Most of us don’t like to be told what to do … with a few exceptions.
Trying to figure out what – exactly – to eat can be very confusing. Should you follow a vegan, vegetarian, or paleo diet? What about low fat, no fat, low carb, or high carb? It’s no wonder that there’s a proliferation of programs and services that serve up packaged, measured, tasty (sounding) meals in easy-to-serve portions.
Sometimes, we just have too many choices!
There’s an understandable appeal to having someone limit those choices. It sounds good to be told what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I often have clients ask for meal plans or food lists so they don’t have to think. Many come to me after trying the types of nutritional programs advertised on TV. They believe that if they don’t have to think about what to eat, there’ll be no room for veering off the planned path.
But the monotony of time is an enemy
when the food is monotonous, too.
Eating the same foods day in and day out simply doesn’t work (to say nothing of the lack of nutritional quality provided in these programs). So if you can’t listen to the celebrities who promote “getting skinny” without having to think, then who can you listen to?
Here’s an idea – try listening to your own body.
Figuring out what to eat doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Primarily, to support basic body functions, we need the following essential nutrients -- water, healthy protein, healthy veggies (carbohydrates), and healthy fats.
Of course, there’s a wide spectrum of options within these basics, but it helps to look at this as an illustration. View the above-mentioned nutrients as the building blocks of health. From this perspective, it’s a simple equation to create a balanced nutrition plan.
WATER + PROTEIN + VEGGIES + HEALTHY FAT= BALANCE
Water is often one of the most overlooked essential nutrients. Drinking adequate amounts of clean, pure, filtered water aids proper digestion, skin and tissue hydration, and helps to rid the body of toxins among many other benefits.
What source of protein suits your needs, values, and budget? Do you choose to include protein from animal sources or solely from vegetable sources? As a fundamental building block, protein helps you to feel fuller longer while sustaining balanced blood sugar levels.
When it comes to choosing high quality and supremely beneficial carbohydrates, veggies make an unbeatable choice. They provide essential vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants, and much-needed fiber. In particular, dark green leafy veggies serve as vital sources of absorbable calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and folate as well as vitamins A, C, E, and K. As mentioned above, many veggies also contain protein. The profound health benefits contained in fresh, whole, unprocessed vegetables are too numerous to mention and with hundreds of options to try, there’s never a shortage of variety.
What type of healthy fats do you wish to incorporate? Coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are common choices. Some fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines can also serve as a great source of healthy fats.
As you can see, the good carb/bad carb and good fat/bad fat debate is an unproductive (as well as unhealthy) angle to take. Both carbohydrates and fats provide nutrients that are absolutely essential. They both are not only good, but when chosen wisely, are very good.
Discovering Your Nutrition Type
The essential nutrients listed above are needed in every diet to promote health and well-being. They demonstrate how we’re all the same. In addition, some people may benefit from consuming dairy and whole grains while others may choose to consume them less often or perhaps not at all. It depends on your personal dietary needs.
Where we differ, for the most part, is in applying the ratio or proportions of these essential nutrients. More or less veggies? More or less protein? Some may feel best when consuming a mainly vegetarian diet with smaller amounts of the other essential nutrients. Others may need more protein and/or fats to feel balanced and healthy.
How do you feel after meals? Do you feel fueled and energized or depleted and fatigued? Some reactions happen right away and other delayed responses may take hours or even days. It’s also important to note the harmful cumulative effect of eating foods that don’t work well with your particular digestive system.
Finding what balance of nutrients is best for you may be a
challenge. But it’s one that’s vastly rewarding.
Besides personal experimentation, there are many resources available to help you make this determination. Books, services, and nutritional counseling may refer to this process as nutritional typing, nutritional I.D., metabolic typing, glandular body typing, and many others. Free or low cost introductory assessments are available online, with some providing additional food lists and helpful meal planning suggestions.
Learning what foods, specifically, work best for you and your nutritional needs is not only helpful, it’s vital. For those dealing with fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, and/or other autoimmune conditions, it’s important to learn what foods support your immune and digestive health. It’s equally important to learn what foods compromise and weaken your immune and digestive health.
Consuming “trigger” foods (ones to which we have a sensitivity or intolerance) can create a cascade of symptoms including leaky gut syndrome, chronic inflammation, and whole body systemic concerns such as cognitive dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, and impaired immunity. This is an extremely important topic, but one much larger than can be addressed in this short article.
For now, just try to keep things simple.
While finding a diet that’s perfect for you may seem intimidating at first, it’s best to keep the essential nutritional building blocks in mind. Start with the basics and move forward from there. Over time, you’ll grow an awareness of how specific foods make you feel. If you choose, you can later add to your knowledge by reading books, taking seminars or workshops, and/or working with a health professional. It’s an ongoing process.
Keep in mind that including essential nutrients into your daily meal plans lays the groundwork for rebuilding and restoring your digestive and immune health. Every bite you take provides you with a wonderful opportunity to reward yourself in ways that supports a healthier and stronger “you.” Small changes today lead to powerful results tomorrow.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™- a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.