I've recently been pondering the idea of eating healthy. Well, not really recently, I guess my opinion of and knowledge about this has really been gradually increasing in the past year, to the point that I have a more clear definition of what I mean to eat healthy. I was talking to my brother on the phone about two weeks ago, and we were discussing ways to save money as it applies to buying groceries. In the course of conversation, I said to him that I think that different people have different ideas about what healthy means, and they are achieving their idea of healthy, but that wouldn't necessarily be my idea of healthy.
I started to think a little more about that idea, since one would think that "healthy" would have a fairly simple and straight-forward definition. Not so though, not so.
I think there are differing opinions on eating healthy depending on where you are coming from and what your goals are. I fall somewhere in between, as I think I have fallen into this lifestyle kind of by accident.
The first idea of "eating healthy" has to do with eating less - or at least less calories. You can't do a google search for eating healthy without coming up with tons and tons of webpages that say - "eat healthy for weight loss," "eat healthy to cut calories," etc. I have friends who eat (their idea) of healthy by basically eating all low fat, low calorie foods. I'm talking I Can't Believe It's Not Butter on top of their reduced calorie "light" bread, spread with a little "no sugar" jelly. Basically the idea is to cut out your calories, so that you won't gain weight and you will be able to eat the most food for your calorie bang. I used to abide by this method of eating healthy. I was one of those people who ate all these replacement foods to cut down on the calories, and I still struggle with it a bit. I've been told time and time again that weight loss is "calories in, calories out" and while I don't really want to lose a lot of weight, I also don't want to gain weight. It would make sense then to say that by eating the most food for the least amount of calories, I would be maximizing what I could eat without gaining weight.
The alternative (I'm sure its not the only one, but it is the direct comparison in my life) idea of eating healthy is to eat whole, clean, unprocessed foods. The goal behind this mentality is to get the most nutrient bang for your buck, not in terms of how many calories you are eating, but in terms of eating the most nutrient dense foods (think spinach, berries, etc). This ideology wants to eat things in their most natural form without the processing that most modern day foods go through. This idea also dives head first into full fat, calorie dense items such as butter, coconut oils, lard, etc. Many people who abide by this mentality have a tendency to make their own foods from scratch most, if not all, of the time. Since it is rather hard to avoid processed foods when you are buying them in the store (even such simple things as bread), it becomes easier to just make it yourself.
I tend to think of myself as falling somewhere in between these, moving more towards the second. I haven't fully accepted the idea of eating totally full fat foods like whole milk and full fat cheese, yogurt, and more oils. I think that is the part of me that worries about gaining weight. As my husband put it, "if you eat things with less calories, that just means you can eat that much more" (I'm not sure that's really the purpose, but ok...) I think the biggest thing I've learned from the reading and studying I've been doing lately about food and nutrition is that although some foods have less calories (like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter), they may actually affect your body in other ways that end up making you fat. That is a lot of what Master Your Metabolism is about - that the more the US has moved towards low fat and low calorie foods, the fatter we have gotten. I don't know if that is a causation or a correlation idea (for all you economics people), but it is the truth. The friends that I have that eat those low calorie foods (the ones I was talking about in the first paragraph) constantly struggle with their weight, and are in fact rather overweight. Is it because of the foods, or is it simple coincidence? I don't know.
I do know a few things though: 1) Eating low fat, low calorie, "franko foods" as Jillian Michaels calls them, leaves me feeling unsatisfied and wanting more. So although my husband finds it a good thing that he can eat that much more of a low calorie food, I find it bad because I am left wanting so much more of anything. I have cravings just to eat in general, and it is very hard to satisfy them, so I end up eating more calories overall.
2) Since I cut out Diet Coke, my sugar cravings have gone down significantly. When I drink diet coke on a rare occasion in a restaurant, I end up having days worth of unbelievably strong cravings.
3) When we eat whole foods, I have more energy and am not as lethargic. I used to take a nap quite frequently (embarrassing to admit), but now I feel energized and awake all day.
4) Going hand in hand with #2, I sleep better. Maybe that's why I have more energy, but I haven't been waking up as much or tossing and turning as much. I feel like I sleep very deeply, and thus I wake up feeling rested. This is something new to me, as I've always been a troubled sleeper.
5) I feel awful when I eat processed foods. As I talked about in White Fours and Heart Disease, since I've been eating better, when I do eat processed foods I feel horrible. I pretty much can't even go out to eat any more, since I feel so bad afterwards. This can be a positive and a negative, as I do like going out to eat every once in a while!
All in all, I do think that what you define as healthy depends on the environment that you were brought up in and what your goals are. If you were brought up in a house that saw hamburger helper as a "homemade meal" then perhaps your definition of healthy is different from someone whose parent ground their own wheat and made homemade soap. Once again, I fall somewhere in the middle. My parents made most things homemade, but never worried about organics or processed foods. As I learn more about the food industry and food processing, I am moving in the direction of the second ideology of healthy, and I am feeling remarkably better. I think what you put into your body has a direct correlation to how you feel and how healthy (meaning not sick) you are, so how can putting something like twinkies into your body possibly make you feel good?
I'm taking baby steps to move towards my goal though. It is hard to overhaul your eating paradigm and change the way that you have thought about food for years. I'm as guilty as the next person of trying to lose weight by eating lower calories foods, or trying to "eat heathy" by eating replacement food items (like I Can't Believe It's Not Butter instead of just eating real butter). It is a huge adjustment, and at times can be scary because it goes against the norm of what is considered to be good for you (eating coconut oil?! Crazy! Aren't you worried about how many calories you are eating?) This blog is my journey in taking those steps to change my life in the way that I do see as being better for me, so in the next few weeks I am going to start a few different series' on the ways that I am moving towards my idea of healthy. I look forward to making these changes in my life, and I hope you will join me at my blog, http://justaddlauren.blogspot.com!