What Does it Mean to Eat Healthy?

There are so many different schools of thought when it comes to “eating healthfully.” A healthy lifestyle is something we all agree upon, for the most part, but there are many, many ways up the mountain. 

I personally resonate deeply with the Engine 2 Diet, an oil-free, sugar free, plant passionate vegan lifestyle. I say lifestyle because this commitment extends far beyond the plate.

For my clients, I advocate for a plant-based diet. This doesn’t mean vegan. It doesn’t even mean vegetarian, actually. Naturally, as a plant passionate yogini, I gravitate towards wanting to inspire a meat free lifestyle; to inspire is very different than to sell, or convince. One must choose for oneself, based on a multitude of categories, how, what and why to eat what one eats. 

In adopting a plant-based diet, one is committing to the foundation of one’s food consumption being comprised of plants. That means leafy greens, veggies, fruits and whole grains. Also in that realm, but on a higher tier, are legumes, nuts and seeds. One can still consume animal products on a plant-based diet, but these products sit higher on the eating pyramid than do plant foods. For all you carnivorous beauties, please know that you can have your steak and eat it too. Health varies from person to person and, by increasing the consumption of whole, local, organic (when possible), fresh plant-based foods and decreasing the consumption of animal products to any degree, it is more than likely that the subtle shift will resonate in one’s health.

I believe sugar to have a toxic effect on our society, healthfully speaking, and not because it’s unnatural. Sugar is a naturally occurring substance, and sweetness is one of the five flavors we revere in Ayurveda (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, savory). Sugar is by far better than any chemical sweetener which is artificial and highly processed. My beef with sugar, personally, is twofold: sugar is highly addictive and it boasts nothing but empty calories. That and sweetness is present naturally in all kinds of foods, but we lose the ability to really sense this subtlety because of how drastically sugar wipes out our tastebuds! Almonds are sweet, cinnamon is sweet, mesquite powder is sweet…so many naturally occurring foods offer sweetness that we miss out on because we, as a society, tend to dump mass amounts of sugar into food and drinks mindlessly. Stop the madness!

As a holistic nutrition advisor, I walk a fine line between calorie consciousness and intuitive eating. I don’t want my clients counting calories, but I also want them to cultivate an understanding of the equation and interplay between calories and movement. Calories are not built equally, either, which is perhaps the most important part of this paragraph. 200 calories of kale will have a highly vibrational effect on the body while 200 calories of sugar will not. Actually, it will in the sense that it’ll have the body bouncing off the walls before going kerplunk face first into the ground at the time of crash.

Intuitive eating is the most natural way to navigate one’s own hunger and satiety cues, but having an understanding of portion sizes and how calories work is key in eradicating avidya (ignorance, the root cause of all suffering, as we believe in yoga).

So what about the oil, you ask? What’s my beef with oil? Olive oil, coconut oil and grapeseed oil, a few of the most healthful extracted oils around, why would I avoid them? I can just hear you asking, I can see your pleading eyes. One word: extracted. I don’t want to start a war against oil. I use coconut oil from time to time. I likely consume some healthy oil unknowingly when out and ordering vegan. My theory is this: I’d prefer to eat the whole fat rather than the extracted fat. It’s all about eating food as close to its natural state as possible. Less modification, less processing, less “da da,” as my Grandma Ann would say, with a little wave of her hand.

Olive oil is full of healthy fat. But so are olives. And at a whopping 120 calories per tablespoon of most oil, it’s far too easy for the average person to overload on oil and saturate an otherwise healthy meal with far too much fat. So this is what I advise my clients do: opt for healthy fats in their whole form – avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, 

The little devil’s advocate on my shoulder is reminding me how much I adore nut butter. Wouldn’t one look at nut butter and think, hmmm…pulverized nuts, sounds about the same as extracted oil, hey kettle you’re black! Not so much, in my mind, but I see the parallel. I personally adore nut butter to the n’th degree, it’s creamy texture, it’s versatility in desserts, brekkies, snacks and even smoothies. If that’s how you feel about using coconut oil in cooking, then please be my guest! Eat to your senses! Eat to what gives you pleasure! But be mindful of portion sizes because, though we love to shut them out of the conversation for sake of sanity, calories do play a role in our weight maintenance. One tablespoon of oil is a serving. Two tablespoons of nut butter is a serving. Use measuring devices until you can accurately eyeball a serving. Be mindful of how much fat you actually need to consume each day, based on your own health needs, your energy level and how active you are. I personally am super active and consume an almost ungodly amount of (whole, healthy) fat everyday. Typically in one day I will consume half an avocado, 2-3T of almond butter, an occasional tablespoon of tahini, hemp seeds (or pumpkin seeds), 2T ground flax…I get a lot of good fats. But I know my body needs that much and more to maintain my active lifestyle. Someone who is sedentary, on the other hand, would want to load up on healthy fats while still managing not to “over-do it” on one tier of the healthy eating pyramid.

How does one go about cooking without sugar and oil? It’s really quite simple. For some, a gentle adjustment of the tastebuds is in order. I long ago replaced oil in my cooking for low sodium (or better yet, homemade!) vegetable broth. My favorite is mushroom broth – so savory! I also steam or sautee with water, rather than oil. It gets the job done without leaving my vegetables and food soaked in oil (which I personally, for my own taste and digestion, loathe…I just can’t digest oily food). If you’re someone who can digest oily food and loves it, then try this tactic: cook with broth or water and then, once the meal is finished, use your oil of choice as a garnish. Drizzle olive oil over your vegetables, or put coconut oil into your salad dressing. You get the picture. Make that healthy oil count as part of your meal, rather than just a condiment. Don’t waste it in the cooking process (*a note on olive oil: at high heat olive oil is carcinogenic…please cook with coconut, or even grapeseed, oil if cooking at high temperatures!). 

I understand how tricky it is to navigate the ever-changing tides of the health and wellness ocean. It seems everyday some new fad comes about and turns everything on its head (for some of us). I am grateful to finally be rooting into what I believe and understanding my own physical chemistry, as well as what speaks to my existence spiritually. The dance of the two is what has led me to where I am.

My role as a nutrition consultant (in the making) is to gently help guide whoever is searching for their own unique lifestyle. Understanding how food can operate as medicine, healing and nourishing magic, really, lends a whole new perspective to eating. Think about how powerful that is…most of us eat anywhere from 3-6 times a day. If those experiences could be infused with harmonious vibrations of this food is nourishing every cell of my body awareness and appreciation for all of us, the world would be a different place. The quality of food available to us would also be very different.

Let’s raise the vibration together. Appreciation for our food starts at the time of purchase. Buy mindfully and, therefore, vote with your dollar. If you consume meat, please aim to buy grass-fed, local, organic meat. Know where your meat is coming from. Know where your fish is coming from too, and be cautious of mercury levels. Also be cautious of overtaxing one particular breed of fish…salmon is all the rage in the health and wellness world and I know why, I ate much of it lovingly for many years, but our salmon population is dwindling with fury. Be mindful of these facts of nature. There’s not an unlimited amount of resources out there for us and, at the rate we are going, I fear we are going to just take, take, take until it’s all used up…let’s not let that happen.

Aim to only buy dairy and eggs that come from local farms. Buying organic often, but not always, means there is a standard set for how humanely the animals are treated. Buying conventional and highly manufactured products almost always ensures the opposite. Choose produce that is local if possible, and do your research to learn the dirty dozen (foods that are grown with the most pesticides). Aim to buy these twelve products organic. 

It’s not easy and it’s not cheap at first, I’ll say that straight away. But once dedication to a plant-based diet and greener lifestyle becomes so natural that you can’t think of life another way. It becomes easy and eventually more affordable in time. I buy most everything I can in bulk and, with some dedicated time in the kitchen, I save money by eating the way I do. I’ve not even started on using products that benefit the environment rather than sending more chemicals out into our beautiful earth, but that will definitely come  in another another essay.

For now, be compassionate with both yourself and the world around you. Seek guidance. I am here for you and I can be reached on my website for Skype consultations if you are not located in the Bay Area. More than anything, spend some time this week focusing on what you’re passionate about, healthfully speaking. Understand yourself fully to then understand what route is best for you, individually. Don’t worry about how I do it, or how your brother does it, or how your spouse does it. Tune into yourself.

There are many ways up the mountain, make your climb one of ease and bliss.

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One thought on “What Does it Mean to Eat Healthy?

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