Thinking about my food rules

My first job as a journalist was as a general assignment news reporter. While working for the Olean Times Herald, I covered local towns, attended planning board meetings and apparently was also the “agriculture” reporter. In my first few months on the job, a woman from the local Cornell Cooperative Extension took me around to show me some different farms, particularly dairy farms, in the southwestern counties of New York State. She talked to me about milk price supports and the Farm Bill. I understood that it was important. But I didn’t really get what she was talking about. Hence, I didn’t write many stories about dairy farms or the Farm Bill. Because I didn’t really understand what the story was.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0]

This memory resurfaced over the weekend, when I watched two documentaries — “Food, Inc.” and “Forks over Knives.” Both mixed personal stories with research and historical data to describe our dramatically our food supply has changed in the last 50 years. And both gave me plenty to think about. I’m not sure that removing dairy completely from my diet is the right move for me (as advocated in “Forks over Knives”) and I still don’t understand the intricacies of the Farm Bill, but it gave me a chance to pause for a moment and be mindful about the food I consume. It brought to mind the advice of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: Move more. Eat less. Mostly plants.

So I started this week thinking about what’s important to me about my food choices. I don’t like hard, fast rules for eating (see No. 3 below) but there are three guiding principles that I want to base my food and nutrition choices. It is never about perfection but rather about focusing on how my food choices actually support the things I value.

1. Eat real food. I’m a vegetarian but it’s easy to be a junk-food vegetarian. I can easily load up on processed foods, some of which are disguised as “healthy” alternatives. Sometimes the pre-packaged processed foods are just quicker and cleaner, at least in my mind. But truthfully, how messy can an apple be? Eating real food, and much of it local and/or organic, is way for me to live some of my values including honoring nature, supporting local businesses and living healthy.

2. Eat at the table. No eating in the car or on the couch or while standing or walking. I can be a mindless eater, noshing in the car on the way to or from training or work or shopping. I can curl up on the couch with my dinner and get lost in an episode of Law & Order. But I’ve noticed that being mindful when I eat — by sitting at the table and making eating my primary activity instead of a secondary activity — I enjoy my meal more. I have more appreciation for what’s going on around me. It honors my value of being in the present moment.

3. Give myself a break. There will be times when I grab the processed nutrition bar at the gas station mini-mart. I will eat ice cream. I’ll have that extra slice of pizza. As important as what I eat is how I feel about what I eat. I’m going to forget the guilt. I’m going to forget the fear. I’m going to forget the “shoulds” and the notion of “rewarding” myself or “earning” my dessert. I don’t need to justify my food choices to anyone, not even myself. It’s not about controlling what I eat. It’s about fueling my body and soul so that I can live my life fully and embrace the experiences I want to create.

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