I think one of the most important messages I have learnt for myself when changing to eating plant based diet was not necessarily “what to eat” but “how to view food” and I would argue that once that message changes the “what” falls into place far more easily and is met with far less hesitation, reluctance or doubt.
The thought of food and what to eat can be a cause of a lot of stress and anxiety for people; we worry more than ever about what to eat? how much to eat? how often to eat? and when to eat? It’s no wonder, as consumers we are confused about all these questions; on a daily basis we are bombarded by conflicting nutrition information across many mediums, from the news, to social media, friends, family and medical professionals (more on why there are so many inconsistent messages on food and nutrition in a latter blog.). Further confusing the message is the fact that the nutrition information we receive is often purely focused around looking a certain way, as fast as possible rather than on health and long-term maintenance (more on the difference between weight loss and health in a future blog.). As a start, to cut through this confusion we need a clear cut, universal message and I think if I could choose one message to share to simplify it for people it would be to “eat more whole plant foods”.
Understanding that message is not enough though, I think to start changing these harmful feelings of stress, worry, guilt, shame and powerlessness, towards food choices, we need to realise the importance of food! Food is awesome! I think if more people appreciated how profound an effect food has on our bodies and minds that we would be far less inclined to choose consume half the foods we do. Food is nothing less than the building blocks of what we become! Everyone would have heard the phrase ‘you are what you eat’. It is in every bit true. The average adult loses roughly 300 billion cells to old age every day and must replace them. Your cells don’t materialize from thin air; they are created from the food you have eaten. Our bodies are literally comprised of the food we consume. Knowing this, it’s alarming to think that the one question that we rarely ask of ourselves when we present with a health problem is “what have I been eating?” because if the building blocks of our cells doesn’t affect our health what does? That’s why what we consume is of utmost importance. The food that we choose to consume daily can have a significant effect on the health our bodies and our minds, with a whole food plant based diet being linked to prevention and in some cases reversal of some of our most common chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression and anxiety.
You would think that with all the thought, emphasis and worry that surrounds what we eat, when to eat, how much to eat or how many calories are in our breakfast, that we would be the healthiest and best equipped species to handle any disease. Yet despite all this, humans are the one species riddled with disease and struggling with weight, which is now an epidemic around the world! To start turning some of these trends around we need to stop looking at nutrition, food, our health, and our bodies as things that are all separate and rather see the bigger picture and intertwinement of all of these. Food and the nutrition it contains influences how are bodies and minds function and whether we are healthy or are able to prevent many major diseases from initiating and progressing and how long we will live. With that in mind, I think comes a message of real empowerment; we are in control of our health and we can prevent the diseases that are most likely to ail us as we age. Growing up believing that your genetics and other uncontrollable factors will determine what diseases you may succumb to, is a radically different story than the one I now know to be true. Instead of fearing developing an all too common disease, knowing that choosing to fuel your body daily with an abundance of nourishing plant-based foods can drastically reduce your chances of becoming sick, is one of the most influential things eating in this way has taught me.
In knowing this, and I mean really knowing and embodying this, what if we started to view food differently. What if we saw food as fuel, and not something to minimize? That eating food, or eating often isn’t bad, it’s what you eat that counts. That food is powerful and important; it becomes the building blocks of your body, it’s integral for our bodies to have enough energy, to regenerate cells, build muscle, to function optimally, to prevent disease and promote health and a long life. We don’t need to restrict or starve ourselves; this may allow you to lose weight in the short term, but often that weight will come back. You must find something sustainable, something that you are able to maintain and that will benefit your health in the long term and a plant rich diet ticks all those boxes.
So, in closing, I hope this highlights that food shouldn’t be viewed as something negative, nor a reward, or a punishment, as the enemy, as calories, or as something related to our self-esteem. It shouldn’t be a coping mechanism for life’s challenges, and we should not fear it. Food should be thought of for what it truly is; nourishment and enjoyment and a gateway to health, happiness and longevity. And I think once we start perceiving food in this way, the battle to eat healthy is almost won! It’s no longer a drag to eat healthily; you don’t feel like you are missing out anymore if you don’t have that piece of cake (you can make your own healthy version!), you may start to think twice about whether that chocolate bar or that glass of wine is a “treat” (maybe for your taste buds but not for your body) and you may no longer be tempted by these foods, you may start choosing to eat “in” more and make things at home. Now although each of those individual changes and choices may seem insignificant, collectively they can make all the difference in the world. Long term weight loss and health needs to stem from a change in mindset, when we prioritise eating healthily which comes from a place of viewing food in a different way, everything else seems to fall into place with ease.