Recently I’ve been thinking about my eating habits and I’ve realized they are quite chaotic and they don’t promote optimal health.
I’ve also read a few articles that describe how traditional eating habits are superior to our typical modern way of eating. By “traditional” I don’t mean “paleo” or any similar speculations regarding what prehistoric people ate: I just mean the typical way of eating before arrival of the contemporary day jobs, consumerism and the spread of food industry and fast food chains. If you want a time-frame, I am referring to the way of eating that was standard before WW2 and perhaps even in first decades after it.
Traditional eating habits also include current food culture and habits in those countries that have retained their traditions regarding eating, like France, Italy or Japan. These countries, unsurprisingly have some of the longest average lifespans and healthiest populations, with low rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
If you feel healthy and if you are satisfied with your attitude to food and your eating habits, no need to change anything. If you think some things need to be changed, you might benefit from the following principles. I’ve come up with them in order to improve my eating habits and attitude to food:
1. Adopt traditional eating habits
Adopt traditional habits from any region well known for its health, longevity and low rates of obesity. Good choices are Mediterranean, Asian, Nordic and French cuisines. You can also adopt traditional way of eating of your own country. It’s probably the most available to you and the easiest solution. Chances are it’s much healthier than the average contemporary way of eating.
Note that these traditional eating habits are NOT a diet, and they should not be in any way restrictive. They are just a normal way of eating. Get reasonably informed about those traditional ways of eating before adopting them. Avoid books with heavy focus on calories or other nutritional language. Choose a cuisine that can be incorporated in your lifestyle with least amount of effort, and one that you genuinely love. If your grandma is alive, and you consider her eating habits healthy, you can ask her about her eating habits. But keep it simple! In earlier times people were also busy and didn’t just think about food all day. Following any eating habit should NOT be a full time job.
Also, be aware that adopting certain eating habits does not mean that you need to stick exclusively to it. When in doubt, ask yourself, what my grandma would do? Let’s suppose your grandma lived in Italy and followed traditional Italian way of eating. She was healthy and didn’t have issues with her weight. Not only did she eat sweets, pizza and all sorts of desserts every once in a while, but she also incorporated food from other traditions occasionally. Would she stay hungry in a Chinese restaurant? Of course she would not, even though she was Italian, she would enjoy eating Chinese food. Yet in her regular day-to-day life she was sticking to certain patterns that were working for her. Flexibility is very important for any approach to be successful in the long term.
2. Don’t use terms related to nutrition
Erase the terms like calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fat, cholesterol, etc… from your vocabulary. These terms should be used only in a medical context and with a good reason (for example: a person has intolerance to some food ingredient because of a medical condition). Talk about food like a cook, or even better like your grandma – not like a nutritionist. If you follow healthy traditional eating habits, and if your food is varied – that is, it includes items from all food groups: meats, fish, milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains, etc… you are generally safe from any nutritional deficiencies. The more variety the better: not only it guarantees adequate intake of everything you need, but it also prevents accumulation of specific toxins that can occur if you eat too much of a single food item (think fish and mercury).
3. Value and respect food
Your main concern should be that the food you eat is good and fresh and that it’s varied. Be thankful for each meal. Try to cook often and prepare your own meals from basic ingredients. Try to eat with style… sit at the table, serve your food nicely, decorate it slightly, eat with fork and knife, etc. Don’t read the stuff on the internet or newspapers while eating. If you can, eat with other people rather than alone.
4. Enjoy your food!
Learn to cook well and try various delicacies and treat yourself and people you love with them on special occasions.
5. Listen to your body
The main criteria for assessing your health should be how you feel, what your energy levels are, how is your mood… not the scale nor the mirror. If you’re not feeling good, you should consult your doctor, and you should also be aware that the reason might be related to your eating habits and/or your weight. If you get into a healthy pattern of eating you might lose some weight even without intending to do so. If you’re really curious, it doesn’t hurt to step on a scale occasionally, like once in a month, but the number you see should not be your goal, nor should it be your main criteria for assessing if you’re doing things right.
6. Walk and lift weights
Of all the exercises around, there are just two that I could recommend to pretty much all the healthy people and everyone else who can do them: plain walking (or brisk walking if you like) and strength training (weigh training etc). Other exercises are also fine (I’ll do them), but these two are the most basic, and very important, each in its own way for your health.
7. No dieting
Never go on a diet. (Except if it’s a medical diet, prescribed by a doctor for treating some medical condition) If you want to lower your weight, following the traditional eating habits will get you there in a long term. In around a year, or two years perhaps, of such eating habits, your weight will reach a level that is healthy for you. Don’t start eating more at that point, unless your weight has gone too low! Just keep enjoying traditional way of eating and your weight will eventually stabilize just where it should, at the level appropriate for your body type and your genetics. If it doesn’t go down, no worries, it’s probably OK. The important thing is that you feel better, that you have more energy etc… these should be your goals, not weight. Maybe your current weight is OK for you. Keep in mind that the goal is not to lose weight, but to adopt healthier attitude to food.
8. Find other passions in life
Your focus in life should not be on food. Have hobbies. Find something to be passionate about. It doesn’t matter what it is: it can be playing cards, stamp collecting, stargazing, role-playing games, video-games, reading, hiking, or some sport… Try to involve other people in your hobby or find people with similar interests and socialize with them.
9. Track / follow something (not your weight)
Follow something: you can write blog and aim for higher number of visitors, or you can follow a sports team and watch their matches, or you can follow the price of shares you have in some company or price of oil, or weather, or some addictive TV show, whatever you like. This will make you less focused on food. You can also try to dedicate yourself more to work or your studies and find ways to improve your productivity. The bottom line: have other goals and passions in life – eat to live, and not live to eat. Your general health is the important thing, but your eating habits and weight is just one of the aspects of it. Don’t give it more importance than it deserves.
10. Have good relations with people
Develop quality relations with people. It doesn’t matter if you prefer a smaller or larger number of friends. The important thing is that you enjoy your relations and develop healthy attachment to the people you love. Not only will it make you happier, but it will also make you less focused on food, and you’ll be less likely to engage in emotional overeating.
11. Be patient
If you decide to change something about your eating habits, make a sane and rational decision of what needs to be changed, do it, and then focus on other things. Don’t think of any results. Be patient and if you’re doing the right thing, the results will eventually come: you might reach a healthier weight, you might start feeling better, having more energy, etc. Just listen to your body and see if you’re feeling good. Anytime you feel any symptom, visit your doctor! These are just principles that I personally believe in and that are pretty much common sense, and I think they are a wiser and more sensible way of dealing with food than most other, more popular approaches.
I personally still haven’t decided which habits I will adopt, but currently, I am undecided between three choices: French style, Italian style, or traditional style of Balkan countries (that’s where I live). Currently French style seems most enticing to me, but we’ll see. 🙂
Variety is always good