So, I had a funny moment the other day. I was eating my lunch, while listening to an old episode of a Paleo-focused podcast. Of course, it got me thinking about my days of eating Paleo, and the religious avoidance of grains and legumes that came with that. My lunch that day consisted of a ham and salad sandwich (made with gluten-free multigrain bread), and a couple of rice crackers with cream cheese. I smirked to myself, thinking about how Paleo-Me would have responded to Present-Me’s lunch. If Paleo-Me were Present-Me, she would have been admonishing herself for being so “bad”, and already mentally preparing to Paleo Harder, to “make up” for such a horrible indiscretion. But Present-Me? She was just going to finish her delicious lunch and go about her day. I felt like I’d come so far, eating such a non-Paleo lunch with such a lack of concern. Self-five, for that.
Then, a friend walked in, and interrupted my thoughts.
“Oh my God!”, she said. “Look at you! You eat so healthy!”.
I just kind of shrugged in response, and kept munching, but a little part of my brain exploded. This can be chalked up to further evidence that “health” is in the eye of the beholder. For some, the animal products in my lunch would be considered horrendously unhealthy. For others – like my Paleo peeps – the grains and legumes were what did the damage. For another camp altogether, the fat in the full-fat cream cheese would have been the biggest concern. For a different group again, the macronutrient imbalance would have been the breaking point.
This is why it bugs me so much when someone asks me for my opinion about what they’re eating. “Is this healthy?”. I have been asked that question so many times, and I don’t really have an answer, regardless of the food in question. You know what I think is “healthy”? Eating food that makes you feel good. And you can interpret that any way you want to. If eating Maltesers makes your heart sing, go your hardest. If it’s a green tea or green smoothie that you’re hanging for, do that instead. But, for Pete’s sake, don’t get hung up on whether a particular food or meal or whatever is “healthy”. Because, really, there are so many ways to answer that question, it’s hard to even know where to begin.
On another note, that podcast made a really good point that’s been on my mind the last few days. (I don’t really want to name the podcast itself, because I’m not really interested in promoting it, but if you’d like the source please contact me.) It went something like this: when we talk about “eating”, what we’re usually talking about is “not eating”. Paleo, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian – really, all of them, and all of their associated literature, focus on what not to eat. What to avoid. What to give up. Because, after all, it’s only through elimination that we can achieve health, right?
I feel like “eating healthy” has become code for “eating less”. Sure, we talk all about “nutrient dense” options and “5-6 small meals a day”, but what we really mean is “eat less than you’re eating now”. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but your typical mainstream “diet”/”detox”/”cleanse”/”lose the last five pounds!” whatever? Yeah, that’s pretty much what they mean. Eat less of the rich and decadent foods that you love. Eat less of the convenient foods that make your day easier. Eat less of the fuel that your body needs for your run. And, no matter how much less you eat, there’s always someone eating less than you, and something else to cut. Does that sound right? Does that sound “healthy“?
How about, next time you decide you want to “eat healthy”, why not focus on, well, eating? Find more foods to eat, more ways to get the nutrients in, more ways to use the fuel that you get. Reject the cut/clean/eliminate mindset. And not in an “Oh, noooooo, it’s not a deprivation diet, it’s a lifestyle change, and I’m going to eat nothing but fruit forever!” kind of way. But in an actual, rational, emotionally-healthy kind of way. You never know, it might just work.
(And, P.S., the greatest irony of Alanis Morissette’s song is, of course, that it contained basically no instance or example of actual irony. In a similar spirit, neither does this blog post.)