A Mindful Approach to Nutrition
As a continuation of our 12 Daily Intentions, number 6 is Nutrition. This particular topic is probably also one of the most controversial topics because of all of the variables surrounding it. Though there is an abundant amount of science-based knowledge regarding nutrition, there are also personal biases, genetics, social issues, and misinformation, that also influence our understanding of food and nutrition, I am going to approach this topic from a slightly different perspective.
I will share with you what I often refer to as a “mindful eating” approach. Mindful eating is basically the idea that every time we put food in our mouths, we recognize “why we are eating and exactly what we are eating.” It is my recommendation that the most important thing that we can do is simply pause for a moment and consider these two simple but critical questions:
· Is this food providing energy and will it contribute favorably to my overall health?
· Is this food providing little or no energy and is it detrimental to my health?
I actually refer to this mindset as my green light, yellow light, and red light nutritional plan. The green light foods are the ones that I want to build my nutritional plan around. They include macros that are primarily unprocessed and plant-based with the addition of healthy fats and clean protein. The yellow list would include foods that on occasion are okay, especially in moderation. The red-light foods are the ones that I would like to eliminate or replace with healthier choices or versions of that particular food source.
Rather than a diet, which is restrictive and usually sets us up for failure, I focus on foods that I want to add to my healthy green-light list. Building a food list with the majority of food on the green list provides me with more than enough healthy choices and everything I would like to eat on any given day. Additionally, a person who adheres to this philosophy will often find that they may crowd out many of the foods in the red light group. This falls under the philosophy of it is easier to "replace" a bad habit than it is to "eliminate" one.
So how does this work? The first step is when purchasing food, I only purchase food from providers that primarily sell from the green-light food list. I also stay away from buying food from places where the majority of their foods are in the red-light category. We all know where healthy groceries are located in most grocery stores and which stores provide healthier foods. We also know that buying fuel for the car at the gas station is one thing but buying our food from that same gas station, is probably not the best idea. Though you might find a healthy choice here or there, it is extremely difficult to consistently find foods that provide sustained energy and are good for our overall health and fitness. This is all about creating boundaries for yourself and adhering to those when not only eating but shopping for your meals and snacks.
Within the categories of green/yellow/red, there are a few deal breakers for me. This includes both the good and bad. I work hard to add as many healthy greens and plant-based foods to my nutritional plan as possible. I also look to add high-level and clean protein. All of which would be in the green-light category.
On the other hand, I strive to “eliminate” processed sugar and seed oils completely. These two foods are likely the most highly inflammatory foods in the western diet. They are also associated with several serious illnesses and health-related concerns. Without getting into the weeds too far, eliminating or at least limiting these negative choices can go a long way in assisting individuals to gain or restore health. For more information on these and other nutritional questions, I would suggest you check out Dr. Cate Shanahan Dr. Shanahan has produced several books including Deep Nutrition and The Fatburn Fix. Both are exceptional books that break down the science while she helps make sense of some of the confusing issues surrounding many areas of nutrition.
The final part of this plan of utilizing a mindful approach is to begin to identify which foods fit into the 3 categories of green, yellow, and red lights. I would suggest in the beginning using a template with the intention to eventually build your own model. As your knowledge of food and nutrition grows, you can add foods, eliminate foods, and move foods in and out of the categories. Ben Greenfield produced a document several years ago that I often use with my clients. Though his food categories aren’t listed with the green/yellow/red light approach, he does suggest with his superhuman food pyramid that you build your food choices around this very same concept. There are foods that we should continually build our nutritional plans around, there are foods that we can occasionally insert into our diets and then there are those that we should really stay away from as much as possible.
Try starting your mindfulness nutritional plan with a food journal. "Remember back to Intention #1 of our Daily Intentions." This can be as simple as writing your food and meal times in a notebook or using an app such as Bitesnap which allows you to take a picture of your food and automatically creates your food journal for you during the day. Regardless of how you do it, simply tracking your food intake goes a long way in building mindfulness with accountability.
In summary, there is so much information available to all of us regarding nutrition. I am also sure many of you are “on overload” when it comes to this information and advice. It doesn’t take long for us to understand that some of this information and advice is valid and much of it is not. I am a big believer in Occam’s Razor which states “the simplest solution is almost always the best. The nutritional plan that provides us with a deliberate and mindful process is the best plan. Additionally, if what we are doing is not sustainable, there is little value. Focus on the mindful component and ditch the idea of a diet!