EATING REAL FOOD IS HARD
My daughter, Eliza, was mad about something in the living room. I was trying to submit something for work. A really loud oven timer was going off in the kitchen - sweet potato fries were done. All at the same time. And I had this exasperated thought "ugh, this is hard." Not just life or motherhood, which are both hard, but what I've chosen to prioritize: nutrition and health. Eating healthy food and cooking your own food, while also living life, are HARD.
There are so many voices clamoring to tell you that eating real food and living healthily is easy. That if you just follow this plan, or drink this shake, your health problems will be solved, and it's just SO EASY. And I think this lie, because that's what it is, has done our culture a great disservice. The fact that we want to take the easy way out, the fact that we don't carve out time or prioritize health, is sort of the basis of the problem. We don't want to put in the work. We've made food and our health an afterthought. A box of cereal, a drive through whatever our favorite fast food chain is a go-to, a default. Instead of our back-up plan. And before you think I'm judging - for many of my young adult years, my breakfast consisted of either a diet Pepsi or Redbull, and a Snickers. No lies.
If you do any research on the history of nutrition, on thriving traditional cultures and populations, you'll find a startling, yet completely consistent, pattern. Within just a few years of the introduction of convenient Western diets (aka refined flours, sugars, and oils), you see diseases pop up. Diseases that were previously either non-existent, rare, or occurred much later in the lifespan (1).
In fact, you can see this very thing currently happening, in Ikaria, Greece, one of the pockets of the world that's been considered a "blue zone" - meaning they live healthy and long lives. Within just this generation, food has become Westernized; children are becoming obese, and Celiac disease is rampant.
In a nutshell: when food gets too easy, not so great things happen.
Eating real foods - eating the way we should be, for optimal health, is supposed to be hard. It's supposed to take time. That's not to say we can't find solutions to make it more manageable or integrate it into our lives (keep reading). But let's stop pretending that being healthy is the easier road to take. It's not. It's the better, happier, hopefully longer road, but it's not the easier one.
And while the clear answer to a healthful and long life seems to lie somewhere in non-traditional work and lifestyle paces that maintain lower stress levels, growing all of your own food in your garden, hiking for miles every single day, etc... that is not a reality for most of us. I get it. I'm a work-from home student mom to a busy three year old. We have jobs, bills, responsibilities, families, lives to be lived.
However, there I propose two areas of change we can focus on to help us prioritize our health.
1) Slowing life down a little bit
2) Adapting traditions, using modern convenience to our advantage
SLOWING DOWN. As someone who likes to have a finger in every proverbial pie, this one is hard for me. I love to be busy. I've always loved to be involved in whatever I could. The unfortunate reality that getting a little older has taught me, is that my body doesn't love to be busy. In fact, none of our bodies love to be busy. Mentally, emotionally, and physically, the pace that we move at and the pace we move our children at, is not one for optimal health. Not only does it not allow time to get in the kitchen, to make our meals, and to eat our meals together (which studies have proven is more than just nutritionally beneficial to children), but it doesn't allow time for de-stressing, relaxing, and turning off - again, all important aspects to our multidimensional health. And the reality is, no matter how you are eating, if stress reigns supreme in your life, your health will still suffer.
What are some ways to slow down?
*Saying no to even just one activity- allowing us extra time for ourselves or ensuring we can have dinner at night with our families.
*Replacing tv or social media or internet time (even small chunks) with more productive or healthier activities i.e. engaging with loved ones, exercising, meditating, meal prepping, reading
*Living in smaller or more humble homes, or reducing our spending- meaning less time has to be spent working or worrying
Here's a list with more ideas.
ADAPTING TRADITIONS // MODERN ADVANTAGES
What are some traditions of historically healthier cultures? (1)
*Making our own food, in our own homes and kitchens
*Eating seasonally and locally. Google can provide you with lists of what produce is in season in your area (even if you're buying it from the grocery store) as well as farmers to buy produce, eggs, or meat from. This is a cheaper, more nutrient rich, and eco-friendly way to eat!
*Eating fermented foods
*Using food as medicine
*Taking time to eat with loved ones
The really wonderful thing is, despite the time and effort that sourcing, preparing, cooking, and eating real food takes, it's never been simpler to eat real food than any other time in history. There's fruits and vegetables available to most of us within 5 minutes, year round. And if you're really short on time, there's produce already prepped - greens, veggies, and fruits all chopped and washed. There are countless free resources: libraries, Pinterest, other online articles and ideas, and local classes (just check health food stores!) on how to make the hard stuff more manageable. Meal prep, simple meals, batch cooking & freezing, eating leftovers - these are all resources available to us.
Another traditional aspect, that has somewhat been lost, is community. It's an underlying thread you see when you study cultures with great health and longevity. In the above mentioned blue zones, one of the theories why these populations are so healthy and have such longevity is they all lived and ate pretty much the same way. There was/is support for the traditional way of eating and living.
Utilizing existing communities and creating new ones is the key to changes in our health. Regularly attending workout classes, cooking classes, health classes, sharing skills, food grown, etc. The change starts in ourselves and in our own homes, but should also seep into our neighbors and neighborhoods and cities. And traditionally, there was a sense of responsibility for each other. A recognition of the importance to care for and help each other. This mindset, the same mindset of "it takes a village," has benefits way past food or nutrition. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, communities are an incredibly important aspect of life.
In case you're feeling overwhelmed at the end of reading all of this, remember what I shared at the beginning of the post? Soda and a candy bar; that used to be my breakfast. Ten years later, I'm happy to report that's changed (I think that changed 7 years ago, but you get my point). Change and progress in any area take time, and they start small. I find that it's easiest to focus on just one goal at a time, until that becomes habit. Start today and start small. Drink a glass of water instead of soda. Have a salad for lunch. Take a walk after a meal. Share something with a neighbor.
Thanks for sticking to the end of this. I'd love to hear your thoughts below.