How to Figure Out What to Eat

by Andrea on February 16, 2010

in Healing,Nutrition

“Just like cows know they should eat grass, underneath all the layers of intellectual information and confusion, you too know what to eat.” I’m paraphrasing my teacher Joshua Rosenthal from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

After years of self-observation, I’ve come to understand this is true. Underneath all the confusion and the doubts in my mind I do know what I should eat. This is what I help my clients figure out for themselves. I think that, slowly but surely, we are transcending our faith in diets — letting someone else tell us what we should eat — and are embracing the responsibility to figure it out ourselves, just like we did thousands, maybe even as close as hundreds of years ago.

I know what you’re thinking. If you’re saying that I’m supposed to figure out what to eat, then can you tell me how?

OK, here. It’s not that difficult, really:

1. Focus on the real food.
I don’t eat junk food very frequently, but on the rare occasion that I do, something really interesting happens. I immediately start craving soda! I eat food that’s deployed of nutrients and I want more of this nutrient-deficient food.

Things can go downhill from there, but fortunately the opposite is true as well. The more high-quality food I eat, the more nutrient-dense food I eat, the more of that I crave.

2. Slow down. And then slow down some more.
It is not possible for your body to have clear feedback about how food feels in there if you’re shoveling it down. If there’s something I know for sure is that no true healing around eating will be possible until you start paying attention to the act of eating and giving it enough time.

3. Focus on the trunk, not the branches.
I love to point this one out to clients whenever they start asking me which green powder they should buy, or if it’s true that acai has more antioxidants than blueberries, or if I like noni juice better than mangosteen juice.

Ladies… That’s not the point! These are distractions that keep you from focusing on the important stuff: the food that you eat every day. Morning, afternoon and evening. This is what’s going to bring real, long-lasting, sustainable changes.

4. Have an open mind
I love it when a client finally realizes that no, neither oatmeal nor fruit are good breakfast choices for them. In spite of all the cholesterol lowering, the high fiber and the other health benefits they’re supposed to get.

You’ve got to experiment with an open mind! As long as you’re set on the idea that fat is evil, or that you really can’t digest breakfast, or that there’s absolutely nothing that can replace your morning coffee, you will not be able to figure out what the best food options for you are.

5. Practice a mindfulness discipline
This is not a requirement, but it sure helps a lot. Meditation, yoga, bio-feedback, or simply closing your eyes and taking a deep, conscious breath a few times throughout the day, will help you bring your attention back to your own body. You’ll be amazed at what you discover! I’ve heard things like “I never realized before I’m always sleepy after I eat Chinese takeout,” “I think there is a connection between my anxiety and my sugar cravings” or “McDonald’s french fries really do taste like crap!”

6. Give it time
It takes about three years of conscious work to develop a strong connection to your gut. The kind of connection that says “Today is a chicken soup day,” or “I really need to eat a big salad” or “I don’t care for smoothies when I have my period.”

Does three years seem like a long time? Well, how long does it take you to master any other skill? Learning a new language, or developing a sustainable business model, or becoming a really good Scrabble player?

When you get that I-know-what-to-eat skill in your core, when it is truly a part of your life, then you are not confused by food options. This is the end of overeating and yo-yo dieting. You are free to enjoy food and, when you’re done eating, you’re free from food thoughts. You free up space in your mind and your soul for big and beautiful projects.

How much would that be worth to you?

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays hosted by Cheeseslave.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Wendy (The Local Cook) 02.17.10 at 6:45 pm

wow, there’s so much I need to learn!

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2 Anita 02.17.10 at 7:08 pm

Oh, Andrea- that was a great read! I loved your thoughts, especially
“When you get that I-know-what-to-eat skill in your core, when it is truly a part of your life, then you are not confused by food options. ”
I feel I’m there now, just trying to keep the whole family on the real food bandwagon:) It’s a good thing real food tastes so good!

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3 Andrea 02.17.10 at 7:24 pm

@Wendy,
We all have much to learn…

@Anita
Thanks! It is indeed a good thing :-)

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4 Diana Renata 02.17.10 at 10:25 pm

Fantastic post, and spot on. I still struggle with the “slow down” part. I tend to eat very quickly and shovel it in, but I’m working on it. :)

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5 Karin Witzig Rozell 02.18.10 at 8:47 am

You have the one of the very best ezines and blogs of the nutrition world. Love your articles!

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Andrea Reply:

@Diana,
Slowing down is difficult in a culture that wants us to always go fast. This is a constant challenge for everyone!

@Karin,
OMG, thank you. That’s a great compliment, especially coming from you!

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6 Heather Cottrell 02.21.10 at 11:15 pm

Andrea, I’m so glad I came across this post. Great job!

I also notice how giving in to one craving sets me up for another junk food craving the next day, and how easily that can head downhill if I don’t stop and notice. Lately (and maybe it’s because of the season) I’ve been having a tougher time hearing what my body is trying to tell me. Thanks for the reminder that it all takes time.

Beautiful website. It’s a nice place to visit :)

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7 ELLEN 07.13.10 at 12:24 am

THAT YOU ANDREA I AM SO GLAD MY GIRL FRIEND SUSAN CAME ACROSS YOUR WEB SITE BECAUSE YOU ARE THE BOMB ! IT IS TRUE THAT WE SET OUR SELVES UP FOR A DOWN WHEN WE MAKE THOSE CHOICES OF BAD FOODS! AND WHEN I GO FOR THE FRIUT OR VEGGIE I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER AND I KNOW I DO BUT SOMETIMES YOU NEED THAT CHOCOLATE BAR AND THEN I AM DOOMED! BUT I HAVE BEEN ON THE RIGHT PATH THANKS TO YOU!

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Andrea Reply:

Wow! Thanks Ellen. That’s the kind of comment that makes someones day :-)

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8 Beth 04.29.11 at 11:13 am

Hi, just came accross this post after googling “what can I make with turkey peices and honey”
I’m happy that someone is finally teaching this kind of thing.
I’m 20 and have been described as “funny” about food since I was very little. In fact, I wont eat food I don’t truly feel like eating, ever, and I can’t remember ever being any different. As a child I hated sausages but every now and then would eat them if I truly craved them.
It’s hard to explain but unless I truly crave a food, I wont eat it. I will only eat when I’m hungry and this happens about four or five times a day.
I was once described as a possible anorexic by a lady who barely knew me. My BMI is perfect for my height and I have perfect blood pressure etc but my mum found it annoying that she would serve pie and I would refuse point blank to eat it until I was hungry or until I felt like eating pie.
It’s a little hard to explain but I know that if I crave salt I am low on what salt gives you, if I crave sugar I need sugar, if I crave savoury things then I have been eating too much sugar recently and need to balance it out. Basically I have only ever wanted to eat what I feel like my body needs. As a result I rarely drink fizzy drinks such as soda or cola etc and although chocolate is something I eat often I do need it on occasion for the fat content as much of everything else I eat tends to be very very low on fat and sugars. My doctor was very impressed when I described this to him and he likes the idea that other people should be more in tune with their own system. unfortunately it isnt that easy. you have to figure out what is a craving because you need it and what a craving is because you like it. want and need is entirely different but can sometimes be confused when not thought about. this is why you do need to slow down and take your time when selecting food. If i look at my cupboard or fridge and say I do not want anything in their I try something else but I make sure I am fed at that time. even i have trouble sometimes but if you keep it up you will soon become more and more in tune with your own body.
my only problem is when i crave something and I dont know what it is… it can take a while to find something new and think WOW that is what I was looking for!!

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