You’d think, with the way we understand nutrition in modern times, that health — good health — would be easy. Eat this! Don’t eat that! Hell, we have a series of hugely successful books called exactly that, but somehow the promise of good health seems harder to understand than ever before.
Low carb? Low fat? Raw food? Vegetarian? Vegan? 30 bananas a day (not making that up!)? There’s a ton of ideas floating around the market right now, hogging shelf space at the local bookstore and making fantastic promises to anyone holding on to a few extra pounds. It’s easy to get sucked in, but even easier to fall right back out, burned by the latest fad diet and feeling even worse than before.
So what can we do? How can we make some sense out of all this mess?
Well, take a big breath, for starters, and try to relax! There’s one big change you can make right now to change your health for the better. I promise it’ll help no matter where you stand on the dieting spectrum.
Start thinking about what you eat.
Right now. Put down that can of Coke and sweep all the half-eaten bags of chips off your desk.
Getting our three square meals became, sometime in the last few decades, a mindless process. Hungry? Grab a candy bar. Thirsty? You’ve got a few bottles of soda in the fridge. Dinner time? Don’t worry about it — you’ve got a frozen dinner!
We stopped thinking.
We stopped thinking about what we eat because, frankly, we don’t have to. Hunger and thirst aren’t a problem. They’re a minor nuisance, if anything, distracting us from TV, and easily fixed by pulling a box of crackers out of the pantry.
Fast food didn’t stick around because it’s fast. It stuck around because it’s easy, and because it solved that age-old dilemma: what should I eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner? You don’t have to think about it for too long when the answer is just a couple of blocks down the road.
We stopped thinking.
And we put on weight. Heart diseases continues to skyrocket, and even modern children, incredibly, are stricken with type 2 diabetes — a condition once solely the domain of adults. There’s something with the modern approach to food, clearly, and we’re all suffering as a result.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Engage your mind. Don’t make food just an automatic need to be fulfilled. Think about what you eat and realize, in turn, what food does to your body. Are you comfortable with putting heavily-processed, chemically-enhanced products into your stomach? Can you ignore the insane amount of medical problems the modern diet has caused?
I can’t. And I doubt you can either. Think about what you’re eating, starting today, and you can help reverse decades of damage we’ve done to our bodies by turning our brains off.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Stop drinking soda.
Realize that each can of soda has upwards of forty to fifty grams of sugar. Sugar, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, is not good for the body in such high (I’d argue any!) quantities. I love my Dr. Pepper, people, but I’ve cut it out completely in the interest of my health. Huge doses of sugar combined with chemicals cannot be good for me, and I really doubt that Mountain Dew can be any good for you too.
2. Stop drinking fruit juice.
Natural sugar, unfortunately, is still sugar. The process of turning fruit into juice, likewise, removes a lot of the nutrients and fiber you’d normally get by going for the fruit itself. Juice, though delicious, is basically pure sugar, so why not just grab a glass of water and an orange next time you want some OJ?
3. Incorporate vegetables however you can.
Ideally, sure, we’d toss some veggies into every meal we eat. But the leafy greens tend to fall by the way side whenever we’re rushing to fulfill our hunger, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find them without ordering a salad at your local fast food joint. There’s a reason, folks, why vegetables have a universally sterling reputation, so why do we ignore them? Why, when vegetables have so many nutrients to offer, do we push them off our plate and complain of poor health later on in life?
Eat your vegetables. Learn to appreciate the incredible flavors each veggie can offer and do whatever you can to work some leafy greens into your daily routine.
4. Don’t reach for processed food.
That’s difficult to do, especially in the States, where processed foods are significantly cheaper than actual produce. But if you can afford it, I heartily recommend you avoid the long isles of boxes, bags, and bottles. You can expect everything contained within them to be the product of a production plant somewhere in the States, and who isn’t just the slightest bit unnerved by the thought of their food being produced in a chemistry lab?
This includes, of course, the villainous fast food. I’m not in the “all fast food is the devil’s work” camp, but I do agree that the majority of fast food restaurants offer little of true nutritional value to your body. Even sit-down restaurant dishes are loaded down with sugar and strange oils, so why not try and make a meal at home for a change?
And because I have to include it: McDonald’s Hamburgers Don’t Age.
5. Read the ingredients list.
Rule of thumb, people: if it contains more than five ingredients, it is probably not good for you. I’m sure we could come up with exceptions if we looked hard enough, but I think you can spend your time far better by studying the ingredients list of all those boxes in your pantry. See how some of them have at least forty ingredients? See how the majority of those ingredients are nigh-impossible to pronounce?
And don’t stop there. Next time you’re shopping, don’t just grab something and toss it in your cart. Study the ingredients list, first and foremost, and realize that food producers have managed to work some truly freaky things into even the most normal of foodstuffs. Why does ketchup contain high fructose corn syrup?
You don’t need to make huge, sweeping changes in what you eat. Ideally, sure, you’d cut out the processed nonsense and focus on real, natural foods, but that’s a bold change many people might not feel comfortable making.
So just do this: take a big breath, relax, and start working, day by day, to build an awareness of what you’re putting in your body. Consider the freaky nature of chemically-enhanced foods, and really study the sugar content of that can of Coke you’re carrying in your hand.
Realize, right here and now, that the best way to improve your health is to start thinking about what you eat.
Maybe it’s just me, but thinking about all that sugar crashing around in my body has scared me off soft drinks forever. I avoid processed food like the plague, too, especially when the ingredient list runs a mile long and is filled with words better left for a chemistry class. Why are we putting these products in our bodies? Why are we forgoing natural foods like fruits and vegetables for heavily-processed products, and why are we so surprised that our health is declining rapidly when we do?
Engage your mind. Don’t just chew and swallow without knowing exactly what you’re eating. Your health depends on it.