Just a few weeks ago Lori made a delicious cake for a family birthday (see pictures). While it’s made with lots of healthy and nutritious ingredients like almond flour, Asian pears, and coconut sugar, it still contains concentrated sugar, something that for us, is an off-the-list food. Nonetheless, we all enjoyed a small piece or two during the celebration. If we were looking at our diet as a short-term goal, this would be a major slip-up and require a full dose of self-loathing, but we are in this for the long haul. In all honesty, we plan to keep eating this way for the rest of our lives and there is no way that will happen if we don’t find a balance, which includes going off the reservation from time to time. We are not talking about having a cheat day, we are talking about building a nutritional lifestyle that is healthy and sustainable.
It is not a secret that a large portion of the health and wellness industry is focused on “diets” and “dieting.” There is a ton of money in telling people that a singular product or book contains an amazing secret that will change the way you feel and look overnight. Every few months there is a whole rash of books published on what you should or should not be eating, with titles that indicate that it will solve all your health issues in five easy steps.
When my wife and I were desperate for information and knowledge after her diagnosis, we read a lot of these “diet” books and many of them were indeed helpful when taken with a grain of salt. Yet, after five years of reading and trying everything from the Swank “no fats diet” to the Paleo “eat all the fats diet,” one consistent problem with the health and wellness industries approach to food and nutrition has stood out; most “diets” are completely unsustainable.
In anthropological terms “diet” refers to everything a person or group eats. Sadly, our cultural definition of “diet” is something closer to what someone, unhappy with their physique, eats for two months before swimsuit season. Even our seven-year-old, who has grown up in a food and nutrition-focused home, connects the word “diet” with an unpleasant restriction of food for a short period of time. My wife and I have found that the idea that “dieting” is about will-power, self-deprecation, and restriction, is one of the main reasons we (and many others) have found it so hard to maintain a strict diet for much more than a month. This was even more evident at the start of our nutrition and lifestyle change when we felt that if we ate a single thing that was not “on the list” than we had failed and fallen off the wagon.
On top of this, most of the books on health and diet that we have read, with the exception of a few Michael Pollan books, leave little room for the biological differences between individuals. Not only are every individual’s genetics different, but there is a lot of research being published about the vast differences between the microbiomes (the personal collection of microbes living in us and on us, much more on this in another post). If that was not enough, there are environmental and historical differences in every individual’s historical and ancestral diets. These differences make it nearly impossible for a singular diet to work for everyone and serves to further exacerbate the difficulty of making sustainable health changes.
At the heart of it, this blog is about our journey to find a different path. For us and our family, a pragmatic and individual approach to food, based on cooking, a lot of trial and error, and an expectation of enjoyment and sustainability, has made all the difference. This includes guilty pleasures and strict schedules. In all honesty, this is not simple or easy. Even after 5 years, we often struggle to maintain this balance. For us, the goal has been to make the process rewarding. We attempt to make each meal an opportunity to create something amazing and delicious, an opportunity to test out new foods while respecting the limitations of the diet we have crafted for ourselves and a balance between the foods we need and the foods we want. At first, the realization that there was no silver bullet for what ailed us was disheartening, but the opportunity to discover, control and even conquer our health challenges, has truly been a silver lining.