"Create healthy habits, not restrictions."
I. Love. Food. It is honestly ridiculous how happy I am when I am eating something yummy. A few weeks ago I was on a phone with a good friend, and she asked me, "Are you eating?" Worried that I might have been smacking, I asked, "Yeah, how did you know?" She replied, "Because you always hum and dance when you are eating good food." I bust out laughing. Because she was right. I do love me some food. So when I decided I wanted to be healthier, that was my biggest fear. That I would have to give up something that I loved. My food. I thought healthy meant bland, boring, and tasteless. I thought healthy meant restrictions or following a specific eating philosophy, like vegetarian, vegan, or paleo. So, I researched all three of these philosophies to try to figure out which one would work for me. The answer was none of them. At least not right now. And eating healthy is not boring or bland, if you know what you are doing. Here is a quick summary of my research of the three eating philosophies and how I decided that none of them were right for me.
So, according to wikipedia, vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat (red meat, poultry, seafood, insects and the flesh of any other animal). Everything else is fair game. Meat is high in protein, so one of the biggest push-backs against vegetarianism, is that the diet will be deprived of protein. However, there are many non-meat high protein foods - green peas, quinoa, and nut butters just to name a few. You do not need to eat meat to get protein. So lack of protein wasn't my issue with vegetarianism. My issue is how vegetarianism is defined. It is defined in terms of a restrictions, no meat. Instead of in terms of abundance, more vegetables. Because of this mis-definition, there are a lot of unhealthy vegetarians. You know, the people who don't eat meat, but eat cheese pizza, mashed potatoes, and chocolate chip cookies under the guise of vegetarianism. Technically, yes, with Wikipedia's definition they are vegetarian. But if vegetarian was defined as eating more vegetables and fruits than anything else, which I would argue is a more accurate definition, then they wouldn't even come close. You can be following all of the "rules" of being a vegetarian, yet be very unhealthy. But outside of definition, I am not convinced that eating high quality pasture-raised antibiotic and cage free lean poultry and wild caught seafood is bad for my health. Now, there is evidence that red meat does have negative impacts on health, but there isn't strong evidence for poultry or seafood. So for these reasons, I reject vegetarianism. Now, I must note, that there are lots of vegetarians for social, ethical, personal, or moral reasons. And they are some very solid ethical arguments for being a vegetarian, but for the purposes of this discussion, I am only talking about health.
Vegan is a more restricted version of vegetarian. Not only can vegans not have meat, but they also can not have any animal products. This means no eggs and dairy, and any products that are made with eggs or dairy. Now, I agree with cutting back on dairy. I know from personal experience, that when I cut out dairy, I saw very clear improvements in my digestive health and my skin. Coming from a girl who LOVED cheese, I never thought I would be able to give up dairy. But eating cheese was not worth feeling bloated, having gas, and breaking out all over my face. And, I don't like eggs. But I believe they are such a healthy and complete protein, I wish that I did. Honestly, I try them every 3 or so months, hoping that my taste buds have changed. And so far, they haven't. So honestly, from a diary and egg perspective, veganism wouldn't be that hard for me. However, I don't like restrictions. And every so often, I am going to want some home made ice cream or a piece of really nice cheese to go along with a glass wine. And due to my desire for balance, I decided not to be vegan, because I knew I would fail. And I didn't want to set myself up for failure. But who knows, maybe 5 years from now I could totally have a different view.
Paleo is almost the opposite of vegetarianism. Paleo is an effort to eat like a caveman. This means that you can only eat things you can hunt or find – meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, and seeds. You can't eat cereal grains, legumes (including peanuts), dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, refined vegetable oils. For the most part, I like paleo. I like that it doesn't encourage calorie counting or portion control. I like that it is not just defined with restrictions. I agree that processed foods, refined sugar, and refined vegetable oils should be eliminated from the diet. However, I am not convinced that legumes, potatoes, salt, and whole grains need to be eliminated from the diet. I just haven't seen any studies that prove this to me. And it counterintuitive to me. Potatoes and legumes are plants, why are they bad? Moreover, paleo suggests that diets should be high in fat, moderate in animal protein and low to moderate in carbohydrates. I also don't agree with this. I believe your body needs equal parts fat, protein, and carbs. And they should all be high quality. I worry that encouraging a diet high in fat could lead to the creation of bad habits. You know, like wrapping everything in bacon. I have seen some paleo people go really wild. So, for this reason, I decided not to be paleo.
The key problem will all three eating styles above, is that they felt too restrictive. And they wouldn't provide me with the balance I wanted in my diet. Balance is the key.
So how did I decide to eat? Real clean (organic if available) food. The real food movement resonated with me. It was simple. It wasn't restrictive. It was intuitive. I want to eat real natural foods. Plants. Vegetables. Fruits. Seeds. Legumes. High quality meat products. It wasn't focused on what I couldn't have, but instead it was focused on what I could have. Check out this list of all of the great foods that are real, that you may have never heard of. Looking at ingredient lists, and cutting out chemicals, dyes, and artificial flavors just made sense to me. I don't want to eat foods that have been genetically modified, are covered in chemicals, or so manipulated that it doesn't even resemble food anymore. I loved food. And eating real food allowed me to indulge in ways that I never have before. Eating clean doesn't restrict me, it opens me up to a brand new palette of flavors, textures, and tastes. And when I travel, I am not restricted. If I am in New Zealand, which is known for some of the best lamb in the world, I get to enjoy it and still be consistent with my eating style. No restrictions. Just balance.
If you want to start eating clean, check out this blog post for some tips. Let me know if you have any questions!
Be Happy. Be Healthy. Be Free.