Guilty pleasures or just plain old good for you?
I’ve just read a book that I think I’ve been looking for all of my adult life.
It’s about food – a refreshing change from all of the other books I’ve read over the years, and, for the first time in ages, I’m not going to feel guilty about eating… And here’s why… Oh, before we get into it though, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, for whatever reason, this isn’t about me trying to get you to eat meat, it’s more about how I’ve finally balanced out all of the stuff I’ve read on nutrition before. Like anything, it’s good to hear alternative views before you settle on what’s best for you.
The media, the pharma companies and industrial farmers – are they in cahoots?
I grew up in the 80s at a time when Jane Fonda taught us how to work-out and (as they still do) the girl’s mags constantly rammed the virtues of looking good (ie. skinny) into every page of every issue. I had an active childhood – I was water-skiing and swimming from the age of 3 and that didn’t change until I was about 13. I was fed a mostly French diet, we didn’t eat junk food or much in the way of sweets and I was a pretty healthy kid. Then when I was about 8 or 9, I got a bit podgy. It all dropped of by the time I was 11, but in the meantime a member of the family (who shall not be named) told my mum I needed to go on slimming pills! My mum was horrified – thank goodness, but slowly the seed was sewn in my mind that something needed to change. So, in the era of the low fat diet and as an impressionable teenager I started to cut off the fat in meat, rarely eat bacon or the delicious cured meats and cheese that I’d grown up with and was somehow made to feel guilty by the media for eating the very things that have been part of the French culture for hundreds of years. I had what you would call ‘a healthy balanced low fat diet’, but still I had to exercise A LOT to keep weight off and feel good… Why the hell was that when I was eating no fat?!!
But somewhere deep inside me, I knew that almost 15 years of justifying food to myself was crazy. Gradually, over the past 5 years – since i’ve been living with my meat-eating cheese-loving husband and even more so since I started practicing Yoga – I’ve gone back to my foodie roots. Not without some guilt, I have to say, but despite that I’m feeling much less anal about my weight, which seems to just take care of itself…. So how does all this relate to the book? Well, ‘Real Food’ by Nina Planck outlines what I think I’ve instinctively known all along about food. The more natural, the better!
This book for me has been a massive relief. It goes through the science behind certain fats, why we pasteurise milk, why saturated fat got such a bad name in the 80s, and it’s generally inspired me to want to cook more of the traditional food that I have been at home lately, like endives au jambon (braised chicory rolled in ham with a thick cheese sauce), which I shunned in my teens when my mum would serve it up. Now I can enjoy them without the guilt factor. But growing up, it was almost like the food industry (those companies that make things that are ‘like’ natural foods, but aren’t), the pharma companies and the media publishers were in some kind of game to make people feel like crap if they didn’t look a certain way, then feed them the looky-likey products that were low fat and ‘better than the real thing’ and if they still got sick (ie heart disease or whatever) it was OK because there’s a drug out there to help…. that’s progress? It’s probably not that much different now, but even since before reading this book, I’ve kinda stopped listening!
So here’s the thing…. I got B in science for my GCSEs, but did I learn anything about how the body digests food, or uses it for fuel? No. I don’t remember anything like that being on the curriculum.
In my yoga practice and now when I teach, I like to connect to my whole body, scan what’s going on inside and the more I do this, the more curious I get about the science behind how it functions – muscles, joints, tendons and now the biomechanics. After reading this book, whether I follow its suggestions or not, I feel like I’m more equipped to understand technically what’s going on inside my body. Knowing that whatever fat or cholesterol that you eat, won’t automatically clog up your arteries or land on your hips/belly – that your body breaks it all down and transforms it, is blo*dy amazing….. and it’s a bit like getting up in headstand or a handstand, it’s empowering!
I’m not a mother yet, but I do have a lot of friends who are and I know that in the UK, the guidlines on what the government recommends you should eat are pretty detailed. I also know that in some of my friends, they were made to feel quite fearful of certain foods or ashamed if they wanted to eat them. If that was me I’d be petrified,,,, The sections on food for pregnancy in ‘Real Food’ are ‘sciency’, but really easy to understand and I’ll definitely be going back to them when the time comes for me 🙂
So many people… And a lot of thinking
What I didn’t get from the book is anything about the growing global population. I mean, if we go back to traditional food, which according to Nina means farming traditionally – hell, I would love my own cow to milk – is there enough land left for cattle to graze only on grass? It would certainly be more environmentally friendly if there was…. No more pesticides (bad for human consumption!) needed for grain to feed cattle…
The book also massively advocates eating fish, particularly oily fish, and where’s all this gonna come from if it’s not farmed? I guess for me part of being a yogi is loving nature and being part of this crazy ecosystem, so knowing where my food is coming from, ie. not an ocean trawler that’s destroying marine life, is important to me as much as is avoiding ‘battery farmed’ eggs. It’s true, this book has really got me thinking and shopping in a way that’s good for me, and making it good for the planet is going to take a lot more thinking than my usual virtual shopping trip. On my yoga mat I always want to be mindful and in the moment, not on autopilot. As a foodie, I do actually get excited about a trip to the supermarket, but I reckon there’s still room for more conscious shopping, even if I can’t always get organic local veg. It’ll probably mean even more experimentation in the kitchen too, which makes eating all the more fun.
You get out what you put in
If you’ve ever used a CRM (customer relationship management) system, you know that the reports that help you to predict things like future sales, customer growth, who read your last email campaign…etc… are only as good as the data you put in. Without the person’s name or email address, for example how can you pull out the juicy info that the management team needs? You can’t. And it’s a bit like that with food… If you’re not putting in foods that make you feel great, that prevent illness, that keep you strong, how can you get the juiciness out of life and all it has to offer? If you’re feeling sick, or weak, or even depressed, you can’t. I’m convinced, and not just from a book that I’ve read, but from being on every fad diet going in the 90s and early 2000s, and having issues with wheat, that what we eat really does make a difference. Plus, I’ve had enough of feeling guilty for eating cream, chocolate – the darker the better 😉 – and the French cheeses that I so love. Compared to the low fat versions of everything these foods taste better and they’re part of that wonderful ceremony of sitting down to really enjoy a great meal. Mmmm-mmm!