Last month I spoke at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology conference on work/life balance, addressing the rather ambitious topic of “How to Feed Ourselves, Improve How We Burn Fat for Fuel, and Save the Planet.” A young women in the audience asked the last question of the day, “How do you do it?”
I completely misinterpreted the question. I proceeded to describe how I work with clients, only to wake up the next morning with a sinking feeling, that instinctive sense that I had blown it. I missed the opportunity to answer a rather courageous question. We are all confronted by the challenge of feeding ourselves while saving the planet. Today I’m taking another stab at the answer.
FEEDING OURSELVES, SAVING THE PLANET
My objectives were clearly laid out. I intended to help the attendees learn how to integrate an approach to food, one that encourages the body to burn fat for fuel, improve metabolic health, as well as contribute to the health of the planet.
The task is daunting for most. How can one possibly manage to eat well, enhance energy metabolism, and do right by the planet all while navigating the blitz of everyday life? The simple answer, not easily.
Feeding ourselves remains one of the most complex behaviors we endeavor. Planning, purchasing, and preparing good food takes time and skill. Eating well requires willingness and readiness. How many of us successfully master the task on a daily basis? When you are stumbling, how do you even begin?
HOW TO DO IT
I’ve crafted and honed my eating skills for decades. A colorful personal journey coupled with my education, ongoing research, and extensive experience allows me to help others in a way that would have helped a younger me. Most of the problem lies in unrealistic expectations.
We live in a culture that fails to value the time and energy required to eat well while expecting everyone to enjoy good health. As a society we struggle to align our needs and desires with the health of the planet. No wonder so many consumers are looking for answers. What we purchase and what we eat challenges each of us to do the right thing every day, many times a day. Here’s a few ideas to get started.
- Reset your expectations. There is no way to do it all. If you have more time than money, purchase and prepare your own food. If you have more money than time, use convenience as needed and warranted. If you have too little of both, consider merging efforts to prepare food with friends, colleagues, or family. Tapping into community allows eating better to be more than an exercise in feeding.
- Eat a balance of food that works for you and make sure enough protein is on the plate. Feeling satisfied after a meal allows you to focus on every other task of the day. Struggling to get satisfied or resisting the urge to eat when you think you are already “eating enough” but still feel hungry is counterproductive and exhausting.
- Honor your hunger and satiety. Ideally we eat when we are hungry and stop when our hunger is gone. Unfortunately, in times of stress we produce hormones that completely steamroll the subtle cues of hunger and satiety, making it practically impossible to determine how much is enough. Practice what works to ground yourself through the day, even if the effort is as simple as consciously breathing more slowly and deeply.
- Use physical movement to improve your metabolism, and specifically how your body burns both fat and glucose for fuel. When you are able to burn more fat for fuel, you probably won’t crave sugar and carbohydrates the same way.
- Determine what’s worth it. Better food costs more, but better food often tastes better and nourishes us more completely. More importantly, better food means minimizing exposure to problematic chemicals used in agriculture and food processing. Vote with your food dollars and choose organic produce and grains when you can. Opt for grass fed butter and other dairy products. Choose grass fed meats as well as pastured eggs and poultry.
- If your budget is straining, check out EWG’s website to find out which crops use the most pesticides. Preferentially choose organic for the Dirty Dozen and don’t sweat it for the Clean Fifteen.
PUNT IF NEEDED
A major thrust in the market embraces better convenience food. Today consumers find more whole food, more organic and non-GMO ingredients, as well as more sustainable and local sources. Options include prepared foods or just prepared ingredients, along with meal replacement shakes and smoothies. Sources tell me that even at Whole Foods Markets consumers purchase more roasted chicken than raw.
When it all gets to be too much, let someone else do the shopping, cooking, or both. A wide range of resources are at the ready and you’re not the only one looking for a quick out. One critical caveat here–remember that what someone else prepares for you may not match your nutritional needs regardless how “healthy” the food or ingredients.
- Don’t want to plan menus? The USDA My Plate offers suggestions or google for any one of many menu planning apps. Just remember that the tricky part is matching a meal plan with your personal preferences and metabolic needs.
- Hate grocery shopping? Enterprising companies do it for you. Blue Apron offers conventional meals made with whole foods, Sun Basket offer meals planned with organic and non GMO ingredients, while The Purple Carrot offers vegan options.
- Only interested in eating? A range of food delivery services offer everything from restaurant fare to home cooked meals, from paleo to vegan– and everything in between.
FOOD’S RIGHTFUL PLACE
As you attempt to find food’s rightful place in your life, be kind and gentle with yourself. This journey is a process of learning what works and what doesn’t. What is worth it, and what isn’t. Figure out how food can work for you, not the other way around.
Lastly, if you struggle to get a foothold, seek support. Effective nutrition counseling bridges that nasty gap between knowledge and behavior.