Intuitive eating series. Pt 1: Farm to Table.
This sounds like I'm assuming there will be more than one blog post. I'm not. I just wanted to be clear that this is only a part of the whole story. How I eat. How I live. MY version of what I refer to as "intuitive eating". It's so much more than listening to your body. More than giving in to your cravings because somehow that's your body telling you that you may need a certain nutrient. There's a lot to be said about really paying attention to your body's messages, but that's even a little more complex than what I'm about to share with you.
Basically, I eat in a way that just feels...right.
Focus on the food.
Have you ever tasted a tomato, still warm from the garden? And taken a bite out of it like you would a peach? Or a summer cucumber? They're a far distant relative to the waxy, dry, flavorless variety we buy at the market. Simply sliced with pink salt and ground black pepper or a bit of goat cheese-- that could be lunch for me in and of itself. Carrots from the farmers market, the earth still caked in the twisted wrinkles and falling from the green leafy tops. Or eggs, gathered by your own two hands. Yolks bright orange. Seasonings used to enhance flavor, not mask it (ketchup anyone....??!!) If I could eat this way every day I would be happiest. But unfortunately, I have the opposite of a green thumb and I live in a climate that has a growing season of about 3.4 days! Even when I do manage to grow a garden, the neighborhood critters see my lovely rows of sprouts and shoots as their own personal salad bar. Leaving me nothing at harvest time but dreams of garden fresh salads and juice from my own bounty. So I keep my gardening simple. A patio tomato plant, a few potted herbs, weekly produce delivery from a local CSA style outfit and trips to the farmers market as often as I possibly can. Dairy and eggs delivered to my doorstep by an actual milk man! The rest I fill in with organic findings at my regular grocery store, Whole Foods and the Food Co-op we are fortunate to have in our area.
I am by no means a daily farm to table cook. While I'd love to slow boil whole groats with cream and maple syrup for breakfast every day, I have three children and our mornings look more like a tornado than anything else. I rely on quick, simple staples and favorite, easy recipes with enough variety to avoid boredom, but not too many options to turn my kitchen into a short order diner. I still serve boxed Mac n cheese, pizza and other convenience foods when I must, but I much prefer the satisfaction I get from making even a simple grilled provolone cheese on whole grain bread with tomato. Just as easy, so much more fulfilling.
My nutrition background is peppered with science. How nutrients work together in food. In the body. Nutrition, disease, energy. Period. In my mind I know how to lose weight. How to avoid nutrient deficiencies. And how to detect and correct metabolic imbalances. But there's a big problem with that approach.
We taste our food and we have social and emotional ties with food. Since I received my degree, a million years ago it seems, I've seen the diet trends. Atkins, Paleo, low-fat, no fat, high fat, high protein, Gluten Free, Juicing, Raw Foods...the list goes on and on and on. What I'm going to say next is what no one wants to hear but has heard over and over again. Diets don't work. Don't bother, move on. I won't dwell here, it's common sense. The mind set of calories in vs. calories out just doesn't work either. We, as human beings, need to nourish our souls along with our bellies. If you find artificial sweeteners, preservatives, food dyes and other chemicals in your food, your body will eventually revolt. You will feel deprived. You won't find joy in food. You need to find more sunshine in your diet. Figuratively and literally.
From time to time I forget these very messages and even I find myself getting caught up in the hype.
I recently tried a "diet" that, it seemed, everyone was trying. I lasted about 2 days. I didn't fail...exactly. But I certainly didn't finish the three week plan either. I found myself grabbing a handful of grapes one afternoon. It was about 3pm and I was feeling dizzy and light headed. I wasn't supposed to have a snack at that time of day, but dinner was still a couple hours away. I had already fulfilled my "fruit quota" for the day so this handful of grapes was considered cheating. Failing. I felt like a failure. For eating GRAPES! So as quickly as I jumped on the bandwagon, I leapt off and ran in the other direction!!
I've also tried juice "cleansing". Now, don't get me wrong, I LOOOOVE juicing.... as a part of my entire diet. But "they" made it sound very attractive and I thought it sounded like a good idea to consume ONLY juice for a period of time as a "food detox", if you will. So I started on a Monday morning...I lasted 14 hours. I failed again. I could feel my type A personality taking over during those 14 hours and I was developing anxiety about when I was going to start eating actual foods again. Anxiety about chewing-- as if chewing was cheating. I was creating rules about eating-- when I could eat, what I could eat, how much, how often. It was exhausting! I could see this swiftly going downhill and turning into a control type issue surrounding my food. Not unlike the thoughts people suffering from eating disorders have.
I'm done failing. Food isn't a win or lose part of life. It's how we stay alive!!! If you're truly eating a healthy, well rounded, complete diet and you exercise on a regular basis for health, your body will settle into a certain weight, a certain shape. That's your natural and healthy state. If you're not happy with that, then maybe there are other things going on. If you feel you have to drastically restrict your food, create hard rules about your eating habits or exercise to extreme, I feel like you may have to look inside and ask yourself why. That's all.
So let's dig in here. How do you go from the typical calorie counting ways we've all come accustomed to, and change your way of thinking about food? Personally, I look to the food itself for inspiration. Cookbooks with photos are displayed in my kitchen like art books and I usually have one or two on my beside table for nighttime reading. I would actually pay a babysitter for the chance to slowly wander the aisles of the market alone for hours; looking at the colors of the produce, discovering unusual cheeses, reading labels, thinking of flavor combinations, smelling spices.
I literally find my inspiration in creamy golden butter. In heavy loaves of bread, sprinkled with whole grains and seeds that you can see. In fruit that you have to peel and cut yourself. And food with a local farm name. Not a brand name.
I get a buzz from cooking recipes with all whole ingredients and I love it when my meals still look like the ingredients I started with. The more ingredients that are organic the better. Whole, organic AND local.... ??? I can't even!
How do I do it? I have three kids-- high energy, demanding, busy little kids!
So I don't necessarily "have time" to cook. But with amazing ingredients food can be simple. There's nothing complicated about peeling carrots and sweet potatoes and chunking them up with onion, fennel, celery and beets. Drizzle on some silky green olive oil, sea salt, pepper and roast with a fresh whole chicken. It's as comforting as it is delicious.
It takes only about 10 minutes to boil up a big batch of organic polenta, stir in sharp cheddar, sweet corn off the cob and chili powder. Top with huge jumbo shrimp sautéed in garlic, chili oil and lime. We all have 10 minutes.
My go-to salad dressing lately is simply olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, whole ground mustard, fresh thyme, salt, pepper and garlic. Shaken in a mason jar. Shake hard-- it drowns out the kids whining and is a great arm workout! You'll never buy store bought dressing again.
And my favorite breakfast... farm fresh eggs, fried in coconut oil, slightly undercooked --- yolk spilling over the buttered toast, creating its own thick sauce. Add avocado, green onion, hot sauce and a sprinkle of blue cheese. It's almost sinful!
I'm not a great cook, in fact if I was being honest I'd say my husband is the better cook in the family. With his patience and attention to detail, his recipes always turn out perfect. I can, however, piece together flavors and create dishes by gathering found ingredients in my cabinet. A little Farrow, vegetable stock, pink salt, fresh basil, hunks from a fresh ball of mozzarella and halved cherry tomatoes. That could feed me for days.
So, this is a part of how I eat. A part of what I call intuitive eating..... My version. It would take many blog posts to really cover how I feel about eating, food, body image and how it developed and changed over the years, where it's going. But the most colorful and interesting portion, is the notion that it's important to eat food as close to its earthly form as possible. Maybe sometimes still even dusted with soil. If you simply want to lose weight. Go ahead. Keep on eating the junk, and counting one point at a time. I swear, I believe most people don't even know what GOOD feels like...what abundant energy feels like!! If you want to feel alive, get excited about your food and enjoy your meals again...try to see your food with a different set of eyes. Eat food without guilt, without numbers. Eat food that looks as good as it tastes. Share your food with people you love. Gather around a table of beautiful food and enjoy your meal.