Eating healthy has become a complicated proposition: nutritional advice flip flops daily, diet zealots tell you you’re doing it all wrong, and the food environment is much more treacherous today than it was just 50 years ago. But what does it mean to eat healthy? I think we know it when we see it (or at least we should right?) but let’s be clear of our definition. Healthy eating encompasses 3 things:
- Eating enough calories to support your energy needs, and enough nutrients (macro and micro) to meet the your nutrition
- Not eating anything toxic
- Not eating too much to induce weight gain
As simple as this might sound the details are much less clear. There are tons of ways in which to achieve those 3 things above, and compound that with our perverse macro and micro food environments and the public’s lack of basic nutrition, and it becomes clear why eating healthy is confusing, we just don’t have all the skills or knowledge to navigate healthy eating on our own terms.
In our own line of inquiry to figure out how we could make healthy eating easier for ourselves and our clients, we came across two truths about healthy eating in our modern times:
- Some food education goes a long way - We’ve found that if you could understand a few things you can go a long way in eating healthy: the vested interests of the macro food environment like the food industry & cultural/social norms, the hidden persuaders of your micro food environment like your home and office, how your body handles food at the biological level, and the role of your psychology in healthy eating. Knowledge really is power here, rather, knowledge is health.
- You must find your own healthy eating pathway – There is no way around it, the truth is, what might work for me, might not work for you. Think about it, a fit young twenty something male in Italy will eat something entirely different than a 40 year old overweight diabetic female in America. Any diet you choose can work as long as you don’t eat too much (although certain ones are more health promoting than others). Sure you can try any of those popular diets out there and if they work for you and you can stick with it, then keep it going as long as you like. But the truth is that everybody is different and to ensure healthy eating you have to find your own path and design your own eating patterns and systems that promote your personal values, preferences, and health. If you choose not to, then you’re at the hands of those who would love to dictate how you eat (which may or may not be about your health).
Let’s also be clear about a second point, our goal isn’t to try and create new food knowledge (most of this has been previously written about by people smarter than us) or tell you exactly what to eat like traditional posts, articles, and diet books do. Instead, we are looking to scaffold the process of designing your own eating patterns, and to create the conditions to do so easily and with confidence. We want to equip you with ways to think about the food you eat and the food habits you keep. We’re here to curate and vet food knowledge, and do our best to translate (based on sound interpretation of the current scientific body of knowledge & augmented by an appreciation for traditional food knowledge) it into actionable steps, useful diet design principles and mental models. In the process we hope to inspire and empower you to become a designer of your own healthy eating patterns.
With all that said, here’s a quick roadmap of what our healthy eating series will look like.
- The Macro Food Environment - The larger food environment. At the core of the confusion is profit and big food interests. There are powerful forces working against you and our hope to show you at least some of those forces so you can understand what’s going on and make informed decisions.
- Your Micro Food Environment – This is your more immediate environment like your home and office. Did you know that smaller plates can lead to eating less, or that the visibility of certain foods increases your consumption of them? It’s fascinating how mindless we eat sometime, and this post will dig into that.
- The Physiology & Psychology of Eating- This is about the science behind how food is processed. The science is a bit fuzzy, but there are a few things that the body of knowledge does understand, and in this post you’ll learn those things.
- A Guide To Cooking Well – We think cooking leads to healthier eating. Granted you don’t have to be a cook to eat healthy, but it certainly helps a lot. This post will jump into the basics of cooking so you can cook like a pro in no time.
- How To Navigate Markets and Shop For Ingredients – How many times have you gone into a market and not sure exactly what to get or what to look for in ingredients? This post will be a primer on navigating markets so you can actually know what to look next time you’re shopping.
- Sustainability & Value Based Eating – It isn’t necessary that you choose organic, local or eat sustainably in order to eat healthy. Those are ethical and moral matters that for the most part are entirely based on your values, but we think it’s important to eat in a way that preserves precious environmental resources. Even though the research is a bit inconclusive on whether organic & local versions are nutritionally better, the environmental impact of your food choices can be a very good reason to eat sustainably.
- The How, Why, and What Of Your Own Healthy Eating Patterns – As we stated in the beginning of this post, what works for me won’t work for you. This section will explore the principles of good diet design primarily focusing on helping you define your what to eat, how to eat, and why to eat.
- Other Food Stuff – In this post we’ll tackle some miscellaneous ideas that relate to healthy eating, things like preventing food waste, growing your own food and seasonality of foods. Just random ideas that don’t really fit anywhere else.
This series is by no means exhaustive, but we think it does a pretty good job of touching on enough relevant food topics to be instructive while going beyond what you typically read about eating healthy to be illuminating. When appropriate, we’ll provide you with resources to dig deeper and point you in the direction of really smart, trustworthy and admirable people when we can’t explain something as well as they could.
We’ll be posting the first installment starting next week, and the following ones over the next 2 months. So stick around, we think you’ll love what we’re putting together to help equip you with what you need to make your own decisions about healthy eating. We hope this series will become a beacon of clarity in the food miasma we all live in.
Photo via jturn