This post has been a long time in the making. I have wanted to write about this topic for awhile, because the more people I talk to, the more I realize that this is a serious problem for a lot of people. How do you find the balance between eating “right” and living well? I use the term “right” loosely because there are a gazillion different “right” ways to eat. You might follow the traditional food methodology of Weston A. Price. You might be following GAPS. You might be a vegetarian. Maybe you want to return to your primitive roots and go primal or paleo. You might be gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, and a whole host of other -free’s. There is no one right way to eat. While I may be rather opinionated on what I consider the right way to eat, I realize that it comes down to finding what works for your body. Whatever methodology you choose to follow, it should be full of whole foods, lots of veggies, good fats, grass-fed meats and dairy, limited processed foods, limited sugar, etc., depending on what fits for you. Processed, man-made foods are not food. They are full of junk – refined white flour, refined white sugar or HFCS, chemicals, GMO’s artificial flavors and colors, and more. So, steer clear of that stuff and you’ll be fine.
That said, there is another element to health and wellness that is just as important as eating “right.” That element is the management of stress and anxiety. I talk to a lot of people who say that they’re eating “right”, but it’s causing them stress. The stress enters because they feel that real food ingredients might strain the budget. Or, perhaps they are trying to eat right, but it takes a lot of extra time to prep food and they’re already short on time because of other commitments. Or, they have a house full of picky eaters and every meal is a challenge. The list goes on and on. Food is such an important aspect of our lives, yet it can also be a serious source of stress as well. The key is to find and maintain balance.
I think that people, myself included, try to do everything perfectly and they become so fixated on perfection that it turns into an obsession (Yes, this is part of why my blog is named what it is. I have a serious obsession with food!). This is something I struggle with all the time. As some of you know, I am a MAJOR sugar addict. I even wrote a three-part series on the subject – Read part 1, part 2, and part 3. Stress plays a major role in my sugar addiction. The second stress sets in, the first thing that I want is something sweet. If I give in to the urges, I tumble off the wagon and end up five miles back. I grew up eating lots of veggies and wild game and very limited sugar. Then, in college, I had a total diet reversal. I guess I was rebelling against all the healthy food I had growing up and just wanted to eat all the junk that I had been “deprived” of. And, unfortunately, the bad habits are much harder to break than I would have ever expected. Unlearning bad behavior is so darn hard.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle. I have spoken with many friends about the subject and from time to time, we all struggle with maintaining balance. Long story short? We are all striving to do our absolute best in this crazy world, with what limited resources we have. We have to just stay focused on doing the best we can, with what we have. That means taking baby steps. It means not letting food consume our lives. It means eating the highest quality foods that we can afford on our budget and then just letting everything else go. I have heard the 80/20 rule tossed around a lot recently. If you can eat well 80% of the time, then don’t worry about the other 20%. We’re all going to have periods of time where life makes us busy, stressed, and overwhelmed. Maybe we eat a few too many fast food meals or we eat a tad too much sugar. As long as that is the exception and not the norm, then we’re all going to be OK. If you can eat well 90% or even 100% of the time, then my hat is off to you!
There are many bloggers out there who write about food, nutrition, etc. We all may “preach” about eating a certain way and we sincerely want people to be healthy, but it’s important for all of us to realize that what you put in your body is only one aspect of optimum health. If you are eating a 100% clean diet but it is causing you stress and angst and frustration, then the good effects of your diet are negated by the bad emotion. That’s not to say that we should start eating junk to eliminate the stress, but I do think that we all need to look at the mental and emotional toll that some of these issues have on us. Finding balance is key.
I say do what you can. Strive to make the best decisions possible. Try to buy the highest quality food that your budget allows. Take baby steps. And don’t sweat the small stuff. In the long term, stress is going to be more damaging to your body than a little extra sugar or processed foods every once in a while. One thing that I have started trying to do is to ask myself “If I eat this, am I nourishing my body?” It makes me stop and think about what I’m putting in my mouth.