This holiday season I notice myself saying no to anything I’m not hungry for, from the last piece of bacon slid under my nose by grama, to chips during and pie after lunch. I’d eat these things if I were hungry for them, but often times I’m not. This time of year helps me see most clearly that the road has come to its conclusion. I can now feel what my body wants and have that expressed through my hunger directly and I merely follow that–recognizing some foods that don’t make me feel good afterward and otherwise simply sticking to the exact instructions I am given by hunger, taking into account what is available. I am now extra-ordinary.
I used to be normal–American normal–saying yes to any food presented to me until I was stuffed with food. I used to honestly have a near eating disorder, complete with binge sessions and promises to not eat or eat little for the next couple days to make up for it. I ate from my taste buds, sugar cravings, and habit.
That’s the end-point and the start-point and I wanted to confess that I solved the problem with a bit of an odd transition period. The truth is–reading about nutrition, getting excited about health, exercise, and truly nutritious eating–all played a role. But, it was a very unconventional diet that really put me through the transition period from struggling to eat better to naturally wanting nutritious food.
For about two years (starting ~2007), I ate a raw omnivorous diet primarily created and spread by Aajonus Vonderplanitz, called the Primal Diet. I want to make clear up-front that I’m not necessarily recommending this diet as much as merely being honest. The diet for me specifically at that time was made up of: raw steak, raw salmon, raw butter, raw milk, raw bone marrow, raw pineapple, unheated honey and raw green juice with celery, parsley, and raw honey. I ate these foods almost exclusively for more than a year and still primarily for a second year before giving the diet up.
During that time, I was encouraged to eat as much of the food as I liked, no longer connecting health to how little you can eat (eat less, mostly vegetables), but instead believing that health was related to intake of nutrients, as much as my body asked for. Weight on this diet is expected to increase before it decreases. The idea is that your body will need to get used to eating higher-density foods before it realizes it isn’t quite as hungry, it’s well nourished. The small amount of options might have also helped me to kick the normal habits aside.
The creator of the diet asserts that the key is raw, the bacteria are symbiotes and intake of microbiota is a major key to health. While I didn’t get sick but one small event in two years and I do wonder if my GI-flora is more diverse and better for the experience–I recognize that Aajonus’s theories are far from proven. His views get more extreme and less proven as you dive deeper into his work.
I eventually gave up on the diet as it was a lot of work (juicing and getting the food), kept me from eating easily with friends, and it wasn’t all that tasty. My health seemed to do just fine but didn’t necessarily go anywhere up or down drastically except for my newly found nutritional freedom. With my own reading of Sally Fallon’s work and the associated works of Weston A. Price, plus my previous knowledge of conventional nutritional views, I simply went back to eating, but something was different. I no longer struggled to eat healthy.
Something changed in me such that I no longer cared for food that didn’t feed my body. Soda and Doritos, cake and icecream no longer called my name. I still eat foods like these from time to time but quite rarely. I’ve come to recognize there is only one real diet, written about in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. That is, health simply comes by eating real food. Both of the dietitions previously mentioned had diets that encouraged me to eat more actual food with easy-to-read ingredients, primarily made at home.
More specifically, I read enough to have an intellectual distaste for preservatives, certain chemicals found in many foods, trans fats, all of the various things that are unhealthy that are hidden in food–then beyond that I threw out the rules about eating too much fat or meat (encouraged by Weston Price’s work) and just made sure that everything I ate was real, animal products came from animals treated and fed as they would naturally (“free-range”) and produce is organic, etc.
I believe most any diet is as good as it makes people eat real food, fresh vegetables, things you can get from a farmer’s market.
Now I’m the healthy version of the lazy bachelor. I put little to no energy into cleanses, special drinks or even preparing meals in advance of my hunger. It is noteworthy to me that at this point my diet is fairly effort-free. Sure, I could be healthier with some more work, but the point is that anyone can live here–you don’t have to be a type-A, health-nut, super-controller to eat healthy.
After a period of change, I believe anyone can get to where they merely eat from their stomach’s desires rather than their mouth’s wishes. People can enjoy food to the hilt and stop the moment they’re done. I believe with some basic intellectual rules (eat food, avoid chemicals), people can eat and be quite healthy just following instinct. This is my explanation of how I got there–the place I’m calling Food Freedom (or nutritional freedom if you like). I’m not the first to mention such a term, but I can innately see how apt it is as I’m no longer worried about or thinking about what I eat almost at all. I seem to be eating well enough for vibrant health none-the-less.
Unfortunately, I recognize that my path isn’t a verbatim answer for any person wishing to eat healthy in a way that comes naturally. However, it might make a good scaffolding for another plan with the same desired endpoint. I think the primary aspects are two: 1) an interest in nutrition leading to reading and excitement about eating in a way that truly fosters health, 2) a diet that forces one to eat primarily whole-unprocessed foods for a significant period of time such that the body’s natural reaction to food can reset to want food for nutrients rather than flavorings.
If you aren’t a big nutrition geek, maybe just read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, or if you can’t hack that then watch the future of food or just piece through the small “Food Rules” by Pollan. Beyond that, either just go for it, or follow what you’ve read, or go for a more specific diet, just find something that makes you eat unprocessed whole foods–non-fast foods. (I believe macrobiotic diets, “the caveman diet”, the Mediterranean diet, some vegetarian diets, and the nourishing traditions/Weston Price diet, among others, are good examples.)
Given a period of time, plus some awareness of your body’s long term reactions to what you eat, you’ll come to find what foods make you feel good and respond accordingly. You will end up with an extra-ordinarily healthy diet that is specific to what your body wants (within your means and cultural context as well).
All of the above is thus the longer, hopefully more helpful, autobiographical version of the fact that healthy eating is simply done by eating real food rather than fancy food products or processed junk.
Thanks all. Feel free to write back with any questions, comments, or mere words. 🙂