Of the three topics I’m writing about this week, this one might seem less significant than the others; it doesn’t have the same flow or gravity to it as the other statements. But, I would argue that it’s every bit as important and powerful as the others. It’s just something we haven’t heard much in the past, and maybe don’t yet understand the importance of.
So, what does “diet” mean anyway? In the deep past, it may have been a side-effect of food availability, or a secondary consideration behind much more immediate aspects of survival. More recently, nutrition has become a cult or a religion for many people (see that word, ‘vegetarian,’ in the dictionary there?) There’s also that bit about losing weight, which is the strongest connotation in most people’s minds these days. For some people, their diet is an enemy in their personal weight struggle. For others, it’s a product on the shelves, or maybe a tool towards a certain goal. But, have you ever thought of your nutrition as being an integral part of who you are?
I am proposing a completely different approach to nutrition, where the fuels we put into the body–of what sort, how much, and at what time–are an expression of our personality, goals, and point of view. You are what you eat, and not only on the level of muscle and other tissues that are grown from the building blocks in the foods you absorb, but also on the level of hormones, intercellular fluids, and nerve fibers.
This maxim, “Eat Your Own Personalized Diet,” is about individualized nutrition:
- Understanding that each person needs their own diet that fits their body, and how this changes over time.
- Determining what your body needs, doesn’t want, and does best with.
- Eating differently for different goals and seasons.
So, the point it is that there is no one-size-fits-all diet. There is no diet that works best for all people at all times. All those fad diets and diet cults are potentially useful as learning experiences or tools for certain circumstances, but they are also potentially dangerous if you believe that they will always serve everyone.
In order to eat your own personalized diet, there are a few skills you need to learn how to practice.
Know what foods your body tolerates and does not tolerate well, and eat accordingly
This is something you can only learn by experimenting and paying attention. Do you always get gas after drinking milk or eating ice cream? Probably a good idea to eliminate dairy products for a couple of weeks and see if you feel better. Maybe you have a lactose intolerance. This is only one example. Investigating potential food intolerances, allergies, and auto-immune conditions is very important. These food aversions are unique to each individual, but if you don’t respect them you could be making yourself sick. There are osteopaths, allopaths, naturopaths, chiropractors, and nutritionists who specialize in helping people figure this stuff out. There are stacks of books about it. There are genetic tests, blood tests, and hormone tests. If you discover that you’re someone whose body thrives on red meat and the nutrients it contains, maybe you have no business being a vegetarian. Alternatively, you might discover that your body does best on a plant-based diet. Do the work to find out the truth and then respect those discoveries.
Understand your current state and constantly make an effort to improve nutrition quality
The way you eat right now is the product of an entire lifetime of habits, preferences, and experiences. Respect that. You don’t need to throw it all away and jump straight into an emotionally-uncomfortable new way of eating. What makes more sense–and is more realistic–is to make small changes and improvements constantly. Take the example above, maybe you learn that you’re lactose intolerant, but your diet is filled with milk products. You might start by removing one of those products entirely. Maybe you’ll remove the others later. Maybe you’ll allow yourself a little ice cream on cheat day, but cut all the other dairy entirely. Eventually, you’ll get all that dairy out of your diet and feel great for it. Don’t be in a rush, because rushing may cause you to yo-yo back into eating way too much of something that you wanted to eliminate. The same principle goes for eliminating processed foods, or sugars, or other lower-order foods: respect your current state, keep the goal in the mind, and move the ball across the field one play at a time.
Understand your goals and what foods and drinks will help or hurt your goals
Goals change over time. There may be a time in your life when your goal is to get bigger, but maybe another time the goal is to get smaller. Maybe the goal is to relieve inflammation and pain in your body. Maybe it’s to have better skin or more consistent energy levels. All of these goals will require different nutritional changes. All of these nutritional requirements will be different for different individuals. So, the person who is already eating appropriately for their body’s tolerances, and they’ve already upped the quality of their food intake to a really high level (like, they only eat hunted, fished, and organically-farmed foods, drinking only spring water), still would need to make adjustments to their diet based on the goals they are currently pursuing. This skill is all about recognizing that humans are dynamic organisms. We change over time and our diet will also. Knowing what nutrients do in your body will help you figure out what changes you need to make when your goals change.
These are some big concepts that will hopefully help you point your compass in the right direction. If you need help navigating the details of this process, I’m always available for consultation and nutrition coaching.
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