This morning I read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules cover to cover. It took less than an hour and gave me that little sense of satisfaction and accomplishment I needed to start my day. It also prompted a series of thoughts that is about to culminate in this blog post. You ready for this? I have no idea what’s about to come out of me, but it definitely involves giving you some easy rules to live by.
But first, I want to get it on record that today is the first day in a long time that I haven’t started the day with Google Calendar. I feel fantastic and free. Liberated. Today there are no color-coded rectangles of time telling me what I should be doing. This is working! Today will be productive no matter what because I know no other way to be. And because I use a Chrome extension called StayFocused to block all my time wasters. Google Calendar, you can’t control me!
OK. Food rules.
I live by a few food rules myself. As a professionally trained chef and nutrition junkie, one might consider me kind of obsessed with food. And rules. I like those too. They reduce decision fatigue.
Pollan’s book is about distilling nutritional theory and research into the bare bones stuff that makes common sense: eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. It’s not a science book. It’s like this general life advice book that could have come from your pretty spot on and well-intentioned grandmother, who also happened to organize her thoughts into 64 distinct pieces of advice.
And it got me thinking. What food rules do I live by?
There was a brief period of time in my life where I was a really annoying vegan.
I remember one day in 2009, 2 years into my vegetarianism, when I sat on the white pleather couch in the Queer Center at The University of Utah with my new friend Jesse, a transgender vegan who’d just discovered Peter Singer’s classic Animal Liberation. On that crisp autumn day, Jesse and I considered and talked through the most effective strategies for canvassing the campus with PETA flyers. Look at all these merciless carnivores shuffling around campus with their leather belts and honey-sweetened dairy lattes! They must be converted! Luckily, I got stoned later that day and forgot all about it. But my rules were simple: no animal products. McDonald’s french fries are safe.
For a few months there in 2010, I was even a raw vegan. The concept of health dominated this passion, as I found myself valuing the importance of consuming vitamins and minerals. My rules were simple: no animal products whatsoever, nothing cooked above 115 degrees, and also everyone not vegan is still an awful person who must be shown the light. No more french fries.
Those rules didn’t work out so well for me. The last decade, I’ve swung among trendy extremes: vegan, raw vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian (the Alaskan in me needed fish. So did my deficient omega-3 supply).
If I am being totally transparent, which seems like a good way to be, I am kind of exhausted of the subject. Earlier this year I completed a certification in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell Univesrsity. Two months and $1200 later I updated my resume and realized that all of this shit is super boring sometimes. Does feeding ourselves need to be this complicated?
Kind of. But mostly, no.
A diet based on deprivation is one sure to fail at some point. I applaud all my strict vegan and vegetarian friends, and while in effect and practice I am more or less one of you, my food rules no longer revolve around self-aggrandizing moral codes and dietary perfection. Maybe yours don’t either, but mine certainly did before. I was one of those vegans. Not to judge. But you know the kind. Nobody likes to eat with them. Or be Facebook friends with them. Or RSVP to their PETA rallies. Life is too short to care so much, but it’s also just short enough to care about the right things.
Food matters, but your relative stress levels matter a lot more. Here’s how I’ve helped bring myself back to a more centered approach.
My current food rules are simple, easy to follow, and in my opinion, offer a solid framework from which to live. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Eat something green at every meal
- It’s science. We need more green stuff, especially leafy greens.
- No processed foods allowed in the house
- That includes pre-made dressings, sauces, and most anything that comes in a package. This shit isn’t good outside the house either, but processed crap is much more likely to be mass consumed in the privacy of my home because let’s be real-I’m a monster-, so allowing myself to only enjoy chips and crackers outside at social gatherings limits my intake.
- No fast food allowed in the house or car
- There’s something about sitting in a fast food restaurant that I find really gross. Have you ever sat at a table that wasn’t sticky? And those fucking fluorescent lights, god. Also, if I have the time to sit and eat a Taco Bell 7-layer burrito, I probably also have the time to hunt down something healthier at the grocery store
- Eat something probiotic every day, even if just a supplement
- Gut health is a thing and acknowledging this has changed my life. I take supplements every day, and also have fun brewing kombucha and making saurkraut.
- Include some source of protein and fat with every meal
- This is all about balancing blood sugar, feeling satiated, and avoiding cravings. My favorite proteins are beans, legumes, sardines, wild salmon, farm fresh organic free-range eggs, nuts, and seeds. Avocado takes the cake for fat.
- Do your best to eat the rainbow every day
- More colors = more nutrients. It’s science. A diverse diet also helps prevent food sensitivities down the road.
- Don’t eat anything with added sugar unless it’s German chocolate cake
- Processed sugar is never a healthy option, but sometimes it’s good for the soul. For me, German chocolate cake is that thing that is always worth it. Pick your thing and stick to it. Are the calories, fat, and sugar worth it for anything other than your absolute favorite dessert? No.
- No soy. No dairy. No conventional meat. No farmed fish.
- 1 word: hormones. I take care of my endocrine system by avoiding all this shit like the plague. If you must eat meat or fish, always buy organic, free-range, grass-fed, wild etc. Everything else is total crap and not worth the long-term health effects. In my humble opinion, of course.
- Breathe between bites
- Activate your parasympathetic nervous system by slowing the fuck down. Don’t eat under a stress response, or your body will revolt with digestive issues like bloat, gas, and excess weight gain. Breathing between bites helps to slow me down and appreciate the meal.
- Eat full meals and eat them at a table
- This helps control portions as well as meal timing. Don’t eat while watching TV, working, or distracted. Science shows that doing this makes you eat more, and eating more is rarely the healthy choice.
What are your food rules? What would you add (or take away!) from my list?