People are always asking me about food.
They want to know what I eat and how much of it I eat. They want to know what they should eat and what they shouldn’t. They want to know if they should eliminate grains and dairy and if it’s okay to eat red meat (yes, please eat that ribeye!).
I don’t actually mind the barrage of food related questions because to be honest, I really like food. I like talking about it, cooking it, experimenting with it, sharing it, and especially eating it. I get seriously worked up about food politics and educating children on the subject of nutrition. Since I first watched the documentary Supersize Me in 2004, I’ve grown progressively more passionate about the subject, devouring books and documentaries such as In Defense of Food and Food Inc.
Food is a prominent part of my life.
The queries I often get about food are of the “should I eat this nature.”
“Should I have a protein shake after I workout?”
“What about rice? And corn? What about chickpeas, are they okay to eat?”
“I heard fish is good for you but I don’t really like seafood; what should I do?”
“Is it okay to eat cheese? What about bread and pasta?”
My answer to these queries is (almost) always the same: Maybe. Sometimes. It depends.
It might not be the answer they were looking for, but it’s the truth nonetheless. It’s the most honest and informative way I can possibly answer questions such as these. And while at first it might not seem overly illuminating, this response is invaluably helpful. You see, I’m not in the business of telling people exactly what they can and can’t eat–but I am in the business of educating people when it comes to food, and teaching them sustainable eating habits for life.
Everyone is different, from food preferences to food sensitives; there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to nutrition. I don’t care what anyone tells you, there is no such thing as the “best diet of all time” except the one that works for you. So, rather than give you a generic list of foods to avoid, I’m going to help you figure out what that means for YOU.
This is going to require some thinking, experimenting, and introspecting on your part. I’m not going to tell you exactly what to eat and when to eat it. But I do hope that after reading this list, you’ll have a better idea of how to approach nutrition and how to enrich your life through food.
This one is perhaps most important because at the heart of it, food might be sustenance but it’s also love. It’s pleasure and enjoyment and culinary rapture. It should taste good, bottom line. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by clients that they hate fish (or chicken breast or brussels sprouts) but they just keep eating it because they think it’s good for them. This is madness.
Listen. If it doesn’t taste amazing, it isn’t good for you. Sure, it might have nutritional benefits, but so do a million other foods that you might actually enjoy. “Health food” isn’t just steamed broccoli and bland chicken breast.
You can be creative and play to your taste buds while still keeping your health and your physique top of mind. My #1 food rule is and will always be: Only eat food that rocks your world.
Or your head. Or your joints. You get the idea. In my case, any time I eat tortilla chips (I have a processed corn sensitivity) I end up reeling for days afterward. I get bloated, lethargic, and generally uncomfortable.
This happens to me with any type of processed corn (corn starch, corn syrup) as well as with certain types of dairy and grains. With time, awareness, and patience I’ve learned to detect foods that will not leave me feeling amazing. As a result, I choose to avoid those foods 99% of the time because I don’t want to feel yucky–it’s as simple as that.
Whatever you’re hankering for, there’s almost always an alternative food that will satisfy your desire without giving you the tummy yuckies.
The only exception to this would be that super special food that might leave you feeling yucky but just so happens to be your absolute favorite thing in the world; for me it’s authentic New York style pizza. So, I have a slice (or two) about 2-3 times a year (usually only when I’m in NYC) and I’ve made my peace with the outcome.
I don’t feel guilty about it, and I’m prepared to deal with the consequences. When it comes to NYC pizza, I’ve decided that the benefits outweigh the costs. When considering this type of occasional “special food” consumption, just make sure to keep it to a minimum (if at all) and go into it knowing that you won’t feel so hot later on.
You know exactly what I’m talking about. You spend all weekend eating brownies, ice cream, chips, fried chicken, pancakes, candy, tacos…and you wake up Monday morning with a massive food hangover and guilty feeling that you just can’t seem to shake.
Then, of course, you punish yourself heavily for the next three days by eating an impossibly strict diet, exercising more, and promising never to do it again–only to repeat the cycle the following weekend.
Guilt over food effing sucks. It serves no purpose other than to shame you into eating more healthfully for a short period of time. It’s not a sustainable tool for fat loss and it will only lead to deeper self-esteem and body image issues.
If you have a weekend like the one I just described, learn from it and let it go. Resolve not to eat foods that make you feel so guilty, because after all, food should be amazing before AND after. If you wind up feeling like crap about what you ate, was it really worth it?
I can’t tell you how many people I know who aren’t allowed to stock trail mix in their homes. I mean, seriously, can anybody just eat one serving of trail mix?
When we think about foods that we just can’t stop eating, it’s usually addictive foods such as chips, donuts, french fries, and M&Ms–all foods which actually chemically alter your brains responses and can become addictive. But it doesn’t just apply to junk food; we can become addicted to healthier foods as well.
Find yourself spooning almond butter out of the jar at an alarming rate? That isn’t the food for you right now. One handful of trail mix or dried cranberries turns into the entire bag? Get rid of that stuff right now.
Now, if it’s brussels sprouts you can’t stop eating, then by all means, eat away!
I recently watched the documentary Fed Up with my eight-year-old son. He’s pretty informed when it comes to food and generally an old soul, so despite his tender age, he actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Plus the premise is mostly centered around childhood obesity, which put things into perspective for him.
Because I get so aggressively pumped up about food politics, there were points during the film when I had tears streaming down my face and my fists were balled in anger. The food industry makes me crazy.
High fructose corn syrup isn’t food. Modified corn starch isn’t food. Artificial flavors and colors aren’t food. Cellulose (wood pulp often found in store bought shredded cheese) is not food. Proplyene glycol? Again, not food. Yet big food industries put these ingredients and so many more into what they label as food, from bread to yogurt to canned soup.
These ingredients serve to save the company money, support another company, create an addiction on the part of the consumer, are cheaper and easier than using real ingredients, or unnaturally prolong the shelf life of the food product. Whatever the reason it’s not for your benefit, I promise you.
The best thing you can do is prepare your own food from real ingredients such as organic (or local) produce and high quality animal protein (grass-fed beef, antibiotic free/free range chicken and eggs, sustainably raised pork and bison, wild caught fish, and so on). Check every single label and if there’s an ingredient you don’t recognize, chances are it isn’t food.
I understand that we can’t always avoid this issue, and for that matter we can’t realistically cut out these 5 food categories completely. Here’s the key phrase I want you to absorb: As often as possible.
As often as possible I want you to eat real food. As often as possible, I want you to think about how food makes you feel-both physically and emotionally-before you eat it. I want you to strive to eat food that comes from the earth, is sustainably raised, and isn’t part of a political initiative.
I want you to enjoy everything you eat, to allow it to nourish you and fuel you. I want you to appreciate food, to be aware of where it came from, and to discuss these things with your kids.
Eat food you love and that loves you right back. That’s what I want for you.
- Neghar Fonooni