I have a confession to make: I’m obsessed. Obsessed with diets.
High Carb, Low Carb, Low Fat, High Protein, Ketogenic, Vegan, Pescetarian, Dukan, Raw, Meditteranean, Atkins, 80/10/10…
Not the starvation kind but the healthy kind. I started thinking about what I put into my mouth for the first time when I was twelve after having watched a documentary about how chicken wings are made in ethics class. So I stopped eating meat. The decision was natural to me because my mother had lived as a vegetarian for the past twelve years and while I would eat fish fingers with my mashed potatoes she’d just have that and peas on the side.
Then, one summer, shortly before I turned 15 I found a video of a raw vegan eating twenty bananas at once. She was blonde and eerily skinny. Just the type of skinny every awkwardly maturing teenage girl wants to be. And she said that I could eat as much as I want, even twenty bananas, if it was vegan and raw and mainly fruit. That’s how it started for me. At the time I tricked myself into thinking that it was the environment I cared for, the animals but I think that in the end it was her incredibly flat tummy in that crop top which I really cared for.
Since then I’ve become raw vegan, tried to eat twenty bananas pureed into a smoothie, felt very sick and converted to the ‘normal type’ of veganism fairly quickly. I’ve read countless of books about all kinds of diets, I’ve watched dozens of documentaries on what damage the food industry has done to us and I have become so incredibly obsessed with what I eat that I’d avoid a bag of chips in a way only vampires avoid garlic.
And it surely didn’t stop with the bag of chips. I developed a way of thinking in which the world of food became drastically divided into the good guys of which I could literally (literally) eat as much of as I wanted and the bad guys which were evil/venomous/vicious/demonic and I could not possibly eat them without either getting cancer, cardiac disease or morbidly obese. The last category changed every now and again according to whichever diet book or health claim I just bought into. I listened to everyone but my own body.
Rule Nr 1: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Most of us can do it as children. I could do it. I could eat popcorn and chips and ice cream and full-fat everything. My favorite dish was Tortellini filled with minced meat in heavy-cream sauce topped with bacon bits. I thought about food when it was time to eat but when I stood up from the table I moved on with my life. Yet I was fit, healthy and skinny- scrawny even. I ate when I was hungry and whatever I was hungry for. I stopped when I was full. Oh how I want to go back to these times.
It’s like I’ve filled my world with all these rules. All these rules that surround and suffocate me.
Don’t eat fat. Only the healthy ones. And not even these because the fat you eat is the fat you wear. Eat carbs instead. No, eat protein. Especially toward dinner time but not past six o’ clock. Don’t snack. Do snack. Eat only three meals a day. Or five small ones. Or just one big one and fast for the rest of the day.
Long story short: Eating has become an issue for me and I am still far away from having everything figured out. If there is anything I’ve taken away from the enormous pile of information I spent four years sifting through it’s the following:
Rule Nr 2: IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE AND NO DIET FITS ALL
That might come as a shock to people but there are actual studies that show how different bodies react to the same foods DIFFERENTLY. One person might eat white rice and they experience a sudden spike in blood-sugar levels another person might just be fine. There is this one girl who eats twenty bananas for breakfast who looks just as fit and healthy as this guy whose diet consists of nothing but meat, eggs and avocados. Both are obviously doing something right.
I know that the phrase “find what works for you” is a bit blunt and probably not what you want to hear. You want to hear quick fixes. You want to hear that drinking hot lemon water in the morning and eating avocado toast all day is going to solve all of your problems but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. Nutrition is not easy and most people don’t realize how little we actually know about the topic. Most of these diet books have been written by people who actually think that they know a lot about nutrition. Some of them are doctors. Others are licensed nutritionists. There are studies from prestigious universities saying that milk is related to cancers and others from just as prestigious universities who don’t. So how about some common sense.
Rule Nr 3: NUTRITION IS COMPLICATED SO LET’S MAKE IT SIMPLE
“Disclaimer: This is the part where I am going to voice an opinion but just as every other diet-related advice please remember Rule 1 and 2. And the fact that I am just a 19-year-old girl with a rather difficult relationship to eating and food.”
There are certain things that intuitively make a lot of sense. We know, for instance, that an apple is better for us than a deep-fried chocolate bar. Fructose corn-syrup and white flour are probably not all that good for us either. Most pre-packaged things with long, chemical ingredient lists are suspicious. Everything that has to be prepared in a chemistry lab rather than a kitchen…probably not ideal.
Instead, why don’t we keep it simple. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, eggs and yoghurt, legumes and mushrooms, herbs and spices. I, personally, do not eat meat either and very few other animal products. Climate change, water scarcity, world hunger and soil degradation are all real issues if we want to admit to it or not. Animal cruelty is too. For the same reasons that I try not to buy avocados, papayas and other exotic fruits from far away, I try not to reach for meat and dairy: Carbon Emission. And for the same reason that I don’t instinctively run after the next pigeon and burry my teeth in its neck I don’t eat meat. I try to eat seasonal and support local farmers. But I also cut myself some slack here and there because I’m not perfect and never will be.
Oh and one last thing: Let’s enjoy our food for once. Here is one bonus rule for you
Rule Nr 4: IT’S ABOUT BALANCE
Let’s all come together at the dinner table, to a freshly cooked meal and be thankful. That we have access to food and water. Let’s eat good foods that nourish our bodies but also our souls. Food that is good for the planet.