Saturday, March 14, 2015

Real life eating: what is healthy?

I've mentioned time and time again that I don't believe in viewing any food or food group as "off-limits" or "bad." Of course, I do agree that some foods are more nutrient-dense and I do eat my fruits and vegetables (along with my chocolate and cookies), but I don't ever think that there are substances that are universally good for all or even always good for me for that matter!

One of the ways that healthcare professionals often evaluate health is on the Illness-Wellness Continuum. Wellness is so much more than physical health; it also includes emotional and mental components. Likewise, there is no black and white, healthy or not healthy switch; wellness is comprised of an entire spectrum of states.
Some foods fuel more nutrient, physical needs, but I don't mean that just nutrient-dense foods are physically healthy. Rather, I believe in fueling the body with whatever it is lacking. For example, one of the ways that I was taught to treat patients in diabetic hypoglycemia  is to either administer oral glucose or give them something sweet to eat. Sure, candy or pure glucose (simple sugars) may be lacking in essential vitamins and minerals, but in that point of time simple, quick-absorbing sugars are exactly what my patient needs. Is that dose of high concentration, high glycemic-index sugar, enough to make any low-carber burst out in a hyperventilating, cold-sweating panic attack, healthy? I would believe so.

The same thing applies to recovery and life beyond. During recovery, your body is damaged beyond explanation and more times than not, cannot process fiber-rich, "clean," whole foods; it needs the energy-rich, easy to digest, basic calories that more processed foods can provide. Your body doesn't have the capacity to even begin thinking about micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals when it is still scrambling to get a hold of life sustaining macronutrients. So yes, cake is fine. Chocolate is great. It's okay if you don't eat something green with every single meal.
Even in the days after physical recovery and weight restoration, you aren't automatically black-listed from eating those "junky" foods. There are days when you need to expend more energy than others. There are days when you need more fats than others. There are days that you need more carbohydrates than others. Eat according to what your body craves; sometimes that will be a nice, fudgy brownie with all the toppings. Your body is incredibly sophisticated and self regulating and will tell you what it is lacking as long as you are feeding it enough. That's the crux of my philosophy on food and nutrition: it's not about a number or a specific macronutrient group but rather the balance between all macronutrients and micronutrients that fit your individual body's ever changing demands. 

Then of course mental and emotional health comes into play. Nutrition shouldn't stress you out. Unless you have some sort of health-threatening disorder, the lines between "allowed" and "not-allowed" foods shouldn't be rigidly drawn. Food is a lived experience and integral part of our social lives. Trust me, my favorite type of casual dates involve coffee and pastries; there is nothing I love better than cooking, eating, and catching up with my best friend after a busy week; sometimes food does taste best at 1AM and eaten with bare fingers. 

While I do maintain a healthy diet on a regular basis, I refuse to let the need to eat healthy interfere with my social life. I mean, I'm a college student and food blogger for crying out loud! What type of food blog would it be if I ordered a plain salad sans-dressing at every restaurant I visited? I don't see those beloved beignets at Founding Farmers or that bowl of short-rib pasta at Unum as "cheat meals." I don't give myself "cheat days"; it's a balanced lifestyle. Fuel your body with the macronutrients and micronutrients it needs. 
Feed your soul with the joy and social experiences that food brings. Eat your greens and have dessert too. Healthy isn't a static state: it's what works best for your body and lifestyle.