When the messages like “are you vegetarian?” “are you vegan?” “are you paleo?” “are you raw before 4” “do you eat eggs?” “do you eat chicken periods (another word for eggs)?” “do you eat chicken?” “do you eat fish?” “do you eat camel?” (JK to that last one) – I want to bop them down like playing a voracious game of whack o mole. This level of food choice invasiveness comes with the territory and I know that. But it also means the seemingly constant push to declare my food philosophy as “something.”
I will say that I don’t snugly fit into any of the above categories, but my method of eating is not entirely label free. It just has more encompassing labels that are more about feeling and less about fooding. I eat in way that is anti-inflammatory, gut-centric, and mood boosting. Those are my food labels. This for me, emphasizes that my food tendencies are more about brain over body. And this also insinuates a uniqueness – the foods that are inflammatory for me, may not be for other people. My biochemistry is different from other people’s, and so I have different nutritional needs than others.
Eating is so personal – it is human specific – so I try to do what is best for my individual self. Because everyone’s biochemistry is so different, and truly everyone has different caloric, nutrient and biochemical needs, no two people’s diets or supplementation protocol will or should be the same. And that’s okay!!!! It’s what is so beautiful about nutrition, and just a larger metaphor for humanity. Variety is the turmeric of life and that is just awesome. Vegan, vegetarian, paleo, grain free, gluten free, gluten filled, dairy dutchess, WHATEVER!! Who cares. Eat according to what makes you feel smartest and happiest and bursting with vitality.
For this reason, I don’t put limitations on the way I eat. Sometimes I eat meat, sometimes I don’t. If I feel like it and I want it, if my brain is knocking on the door of my stomach politely asking for something, I do not turn it away or slam the door in its face. It’s quite literally invited to the table. And this honestly makes sense. The body is not a stagnant state. It fluctuates and needs different things at different times. Sometimes I crave lettuces and beans and kraut, other times eggs (acetylcholine for brain power) and chocolate (magnesium), and other times, albeit not as often, organic chicken or turkey or grass fed filet (usually paralleling the time when I’m a Pretty Moody Sistah). Which just makes sense. When you bleed, for example, you lose iron, and you need to replenish the iron. You can get plant based iron, though it just doesn’t absorb in the body as well. My body and my cravings are so much smarter than I will ever be. So if I am curious and open enough to allow myself to listen to this internal conversation, THAT is when I feel my best.
My biggest emphasis is about valuing my insides more than my outsides. I would rather have a highly functioning gut than a six pack, for example. I can only speak for myself, but my most engaging and enriching moments are those when my brain is most active and I am thinking clearest, not how I fit into a certain pair of pants or if my stomach felt flat that day. And the organ system that I value most and pay the most attention to is my brain. And I only saw real change and became my happiest when I abandoned labels and just ate in a brain-centric way: listening to my brain and valuing it more than the way my body may look. There are times when I don’t go to the gym for a week or two at a time because I’m working through something mentally or emotionally and I can’t muster the energy and willpower to do a bicep curl. And that’s okay. I’m just making sure my head is screwed on right and moving my body in different ways like walking or yoga and overall chilling out, rather than taking it out on my body. My mind takes precedence first and foremost and always.
My account actually began during a moment of intense and deep sadness. Before when I was going through some deep heart ache or heart break I was working out twice a day trying to eat a minimal amount and look a certain way because I thought then the emotional trauma would spontaneously dissipate (LOL). I had tried to mute this sadness by either maintaining tight control over what was on my plate – I was my own mealtime helicopter parent, closely monitoring without granting much freedom. With helicopter parenting, though, comes rebellion, and I would then have “cheat” days or nights or weeks where I would mimic my dad’s eating habits and go head to head with him on a pint of ice cream or toss in a frozen pizza for dinner or curl up on the couch with a box of Vienna Fingers. The issue with this was twofold: 1. I was using food to mask sadness and fill a void 2. the foods I was choosing to eat were very high in sugar and processed carbohydrates, spiking my blood sugar, disrupting my gut microbiota, and in turn making me feel worse. The vague nerve connects the brain to the gut, and when there is a shift in gut health, there is a shift in brain health. Hence treat your gut poorly, and the brain feels the effects. I was therefore making myself feel worse with the foods I was choosing to eat.
Furthermore, the deep sadness I felt was overwhelmingly dark. Like lay in my room immersed in darkness for days watching only Parks and Recreation on repeat kind of dark. It was a product of graduating from college, not feeling a calling, living at home, and feeling very isolated. It is through family, it is friends, it is therapy, it is talking, it is moving, and it is being able to see myself and what I’m doing in the community that I’m in, knowing my passions and value.
I now know my tendencies to feel so low, and depression and anxiety run in my family. This is also a large part of the reason I am so hyper-focused on #goodmoodfood and feeding my brain. It is in fact the premise and pillar behind my account and blog, and not just meaningless hashtags to gain followers. They are weighted and representative of my own journey.
I began to loosen the reigns when and only when I started to value my brain and honor my feelings more than I valued the shape of my body. Once I felt like my brain and my insides took precedence over my outsides, my eating began to reflect this and I then used this newfound sense of self to do things in my local community that I wanted as a representation of myself, like Instagram and volunteering and dancing and the master’s program I’m in. My sense of self stretched its fingerlings far beyond my appearance. When I stopped caring what I looked like and I shifted the value to be entirely upon the contents and products of my brain and my intellect and my quirks and my actions and my puns is when the negative self talk, once a sharp jabbing annoying icicle, slowly began to melt away.
And I think true happiness and contentment and “balance” only comes when we really appreciate ourseves as people beyond a physical appearance. Because equating happiness with how my body looked led to nothing but self sabotaging behavior. Wouldn’t it just be so amazing if we shifted to be more concerned about our thought processes, the things that make us us – our quirks, intellect, crazy, silly selves, rather than a number or a size or counting calories or macros? Qualities over quantities.
It is my sincere hope that the more we value and talk about our brains, the less we fixate and condemn our bodies. I want to be my best and happiest self, and for that definition to be totally unrelated to the way my body looks, but rather entirely focused on the way my body and brain feel. Making this small shift, valuing my brain over my body, was really transformative in the way I viewed myself in the world. And made it a lot easier to dim the sometimes cruel voices that are unearthed on a particularly bloated day or week. Once this micro movement happens, we can then get out in our communities and do what you were put on this earth to do. We can value ourselves as unique and special and empowering and inspirational beings.
And hopefully by realizing that everyone is different, and each person has different biochemical and nutritional needs, comes a greater understanding and appreciation for everyone at the dinner table. And less food shaming and food bullying and comments like “ew you eat chicken periods” and “did you know eating one egg is worse than smoking an entire carton of cigarettes” and “gross.” Some people thrive on a vegan diet and others simply don’t. And I think that speaks to the amazingness of humankind and that we are all so richly diverse, and quite literally bring something different to the table. Rather than having our diets be a point of difference it should be point of appreciation of just how wonderful we all are and that we can all coexist at the table even if the same thing isn’t on all of our plates. When we’re at the table and we’re sharing our ideas and our thoughts and our quirks and our intellect, that is what really matters, not if someone chooses to eat beans or an egg or some chicken or tofu or beef. With the climate of our culture and our country at this present moment I think the smallest way we can show and appreciate diversity in the world is by just sitting down at dinner table. Maybe sometimes people choose things that you wouldn’t personally eat, but that does not make them any worse of a person, any lesser of a being, than you are. There is more value in the words that come out of people’s mouths, than the foods they choose to put in them.
My own individual food choices have made me healthy and happy on the inside and the outside. And that is what matters most to me.