I make no secret of the fact that I love veggies. Broccoli, sweet potato, fennel, red pepper, cabbage….I don't discriminate. To be honest, I’m fairly sure that most of friends think I live off them alone. An idea that I’m not completely opposed to, only variety is the spice of life so I like to mix it up a little.
Ultimately, I eat the way I do because it feels good…to me.
Of course, I care about the treatment of animals and pesticide damage, but I also eat mostly organic plants and grass-fed/grass-finished meat because I’m not keen on ingesting a chemical shit-storm. I have enough trouble managing my own hormones, thank you very much - the last thing I need is to eat/drink the bloody things! And I’m pretty certain that I’ve had my fair share of antibiotics for the time being, so I’ll spare my gut any more trouble.
I eat food that nourishes my body.
I eat food that makes me feel best. Lots of greens, whole-foods and a little organic meat and fish once in a while does this for me.
So what about soul food?
Food that nourishes your soul. I know this sounds like a bit of an airy-fairy concept but bare with me. Food that feeds my soul reminds me that with every mouthful I take I am satisfied, grateful, fuelling my body and contributing to a healthier planet. It just so happens that a shed-load of veggies, whole-foods ad a little organic meat also does this for me.
Our thoughts and beliefs are incredibly influential over our body’s response to food. How we feel affects our hormones, which in turn affects fat storage and appetite, so when we feel guilt or anxiety (about food) we release cortisol (the stress hormone) which can lead to weight gain if chronically elevated*. If you are relaxed and believe that the food you are eating is nourishing your body, it likely will be.
This is very different to having emotional attachments to food. I’m not advocating that we eat out of boredom, tiredness, anger (ever been ‘hangry’ before?!), or any other emotion for that matter. Nope, I’m just highlighting every bite that we take is an expression our relationship with ourselves, other people and the planet. I’m no more virtuous than the next person, but I like to eat food that sits well with my conscience and value.
Still, lets not forget the bigger picture. There is a lot of dispute over whether or not organic food have a greater nutrient content following this study by Stanford. But, frankly, I think that this is beside the point, since its so dependent on local soil quality, among a whole host of other things. It’s all the extra pesticides, herbicides, petrochemicals, hormones, antibiotics and puss that come for free (or at discount) with conventionally grown or reared food that bothers me. Not to mention the conditions that many animals must endure.
I’m not here to rant at you about animal welfare, environmental damage or the health risks of a conventional diet. Rather, I’d like to show you that eating for your own body’s needs as well as to your soul’s content is actually really simple.
So, here are 5 really simple steps that I found helpful when starting to eat a more whole food, plant-based diet:
- Listen to your body - it's pretty wise. Are you really hungry or just thirsty? Do you find that certain foods make you very phylemmy or tired, even hours later? It might help you to keep a detailed food diary for a week, noting what you ate and when, as well as how you felt straight after and an hour later.
- Crowd out with veggies. Honestly, I’m too busy eating amazingly fresh, delicious and nutritious food to give much thought to cake, biscuits and crisps these days. I aim for at least half of my plate to be covered with green and veggies.
- Be curious. Have a look at food labels to see where your food has come from or speak to the stall holders at the local farmers' market. This is not a scare tactic or a guilt-trip. I just love knowing where my food comes from so I can make more informed choices that suit my body and my budget. Veg box deliveries are anther great option for sourcing local produce. (If you’re local to Bristol then I highly recommend you check out Bristol Veg Boxes)
- Get creative in the kitchen or just reinvent the classics. It needn't be anything fancy. Why not serve your bolognaise with courgetti for a change or use sweet potatoes to top your Shepard’s Pie?
- Be consistent. You’re unlikely to feel better or have a lasting effect on your health after just 2 days without dairy or bread. Nurturing your body with healthy food needs to be done on a daily basis. One slice of cake isn't going to make the scales jump up half a stone when eaten occasionally but it can be all too easy for ‘treats’ to become a daily indulgence. Consistency is key.
These are also good reminders to take things back to basics when you become bogged down by the frenzy of nutritional information circulating.
*Source: Epel ES, McEwen B, Seeman T, et al. 'Stress and body shape: Stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat'. Psychosom Med. 2000; 62(5):623-632.