How to Be Free of the Restrictive Diet Mentality: Create Your Individualized Diet
Our diet – what we eat in a day – can influence many components of our lives positively or negatively, depending on the choices that we make. The current day restrictive diet mentality prevents use from engaging with our diets in a functional manner. We must consider the short- and long-term consequences of our diets to promote wellness in the body as a whole through intentional diet choices.
The Restrictive Diet Mentality
For the purposes of this post, a diet is the food and drink we consume on a daily basis. Typically included would be any breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks throughout the day. We tend to eat similar foods over a period of time, and thus the average of these foods would compose the majority of our diets. Although our diets can change over time, people tend to gravitate to the things that they enjoy, thus promoting consumption of routine foods.
The word “diet” will not be used to describe restrictive or shifted patterns of eating for the purpose of losing weight or changing body composition. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Simply the food and drink you choose to eat on a regular schedule, whatever it might be. Your chosen diet.
The Function of Food
Different foods have different functions within the body, but overall, the purpose of our food is to meet the cellular needs of our different body systems from our heads to our toes. Depending on the nutrients within the food, it can help regulate our hormones, contribute to building new cells, or help us feel emotions, among other things. This is why the consumption of a variety of foods is important. If you only ate blueberries, your body might run low on calcium, among other nutrients.
Additionally, food is meant to taste good. We get enjoyment from eating food that we enjoy, particularly our favorite foods. As a basic human understanding, we know that when we do not enjoy food, something is wrong.
Consider a woman pregnant with morning sickness, or an individual suffering from an eating disorder. Food is not appetizing and enticing for these individuals and the average person can quickly recognize that this is not the way our relationship with food should be. We are meant to enjoy the process of eating, as evidenced by the neurochemical release we experience when eating under positive perceptions. Additionally, this enjoyment of certain foods is meant to reinforce the consumption of them. We eat carrots, not shoe polish, because carrots actually taste good.
Your Body as a Machine
I am a firm believer that our entire body works together. Our central nervous system (i.e., brain and spinal chord) is not separate from our muscular system or lymphatic system, or digestive system. While we are made of different parts – a skin cell looks vastly different than a brain cell – each cell works together at some level.
In the same way, a machine has different parts to complete different processes, but works together to form one final product. Our body systems look very different and complete different jobs. However, if we didn’t have one part, the entire product would be faulty. While there is distinction between bodily systems out of necessity to categorize, all systems affect one another.
Additionally, not every machine (person) functions in the same way with the same parts and processes. Consider someone from the low-vision community. Rather than relying on color to decide what food they might find appetizing due to a sight impairment, they might focus more on their sense of smell to determine what they want to eat for dinner. While there are certain things the machine must have to function, each machine is unique and has an optimal functioning process.
Therefore, what we eat affects our bodies as a whole, not just our digestion. While there is a general rule of thumb for what foods promote health and what food promote disease, there are individualized needs that each body uniquely has which should influence our individual diets.
The Efficient System: Not Restriction
Knowing that our bodies are machines and work as a system, we can make certain choices to promote the efficiency of this system. Choosing what we eat is one of the many things we can control and use to affect change within our bodies.
When considering our diets, the most important thing to consider is how this choice in food will affect me in the short- and long-term. While we might enjoy a certain food, it might not be the best for our bodies. For example, I really like to eat ice cream.
… Mint chocolate chip… Espresso… Caramel… You name it.
But I find that if I eat it too often, I have terrible symptoms in my nether regions about 12 hours afterward. The short-term gain is not worth the long term loss to eat cow’s milk ice cream, in my opinion.
You might find that you have other priorities for an efficient system.
To optimize our health, we must consider the effects each food choice has and weigh the consequences. If we want to promote machine efficiency, it makes sense to find and consume food and drink that we both enjoy, but that also provides our bodies with the nutrients that they need.
The Inflammation Epidemic
One of the main setbacks in promoting a healthy body is inflammation. Short term inflammation can be helpful. The pain, redness, and swelling are part of the body’s healing process. However, chronic inflammation is a signal that there is something wrong inside of the body. Chronic inflammation is essentially your body telling you that something is wrong, when there actually isn’t anything to be afraid of. This might seem benign, but after some time, the healing process of inflammation can turn against the body. With enough chronic inflammation, our bodies can start to attack themselves.
There are many causes of inflammation in the body, and one of them is the food that we eat. Certain foods are known to promote inflammation or to help ease it. Also, certain foods might lead to inflammation in one person, but not in others due to individualized differences.
Food Can Promote Health or Disease
The concept that food can promote health or promote disease is not a new one. While somewhat of an old wives’ tale, we’ve all heard of the concept that chicken noodle soup can help us when we’re sick. In the same way, the food that we choose can lead to certain beneficial or harmful changes within the body.
To function well, the body needs certain nutrients. When we choose a balanced diet to meet these nutrient requirements in our bodies, we promote physical health and holistic wellness. However, when we choose foods absent of nutrients and full of other non-edible or undesirable substances, we promote inflammation in the body.
In particular, some of the many inflammation culprits are sugar, dairy, and food additives such as dyes, artificial flavoring, and preservatives.
Our bodies are not meant to function on a diet consisting solely on these foods, which many of us consume on a regular basis (McDonalds French Fries, anyone?) out of habit or out of short-term enjoyment. In fact, we as a society consume foods that promote long-term disease so frequently that we often can’t even pinpoint where our symptoms are coming from. Many digestive symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, or diarrhea are caused by the food we eat, but we can also experience sluggishness, irritability, and attention difficulties as a result of the foods that we eat.
When we don’t get proper nutrition in our diets, our bodies do not function as they should, leading to inflammation. Think of food as the oil that lubricates the machinery. With the right oil, the machine runs smoothly. With the wrong oil, overtime, parts will degrade, rust, or stop moving altogether.
While there are certain foods that promote inflammation and disease, many foods can combat it. This machine oil promotes efficient production. Some of these anti-inflammatory foods include probiotic veggies and, many fruits. Often times, we must make intentional choices to consume a diet rich in ideal nutrients. These foods aren’t advertised to us, made into convenient portions, or sold in the fast-food drive through. These foods often take planning and time cooking to integrate into a meal. AKA intention.
This doesn’t mean access to nutritious foods, or specifically anti-inflammatory foods should be difficult or seem imposing. Do what you can with the resources you have. While I don’t see commercials on YouTube to eat my “apple-a-day”, I choose to eat a few servings of fruit per day because I recognize the benefit these foods can have for my body. However, I don’t let the idea that I’m not always choosing organic prevent me from pursuing this avenue of health.
While I value organic produce and believe that it is healthier than non-organic, my husband and I also prioritize staying within budget, which is something we would not be able to do at the current time if we bought all organic produce or food in general. Choose to seek out healthy options when you can, and pick anti-inflammatory foods if you can.
Food as a Symptom of the System
Moreover, often times our food choices can promote certain bodily states, which promote our food choices. If I only eat processed foods and sugar every day, I will likely become depressed or anxious; therefore, limiting my ability to make intentional long-term oriented food choices. The food we eat can contribute to other aspects of our wellness, which then contributes to the food that we purchase and later consume.
The Individualized Diet to Replace the Restrictive Diet Mentality
As you can tell by now, I’m not in the business of telling you what specific foods to eat, but rather teaching you how to choose your diet independently. You have your own priorities and goals, and will make choices to suit these directions in your life.
Rather than mindlessly consuming your food, consider how each food item affects you, and make intentional changes in your diet accordingly. Every physical body is different, so every diet will be different. Don’t blindly follow the current buzzwords of Paleo or Keto or Vegan, because these plans might not meet your body’s needs. Continually assess your current health through the effects that your food provides.
Like what you see?
When you eat, take time to focus on how your food tastes, how you feel afterward, and how you feel a few hours later. Write it down, look at trends. Consider what foods might be causing your own inflammation and what foods can provide the most nutrients that your body craves. Often times when we truly consider what we are eating, we find that some of the things we enjoyed, we don’t actually like and were simply eating them out of convenience, or habit, or social expectations.
When we consider our diets mindfully and intentionally, we can make choices that promote both our short- and long-term wellness goals.
What are your goals?
Let me know in the comments below what choices you are making to promote your individualized, holistic wellness.
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Lat Updated: October 1, 2020