locally, and in season, if you are lucky to have access to farmers markets, try to purchase your produce there and ask the farmers about pesticide use. The closer you are to the source, the better. In the US it is hard to find high quality, well supplied local markets like those you find in Europe, but it is possible to find local farms that will deliver fresh produce to your door.

Another thing to take into account when buying produce is that "one whole cantaloupe is better than half", the simple fact of slicing a fruit will start the process of oxidation and thus the fruit will start loosing its nutrients, so you should always buy your produce whole and prepare it at home right before you eat it!
Think of all the pre made food you see as healthy (fruit salads, fresh guacamole, etc.) the longer they stay on the shelves the less nutritional value they have. Which brings me to the next point: Think about home made!

Think about home made: most things we find at the supermarket can be made at home, for instance: yogurt, humus, bread, fruit juice, ice cream, chips, etc. If you enjoy cooking, this is a great alternative to processed foods and you will have much better control of what you put in your system. If you are interested in techniques and recipes to make these foods at home, you can email me, I would be very happy to give you some tips on this.

Safe or unsafe ingredients: luckily, in the US, food suppliers are forced to list the ingredients in every product, this gives us the chance to look a little deeper into what food is really made of, if you want to know more about additives, I recommend a little book called: Eat Safe: The Truth about Additives from Aspartame to Xanthan Gum.

2. Eat a large variety of foods, in moderation and in the right balance

In my particular case, I do not follow any sort of food restriction, I am not a vegetarian, a vegan, a raw eater, etc. But I do understand why people decide to choose these lifestyles.
However, I personally believe that we should eat a little bit of everything, within the spectrum of natural foods of course!

Eat a large variety of foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, roots, protein, etc. A good and easy way to see if your plate is diverse enough is to look at the colors in it, the more colors, bright and different, the better. For instance, a basic "rainbow plate" could contain: carrots (orange), potatoes (yellow), meat (brown), lettuce (green), you get the idea?

Eat in moderation: no need to over eat, no need to snack all day (this is a really bad habit!, as is skipping breakfast!). Most of us just need to have 3 to 5 meals a day in moderate amounts (again, this is based on your personal needs, metabolism, size, etc.) but a good measure of how much you should eat is: after a meal you should always feel satisfied but never full. Show respect to the earth and to others by not wasting food unnecessarily.

The right balance: I am not for complicating things and calculating calories and nutritional values of every meal, so to keep it simple, an ideal meal/plate should have:

  • 2/4 of veggies and or fruit,
  • 1/4 of whole grains or other healthy carbs and,
  • 1/4 of protein

Stay away from mixing carbs in one meal, like having bread and potatoes (as in burger with fries...), or rice and potatoes, or pasta and rice, these are no-no's.

A word about dieting: unless you are on a specific diet for health reasons and supervised by a Nutritionist or Doctor, avoid diets, especially those "weigh loss diets" that have you eat only protein, only carbs, etc... all these types of diets are really bad for your body.

If you wish to do a body detox, follow a program that is well designed and serious (I list some in my resources below), and if you want to loose weight, understand that there are many other factors that can affect your weight, namely: your relationship to food, your level of physical exercise, your body image, etc. Severe diets won't do the trick, and if they do, the results won't be long lasting.

3. Create a Feeding Ritual

I can't stress enough the importance of this statement, of course, as a half-French girl, I am biased, but regardless, I have read enough and learned enough about the subject to know that it is very important to create a ritual around your meals.

In most modern societies where people are running around the clock, stressed out and busy all day, we are loosing the capacity to eat in peace and taking our time. With the exception of cultures that really follow meal rituals no matter what (like the French for instance).

The way we eat is almost as important as what we eat. Here are some things to take into consideration:

-Take your time to eat, chew slowly and thoroughly.
Most people believe digestion begins in the stomach but this is not true, digestion actually starts in the mouth. Saliva in your mouth contains enzymes that are important to food digestion, so you need to chew your food completely before you swallow, eating in a rush is not a good idea, ever!

-Respect the "Time to Eat".
There is a time to drive, a time to watch TV, a time to work, a time to walk, and a TIME TO EAT. Respect this time, it is important. Avoid eating "on the go", in a rush, in front of your computer, standing on the street, watching TV, etc.

No matter how busy you are, try to take a break to eat, and if possible choose a peaceful and pleasant environment to do so. The best in my opinion, is eating at the table with good company (family and friends when possible) or alone (maybe with some relaxing music).

-Be in peace when you eat.
You will NOT digest well if you are angry, scared, nervous or disturbed while you eat, chances are you may even feel sick after your meal. That is one of the reasons I vehemently refuse to watch violent or scary movies while I eat, that is a definite NO!

In order to digest well, we need to be mindful of the food we eat, focus our senses: savour every bite, and also, let's not forget to be grateful for it!

4. Develop a healthy relationship to food

Ever since I came to the United States, I have been totally baffled by how people (especially women) relate to food and talk about it. It seems like there is a general consensus about food: the better it tastes the worse it is for you...! I just can't believe people feel that way, this never, EVER occurred to me!

They say language reflects culture and if that is the case, we need to take a closer look at common expressions around food, like: "a guilty pleasure", "guilt-free food", "so good, but so bad for you".

If your relationship to food is one of guilt, of "love and hate", of remorse, etc. you need to turn that around, because it is not healthy at all and it does NOT need to be this way!

This relationship dynamic around food, in the US, may stem from the fact that the Standard American Diet (referred to as the SAD diet), is indeed pretty unhealthy, or to the fact that this country created fast food (= junk food). But the trend is changing now, people are understanding what is good and bad for them, and this unhealthy relationship to food should also start to change, hopefully. If you eat well, there is no need to feel guilty nor deprived, you can enjoy your food, and enjoy good health!

I have a friend who is on a mission to help women improve their relationship to food (and thus to their bodies,) and by the same token, help families too. I highly recommend you to check out her web site: Healthy Bodies, Happy Minds.

Eating should produce pleasure, not guilt!

So, anyway, to close our "Eating Well" section, I wanted to share some more resources that you may find interesting:

  • http://www.rawfamily.com and http://www.therawdivas.com/
    These two sites have lots of information about raw food, body detox, green smoothies and more.

  • http://www.slowfood.com
    A wonderful organization that was founded to: "counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." (from Web site).

  • http://www.localharvest.org
    Local Harvest is a great web site that helps you locate farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area.

  • Dr. Fuhrman Food Pyramid
    Here is a really healthy food pyramid, as opposed to the USDA one, you will see why!

  • Whole Food Vitamin and Mineral List
    A clear and concise article about the benefits of Vitamins and Minerals, and their natural food sources

  • French Women Don't Get Fat
    This book's title may sound a little controversial, but it is a real gem. It talks about food and pleasure, simple measures to improve your diet, having a healthy relationship with food, amongst many other useful insights, tips and recipes.

  • Green Smoothie Revolution
    If you want a fun and tasty way to include more greens in your diet, this book has great smoothie recipes for the whole family!

Now, on to the topic of resting enough, I will keep this one short!

Basically, if you sleep at least 7 hours a night (preferably more!), and take a break when your body tells you so, you should be OK. Don't overestimate your capacity to stay awake, we are all humans and need enough sleep to keep our brain functioning to its best!

Avoid drinking coffee, coke or other sweet-laden beverages, or keep them to a minimum and in the morning only.

Have a great week!

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