Good Nutrition isn’t Rocket Science

kaleJust as I had been thinking this week about how I was going to write about what good nutrition is and isn’t, I stumbled across this (somewhat dubious) article about kale and how it is an accumulator of heavy metals which, if eaten in excess, could potentially cause harm (in theory).

Does this mean you should stop eating kale? Probably not, since this article is a far cry from showing an actual harmful effect from normal kale consumption. More importantly, I think the article underscores how our society’s relationship to food is so completely out of whack. (For a wonderful debunking of the recent kale-panic, check out this page)

Kale fell under the “superfood” category (a term I despise heartily) somewhere in the last decade, and since then I’ve seen kale popping up everywhere in many forms: dried as “chips,” chopped up raw in bagged salads, mixed with grains, presented as the star player in soups. I enjoy kale, but I’m so totally kaled out right now from its ubiquitous presence that I’m about ready for a long vacation to Aruguland (hardy har).

Kale is merely the current symbol for what I’m going to call Superfood Syndrome: a food’s nutrition profile is found to be especially bountiful, and suddenly everyone is eating that vegetable AND ONLY that vegetable.

Except they’re totally missing one of the fundamentals of good nutrition: variety is key to getting everything we need. Yes, kale has a lot of thisthatandtheother nutrients (to be specific, beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium; the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin; and sulforaphane, which is known to have anti-cancer properties), but it cannot possibly have everything we need in it.

I think Superfood Syndrome is not about people worried about getting good nutrition. I think it’s about people trying to find the silver bullet that will ward off the inevitable end. I’ve got some sobering news for everyone: no one’s getting out of this thing alive. Even if eating kale (or other superfood) relentlessly every day for the rest of my days added another 10 years to my life, I’m not sure I’d want it if it involved eating the same thing every day. Thankfully, good nutrition doesn’t require you to do that!

Here’s all you really need to achieve good nutrition:

  1. Have a good relationship to food.  A healthy relationship to food means you aren’t thinking about it 24/7, you don’t fear your next meal, you don’t need to document everything you put in your mouth, and you feel relaxed, never guilty, about eating. Without this healthy relationship, your eating may end up out of balance at some point, eating either too much or not enough of what your body needs.
  2. Eat intuitively. Your body’s signals for hunger and satisfaction are the best guide to let you know when and how much you should eat. Listen to them, not some article or corporation or book or website that purports to know exactly how much you should eat.
  3. Eat a variety of foods. Eat every kind of food, from fruits and veggies all the way to fun foods like cookies and cake. You might argue that there is no nutritional value in those treat foods, but I argue that they satisfy other needs in our body, such as the need to eat really yummo foods from time to time. Psychological needs are easily as important as physiological needs when it comes to eating, and there are many different foods that satisfy both. The bottom line is that eating from a wide variety of foods ensures that we will get all the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that we need for optimum health.
  4. Eat fruits and vegetables. At least some every day, if you can. That these foods are really good for you is at least one part of nutrition science we can say we’ve got figured out. Aim for an average of five fruits and vegetables a day; for me that means some days I might not eat more than one serving, and other days I might eat 10. If you have a hard time including fruits and vegetables because you don’t like them, experiment with them slowly and introduce them to your palate a little bit at a time. I was never a veggie lover as a young person, but experimentation over the years has opened up that world to me, and oftentimes I’ll crave some veg like Brussels sprouts (which I upchucked when I was 5 years old) or rapini (which I didn’t even know existed till my early 30s).
  5. Enjoy what you eat. We’re designed to enjoy food, so enjoy it! Why spend time eating food you don’t like? Overall, I like including fruits and vegetables and whole grains in my diet not because they are “healthy” for me but because they make me feel good and I like the taste. I just can’t eat foods I don’t like (sorry, quinoa).

Experimentation. Variety. Enjoyment. And that’s pretty much it. You don’t have to be extreme or restrictive in your eating to get the best of food.

So put down that superfood you’re having for the tenth time today and see what else is out there!

Whose Yardstick is it Anyway?

My yardstick. I’m going to use it more often.

Two news stories this week inspired this post. The first one is about fitness instructor Cassey Ho, who created this video after receiving a barrage of body-shaming comments on social media.

In the video, she has the opportunity to change all the parts of her body that have been shamed in the comments. She creates thinner thighs, a smaller waist, a bigger butt and boobs, a more sculpted face and she even changes her eye color. At first she looks in the mirror pleased with these changes, but in a few seconds, her expression changes to dissatisfaction. The video ends with the message, “What would you change?” Cassey said that she created it to help combat body shaming.

The other news story was about supplement company Protein World and their new ads for their “weight loss collection” products crap featuring the words “Are You Beach Body Ready?” and a picture of a typically unachievable-by-most-people body of a woman in a bikini (there is a counterpart ad with a similarly unrealistic-for-most male body). Thankfully some people who saw these ads responded with acts of civil disobedience, vandalizing them with their own messages such as “Your body is not a commodity,” “Each Body’s Ready,” and my personal favorite, “Fuck off.” These women are saying something, and it’s that they don’t want Protein World telling them that they must look like the woman in the ad in order to feel allowed to go to the beach. Responding to the criticism, Protein World tweeted:

protein world BS tweetSubtext: why make your insecurities our problem when you should be making them our profit!

Fat people are body shamed for not looking like the cultural ideal; then someone like Cassey Ho, who is the cultural ideal, is body shamed for not looking enough like the cultural ideal?? What the hell. I’m not saying one body type should be shamed while the other shouldn’t; I’m saying these body-police will never be happy any which way.

Lena Dunham showing her “less-than-perfect” but perfectly average naked body on television is treated as an act of heresy, the message loud-and-clear: “Your body is wrong, please don’t show it to us anymore.” I spend a lot of time watching HBO, and there is plenty of nudity, and I don’t recall anyone else ever getting questioned about why they are spending time naked on TV.

I don’t know about you, but I’m about fed up on being told how I need to look in order to be socially acceptable, on the beach or in a dress. It started young for me, when my mother implied I probably shouldn’t wear sleeveless tops because my arms were too big or dresses with elasticized waists lest I end up looking like a potato sack tied in the middle with a string (she didn’t say it to be mean – she really thought she was being helpful!). And now we have internet trolls and the weight loss industry to constantly remind us how “wrong” our bodies are. We have Dr. Oz shaming us into buying unproven weight loss products he endorses. We have the media reinforcing the stereotypical ideal by rarely showing bodies of diverse sizes (not to mention colors) in TV and movies.

What happens when we start to use all these external yardsticks of beauty instead of making up our own minds about ourselves? We stop living a life that is authentically our own. We go on diets that don’t work at best and hurt us at worst. We lose interest in all the things that make us interesting, exchanging them for a full-time focus on making ourselves “right” according to everyone else.

I’m not buying it anymore. I’m not using someone else’s idea of beauty to determine how I feel about myself. I’m expanding my beauty palate every day by looking at diverse bodies and seeing what is right about them (answer: everything!). I’ve become so successful at this that now when I hear body criticisms of any sort, it’s like hearing something spoken in Greek (note: I do not speak Greek).

So thanks internet trolls, Protein World, the rest of the diet industry, the conventional fashion industry and Hollywood, but I don’t need your advice on my body anymore. I’ll take it from here. I’ve got my own yardstick.