It’s All Connected with Maureen Wheeler
It both nourishes us and nurtures us.
It is essential for human life.
It interacts with all of our senses and can provide profound comfort and deep pleasure.
It is intimately connected to our emotions, our health, our ethnicity, our religion, and our culture, as well as politics, economics and even the environment.
When we want to connect with other people, we get together to eat.
Food can be our poison or our medicine.
We are, actually, exactly what we eat. It shapes and informs our entire wellbeing.
Given all of this, you’d think we would be really great at knowing what to eat, right?
Yet as what we eat has become more and more defined by marketing and convenience, we have lost touch with knowing what is good for us. People have become more and more confused by the simple question of “what should I eat?” and preventable diseases are on the rise.
Thankfully, there is a movement taking place that is celebrating the lost traditions and increasing our collective knowledge of food systems. It’s reaching the mainstream and almost everyone has heard of The Locavore and Slow Food Movements; movies such as Food Inc. and Supersize Me; and books such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation – they are all creating a vital shift. People seem to be more aware and educated about eating organic vs. conventional, to have a healthy mistrust of GMO’s, and to know that sodas and fast food are most likely at least partially responsible for some health issues. Yet amid all of this, even health conscious people are still floundering about who they are as an eater as evidenced by an ever increasing list of labels we adopt that instruct our food choices. The once dreaded cocktail party inquiry of “what do you do?” is rapidly being replaced by “What do you eat?”
As people learn about factory farming and the toxins in processed foods, they are turning to more natural foods and seeking out advice from those who seem to have it all figured out. Sounds great. What could be wrong with that you might ask? The answer is that there simply is no one right answer for everyone. In trying to adhere to a given food philosophy, whether it be veganism, raw food, macrobiotics, Paleo diet or one of the hundreds of other food theory labels out there, the theory is completely dismissing the needs of your individual body.
We are each bio-individually unique. We have unique ancestry, blood types, constitutions, metabolic type, genetic predisposition, health issues and location. Let’s look at just one of these factors – location – and see what a difference it alone makes. We live in vastly different climates from one another (and quite possibly different from the people who wrote our favorite diet book) and yet adhering to a food label would have a person living in Vermont eating the same diet as someone in living in Hawaii. Perhaps the easiest way to understand the signifigance and value of climate on our health comes from looking at native peoples living in extreme conditions.
How do you think an Inuit would fare on a diet of raw tropical fruits (very cooling) in the frozen tundra? Or how about eating a diet of 80% whale blubber (very warming) living on the equator? I believe that the foods that grow and thrive in any given climate are the very same ones our body’s need to grow and thrive in that climate as well. Traditional peoples have always gravitated to the foods, herbs and spices that make adaption to that climate most successful. Hot, spicy foods actually engage the body’s cooling system, so they become good choices in hot countries like Mexico and India. It’s the same reason we do not see many spicy foods in cold climates. This is one of the reasons why I raise my eyebrows as soon as I hear the hype surrounding reports of what the healthiest people in a tropical climate eat when it entirely disregards that we do not all live in a tropical climate.
Another example of bio-individuality can be seen in looking at the ethnic associations of producing the enzyme lactase. It is produced by the body to break down, and thus tolerate, lactose. Did you know that depending upon our ethnicity we either do not produce any at all or we stop producing it as we age? Asians and Africans do not have the lactase to properly digest dairy. Some people are born with lactase but have lost all lactase by age 10. Irish people on the other hand, produce lactase longer than any other people and tend to have enough lactase to digest dairy into adulthood. Once again, a one size fits all approach does not work. Should we really have a USDA food guideline that recommends a diet of 25% dairy? The point is we have far too many variables in our lives to possibly have one type of diet theory be right for all of us to live optimally.
In my practice as a Holistic Health Coach I have seen people go on raw diets and experience immediate improvements. I have also had people come to me who have been eating raw and their bodies were falling apart. I have worked with US clients who cannot handle gluten who traveled to Wales and had no problem with breads or beer. (How can that be? The grains in the US have been hybredized for larger profit margins while in Wales, Heirloom grains were being used and soaked prior to processing to release phytic acid.) You see the secret is not the raw food vs. cooked, or vegetable vs. meat – the secret is in each person finding the balance to know what their own body needs at any point in time.
The best way to determine what our bodies need is to experiment. Before you begin, get your body on all clean foods – this means no additives, dyes or preservatives of any kind as additives can have excitotoxins that completely disconnect us from our own neurological process.
So what does that look like?
- Drink plenty of water to maintain proper hydration.
- Eat whole foods found in nature, with all the edible parts, cooked or raw. Whole foods supply all the nutrients in a perfect synergistic package.
- Eat fresh, seasonal, organic and sustainably grown fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds & nuts.
- Eat food free from chemicals, additives, colorings, irradiation and genetic modification
- Have simple balanced meals with lots of micronutrients and a bio-individual balance of macronutrients.
- Meat & Dairy portions should be small and always organically grass fed and humanely raised.
- Food should always be delicious so you can savor every bite!
Once you are eating a clean diet, you can begin to experiment with various foods and their effect on your body. What percentage of what you eat is raw vs cooked? If you are heavily dominant in one, try adding the other and note how you feel. Is there a shift? Is it an improvement? Do you do better with a large or light breakfast? Do you do better with carbs, protein or do you need both at breakfast? Do you crash or crave later in the day depending on your breakfast? Begin to pay attention. Look at what you have been doing and gradually start adding in more of what you may be lacking.
The benefits of treating food as the building blocks for our cells and ultimately our wellbeing is beyond measure. Try not to listen to your brain (or anyone else’s) and all of the justifications and reasons that pop up around food. Instead, develop the capacity to deeply listen to your own gut. The one that makes you uniquely you. After all, the integrity of your gut affects 80% of your immune system. There is a reason why there is an expression that says “trust your gut.”
For more detailed information on how you can assess your current bio-individual needs, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Maureen Wheeler is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and owns It’s All Connected Natural Health & Living. She received her training at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC. Maureen coaches individuals and families looking to improve their health and well being through whole food nutrition, cooking classes and natural lifestyles. She lives in Charlotte, Vermont with her chef husband David and their sons, Ian in the 9th grade, Ross in the 7th grade and Finn in the 4th grade at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School.