Owing to my sport and exercise scientist credentials, this article should probably consist of a scientific breakdown of the optimal breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that you should consume on a daily basis, along with a precise calorie prescription based on your body type, gender, and activity level, an inch perfect meal plan, a little recipe book, and a 10-minute-per-day exercise routine that will help you get rid of your excess baggage. Fortunately for you, I wont be inflicting any such pain on you in the following paragraphs should you choose to continue reading.
Let’s bring it back to basics.
Food. What is it all about? Well, I suppose food means different things to different people. Today, it can seem like food is simply fuel for the machine. The diesel you need to burn to keep the wheels turning in your hectic day to day schedule. Food might equal ‘bad’ to you if you have joined the dots between the food you eat and your less than optimal health. Food might represent a refuge from hard time for you. A thing that provides delicious taste and a comforting warm feeling that you can rely on no matter what. You might see food as a necessary evil, or something that you would not rather have to partake in at all. Feelings of guilt may come over you after the weekend when you felt like you let yourself down due to a few days and nights of over-consumption. You might be a fan of 3 big meals, or eating many smaller meals throughout the day. Maybe you love breakfast, maybe you don’t. The smell or taste of certain foods might remind you of happy times, or you might be like my friend Emma who can never go near a Subway again since she coincidentally had an appendix explosion while eating a foot long. So as you see, food can mean something totally different to everyone.
Of course, most of what I have just mentioned above are negative associations with food. They are among the most common things that I see or hear from those that reach out to us at ACLAÍ for help with their health. It can be tempting to search for the magic bullet and the most direct route to success. Unfortunately, the health industry has taken total advantage of this in my opinion, falling over themselves to provide the next ‘super food’, miracle diet, or super supplement. All profitable ventures for the sellers of such products, but not so much for us poor souls who fall for such trickery. Its possible that we get sucked in hook line and sinker because our relationship with food represents one or more of the scenarios described in the preceding paragraph. I am not going to jump onto that particular wagon.
Personally speaking, I think food is much more than simple fuel for the system. Going back since the start of mankind, food has been what has brought us together. Villages and tribes would hunt together, and eat together. Around the campfire children would learn many of the rules and norms of their people, elders would share stories of times gone by keeping traditions alive, and the hunters would tell of their exploits, expanding the common knowledge of the surrounding areas. Of course, we don’t hunt and eat round the campfire that much any more, but the role of food still remains. It’s where we connect as individuals to other individuals, and share stores and knowledge, at least, I think it should be. I certainly feel like this particular role is crucial for our survival as a race. There is not much sharing, learning, or connecting to be done if you eat in front of the telly or are engrossed in your electronic device while eating.
Food gives us our health. It connects us to the earth in the sense that the food comes from the earth (or at least real food does), and as we consume it, we can only be as healthy or as unhealthy as the food that we eat. If you eat poor quality food, you can expect poor quality health. Being able to identify real good quality food is becoming over more difficult these days, which is another story altogether, but be in no doubt that our body’s and mind’s need to be connected to the earth to be healthy. Given that we have evolved over millions of years as creatures of the outdoors, you can bet your bottom dollar that our primal instincts are not happy about being coupled up in a concrete box superglues to a plastic chair for the vast majority of the day. We have instincts for a reason, to survive, and when they become dull and nullified, then our chances of survival and of thriving become less in the form of poor health.
Eating food can be a meditative activity, and we all could do with a bit of zen in our lives! I have come to the realization (or at least I think I have), that doing anything for yourself for 60 minutes per day and giving it your full attention will have very positive benefits for your health. Some find that zen feeling by playing a round of golf, a bit of tennis, walking the dog, listening to music, practicing some deep breathing, or doing some yoga. We all have to eat, so you can also use your cooking time and eating time as a time to focus on yourself for a while. Tune out from the hum-drum of your busy life, and enjoying cooking, preparing, eating, and sharing food. This only works if you shut off the electronics and social media’s for a while, and relax into the task at hand.
In short, I feel that food is an essential part of our health owing to the role that it plays in fulfilling our absolute essential requirement to learn, share problems and stories, connect with the earth, decompress from the stress of day to day life, and of course provide nutrition to our bodies. It is the combination of these things that bring the health benefit of food in my opinion, not simply the ‘fuelling the machine’ aspect. I feel that our approach to nutrition should consider these thigs just as equally as how much we eat, how often we eat, and the composition of our meals. Designing a ‘diet’ should consider how it will facilitate the sharing of food, the meditative benefits of preparing and eating food, the quality of the food we eat, and of course the actual nutritional value that we get from eating the right types of foods in the right amount. Bearing this in mind, to me, meal plans, calorie counting, and macro-nutrient breakdown just seem so pointless. At best these aspects are way down the priority list behind learning how to cook, building a daily or weekly routine that encourages cooking and eating real food, and enjoying the process of eating and everything that should go with it. At worst, calorie counting, label reading, and nit picking, provides ample opportunity for some nutritionist to show you how smart they are, for you to waste the precious time you have on planet earth, and every possibility that you will miss the bigger picture of the importance of food outside of making sure you have just the right amount at just the right time. Sure, companies can put nice labels on food products for you to read, and you can add up all your calories and try to guess how many you have used up, and work out what you think is the right level of energy balance for you to lose weight. Play that game if you want to. Some people find themselves winning it for a short period of time, but overall the house always wins. Were not wired to count calories, eat packaged foods, and feel guilty if we cut loose from time to time which means we generally don’t do well sticking to stringent and cumbersome attempts to stay on diets. Personally speaking, I think its better to play a different game instead of trying to win at the one that is provided for us and comes with inevitable defeat. Check out this post for some basic instructions to help you with your nutrition.
This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.
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