I have a history of being just a little bit anal-retentive when it comes to eating and training correctly, and staying in shape. I tend to try and follow basic principles of nutrition and health that I believe to be true, and I can be pretty hard on myself if motivation or circumstance means I ever don’t follow these principles.
When clients come to see me, there are certain basic rules that I would apply to 99% of people, and then from there I design an individualised nutrition plan which may change as we go along, but really – it still all comes back to certain principles that I ask the client to follow. I guess you could call these principles ‘rules’, because what can happen when we start to follow them and then break them is that we feel bad. Naughty. Ashamed even.
rules that work – at the moment
At the moment some of the rules I’m following, and often asking clients to follow, include:
- eat more protein
- eat more good fat and less processed junk
- get more rest
- lift more weights, and heavier
- reduce your endurance cardio and group fitness; try some intervals or martial arts instead
- take supplements, as we’ll never get all our nutrition from food and even if we did, then modern-day stress would deplete it
- whatever you do, don’t eat soy, tuna or swordfish
- coffee is fine for most people, but never have it after 2pm
You get the idea. And if you’re going to live by rules or principles, then I really think those ones are a good starting point for most people. What I do question, however, is the need to live by rules forever, and the fear that surrounds many otherwise healthy approaches to health and fat loss.
is excessively healthy eating something we should worry about?
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of different and interesting articles about approaching health in this sort of strict manner. One of the most interesting reads was this one, written by an MD who practices alternative medicine, and has a history of following super-strict food rules. Here is an excerpt. It is, quite simply, fascinating – and it really makes you think (not to mention laugh!) at the way we can be about food:
“I have lost two beliefs that once encouraged me, and that are still widely accepted by others who promote dietary methods of healing. One of these is an assumption that there exists a comprehensive and consistent theory of healing diseases through nutrition. The other is a faith that dietary therapy is a uniformly wholesome, side effect free intervention.
As a staff cook (years ago at a commune) I was required to prepare several separate meals at once to satisfy the insistent and conflicting demands of the members. The main entree was always vegetarian. However, a small but vocal group insisted on an optional serving of meat. Since many vegetarians would not eat from pots and pans contaminated by fleshly vibrations, this meat had to be cooked in a separate kitchen. The cooks also had to satisfy the Lacto-ovo-vegetarians, or Vegans, who eschewed all milk and egg products. The rights of the non-garlic, non-onion, Hindu-influenced crowd could not be neglected either. They believed onion-family foods provoked sexual desire.
For the raw foodists (and young children) we always laid out trays of sliced raw vegetables. However, a visitor once tried to convince me that chopping a vegetable would destroy its etheric field. I chased him out of the kitchen with a huge Chinese cleaver.
The macrobiotic adherents clamored for cooked vegetables, free, of course, from “deadly nightshade” plants such as tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers and eggplants. Some also insisted on eating fruits and vegetables only when they were in season, while other communalists intemperately demanded oranges in January.
Besides these opinions on which food to serve, there were as many opinions on the manner in which it should be prepared. Most everyone agreed that nothing could be boiled in aluminum, except the gourmet cooks, who insisted that only aluminum would spread the heat satisfactorily.
By consensus, we always steamed vegetables in the minimum amount of water to avoid throwing away precious vitamins. Certain enthusiasts would even hover around the kitchen and volunteer to drink the darkish liquids left behind. About washing vegetables, however, controversy swirled. Some commune members firmly believed that vital substances clinging just under the skins must be preserved at all costs. Others felt that a host of evil pollutants adhered to the same surfaces that needed to be vigorously scrubbed away. One visitor explained that the best policy was to dip all vegetables in bleach, and gave such a convincing argument for her belief that we would have adopted the principle at once were it not for a fortuitous bleach shortage.
He goes on to talk about a modern-day eating disorder; the disorder of being excessively healthy:
“Orthorexia Nervosa is the name of an eating disorder in which somebody is obsessed with healthy eating, many of the most unbalanced people I have ever met are those have devoted themselves to healthy eating. In fact, I believe many of them have contracted a novel eating disorder, for which I have coined the name “orthorexia nervosa.” The term uses “ortho,” in its meaning as straight, correct and true, to modify “anorexia nervosa.” Orthorexia nervosa refers to a fixation on eating proper food.”
From what I understand, generally this disorder begins with nothing more than the desire to lose a little weight, or perhaps overcome serious illness and fatigue, and live with optimal health and it ends in a situation where its sufferer basically cannot exist in normal society and fears even the slightest deviation from their chosen path.
do i have an eating disorder if i resist junk food?
It’s an interesting topic, because I can’t accept that going out of your way to eat clean and healthy food could be classified as an illness, although I do accept that anything can get out of hand and health is included in that. But the reality is that the world we live in tempts us with all manner of so-called healthy foods and we do have to make some effort to separate the good from the bad.
That being said, is it really the end of the world if we break our own rules from time to time? Are you even 100% sure that the rules you are following are the right rules for YOU? Do you believe that healthy eating and living SHOULD be about following rules and failing to ever just go with your gut?
If I were to follow all my own rules from the past decade, here is just a sample of the mayhem that would be going on in my kitchen (and my mind!)
- I would never eat more than 20 nuts a day
- The only carbs I would eat would be sweet potato and steamed broccoli
- I would eat 1-3 tins of tuna every day
- I would NEVER eat tuna or indeed any tinned foods
- I would eat no carbs except for green veg
- I would avoid coffee at all costs
- I would drink only low-fat milk and consume only low-fat dairy
- I would ALWAYS consume full-fat dairy
- I would avoid salt completely
- I would use coloured salt liberally, even spiking all my drinking water with it
- I would do a minimum of 2 hours cardio per day
- I would do zero cardio
- I would do only intervals for cardio
- I would avoid meat and substitute some tofu or tempeh now and then
- I would never, ever, EVER consume soy products
- I would always follow a split-body program
- I would lift weights only at a certain tempo
- I would fast until 2pm at least, a minimum of 2 days per week
- I would always train on an empty stomach
- I would NEVER train on an empty stomach
- I would do cardio both before and after weights
- I would NEVER do any sort of cardio before weights
- I would liberally use nuts and nut butters, for snacks, with meals, or to numb cravings
- I would avoid fat at all costs
- I would eat fat as liberally as I like
- I would be careful with fats, but still include them with every meal
- I would use rice cakes to nibble on in between meals
- I would never eat something processed at all, or even made from grains
- I would avoid gluten at all costs
- I would eat sourdough bread as a starch option after training (with protein)
- I would start the day with a protein shake
- I would NEVER start the day with liquid food
- I would tell people supplements are a marketing fad and that if you eat well then you don’t need them
- I would tell people that while it’s true we should get all our nutrition from food, modern-day living makes this impossible
- I would start the day with slow-release energy in the form of oats
- I would NEVER spike insulin by eating carbs first thing!
- I would carefully weigh all my food and record the calories in and out for the day
- I would avoid measuring food or tracking calories
- I would go completely insane!
And I’m not kidding when I say I could probably add at least another 50 points to that list!
is it time we start breaking the rules – just a little bit?
Even writing it just now made me really start to question my own approach to nutrition over the years. Is it so smart that we have all these rules for what we can and can’t do? Are we going to instantly gain weight, feel like crap, or compromise our health just by breaking our own rules from time to time? I don’t think so. I really don’t. I think that if there are certain foods or actions that seem to trigger behaviours in yourself that you don’t like (like binge eating) then by all means create some smart rules for yourself, but do even those rules really need to be FOREVER?
Do you really enjoy living your life according to a list of can and can’ts?
I’d like to think that with every year that passes my rules for myself and my clients become more in tune with individual needs and a back to basics approach to nutrition. For many people that does mean more protein, more good fat (within reason), more green veg. Less processed foods. Less fad dieting.
But you know what?
Even my rules are made to be broken. You can eat like a vegetarian now and then and you will not waste away! You’ll probably massively increase your fresh food intake, which can only be a good thing. You can eat grains now and then and life as you know it will not end. You may even (in which case, we all hate you!) be carb tolerant and find that you need to eat carbs regularly. Perhaps you even would choose to live on processed foods for a while because you’re just so sick of doing the right thing all the time.
Or maybe one day you’ll finally reach that point where you don’t even think about any of this stuff; where it would never occur to you to analyse every aspect of how you live your life or to beat yourself up for a night out eating and doing whatever you darn well please.
One can only imagine 🙂
Life is Now. Press Play.
Have your say – do you think healthy eating and following the rules can get out of hand; do you think it’s necessary to have some rules in order to avoid mainstream poor health and risk of diabetes, obesity etc, or do you think there can be a happy medium? What’s your journey been like when it comes to changing rules? Comment below!