Holistic Eating Insights from Jessica Espinoza (www.jessicaespinoza.com)
In today’s world, the topic of food and nutrition can be quite overwhelming and confusing. Over the last hundred years, basic nutrition wisdom has been lost and we live in an era where our food supply continues to be polluted and degraded with every passing year. We have moved away from more traditional styles of eating and are now more reliant on the industrialized food system to feed us.
In addition, the media and Internet experts are constantly bombarding us with the latest nutritional advice, what foods are “good” and “bad”, the “best” diet for health, the latest superfood, etc. Many of us love researching and gathering information about health, nutrition, and overall wellness, but it can often lead us to a high-stress place where we continually question everything we eat in light of the latest health research.
This place of stress will not allow us to live a truly vibrant life. Today I am sharing some basics that almost everyone can use to get started to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, regardless of what the “experts” say.
Your Body Wisdom Will Trump Any Expert, Any Time
My personal mission as a coach and educator is to help women reclaim the power that they have given away to things like the scale, calorie counting, and yo-yo dieting. I come from a very food neutral place. There are no “good” foods or “bad” foods in my world. There are simply foods that work for me and foods that don’t. There are going to be foods that work for you that won’t work for me and vice versa.
Over time I have learned what works for my body and what doesn’t and I make my choices based on that. And, more importantly, this is constantly changing depending on where I am in life at that moment. Despite many, many years of my own yo-yo dieting, I have learned the importance of staying fluid when it comes to nutrition. I now accept that even if a certain food works well for me today, it might not in the future. And there may be foods that don’t work well for me now that might in the future.
When it comes to nutrition, we have to be willing to evolve. Our dietary needs are always going to be changing. What we need when we are 20 is going to be different than what we need when we are 40. Whatever dietary style you are following now may not work well for you in 5, 10, or 20 years. We have to stay open to change and let go of the rigidity of following a specific diet for the rest of our lives. Be willing to evolve as your life cycles change and your body, mind and spirit will thank you for it.
3 Tips for Figuring Out What Foods Work For You
When it comes to figuring out what foods work and what foods don’t for your body, nothing will trump your own hands-on experience. This is YOUR body. No one else is going to know it better than you. No one else is going to be able to state, with certainty, what works and what doesn’t. It’s time to reclaim that lost power!
1. Tuning Into Your Intuition
The simplest way to start figuring out what foods may not work for you is to start paying attention to how you feel after you eat certain things. This will take time and the willingness to really tune into your body and see if you can pick up on cues that maybe you’ve missed in the past.
This is not a perfect science as outside things like chemical or toxin exposure could also trigger similar symptoms, but this is a good place to start. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how tuning into your body will serve you well for the rest of your life.
It’s important to know that some food reactions may be very small and hardly noticeable. Some of them may happen right away while others can take upwards of 72 hours to manifest. And, sometimes your symptom(s) may not show up in the way you thought it would.
A good example of this is dairy for me. Dairy always has triggered congestion for me so that’s a no brainer. Eat dairy. Feel congested. But, it was not until about a year ago that I realized that dairy also triggered a stiff neck. I would have never in a million years associated my stiff neck to the cheese I ate the day before, but lo and behold, this is one of my main symptoms. I’ve tested it a few times since then and it happens every single time.
If you choose this path, and I strongly encourage you to because you will learn A LOT about yourself and your body, just be patient, go slow, breathe deep, and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.
2. Elimination Diets
If you suspect that you could have some sensitivities or allergies to food, the gold standard will always be elimination diets. These diets remove the most common allergens from your diet for a certain amount of time and then have you reintroduce these foods to see if you have a reaction. Removing these foods completely gives your body time to heal, reduce inflammation, and lower any antibody levels so that any potential reaction will be more noticeable when you start adding them back.
The goal with this type of diet is to see if you notice any improvements in your health while these foods are out and then notice if you react to any of them when you start adding them back in. If you do, then you will be able to make better choices about what you feed your body moving forward since you’ll know that you react to one thing, but not the other.
Keep in mind that restrictive therapeutic diets can be triggering for people when it comes to unwanted behaviors around food (i.e. binging, overeating, compulsive eating, etc.) and even eating disorders in some cases. I like to make sure my clients are emotionally prepared ahead of time for giving up these items because quite often it will include some of their favorite foods. Since food creates such an emotional and visceral experience for all of us, giving these foods up may trigger a strong emotional response.
One of the most important things I like to do here is to approach this like an experiment. You’re playing detective with your body. You’re learning to be curious about things, about what works and what doesn’t, so that you can have more energy and more clarity. Remember, nothing has to permanent, nothing has to be forever.
3. Carb and Starch Tolerance
Ahhh, carbs. No other food group seems to be so hotly debated right now. You’ve got people who love them and people who hate them and everyone has plenty of data to prove they are right. There’s a lot of vilification of carbs so I really try to remain neutral on the topic. Some people can tolerate a lot of carbs, others can’t, and still others fall somewhere in the middle.
When I talk about carbs, I’m not really talking about the carbs found in non-starchy vegetables (though those can be problematic for some people if they have severe metabolic issues). For the general person, I’m mainly talking about the starchy carbs like rice and other grains, potatoes, some squash, fruit, etc., as well as sweeteners, flours, etc.
Truly, the best way to know what your carb tolerance is will be to test it. This is a “level 3” strategy, so it’s why I saved it until last. I can tell you that this type of testing and number tracking can be really beneficial for people, especially those who may know or suspect they have metabolic issues where blood sugar tolerance could be impaired. Any type of chronic illness can cause endocrine system issues so it’s not a bad idea to know where you’re at.
Remember, there is no right or wrong here. You’re not “good” if you have low numbers and “bad” if you have high numbers. You are simply gathering information so you can make more empowered, educated decisions about your health.
If you’re ready to give this a try, you’ll need to buy a glucometer and start testing your blood sugar before and after you eat a carbohydrate. You’ll want to take your blood sugar before you eat so that you can have a fasting or pre-food reading. Then you’ll want to take it again at 1 hour, 2 hour, and 3 hour marks to see how your blood sugar levels are tracking throughout the digestive process.
This will be the best way to get accurate info about YOUR specific carb needs. People who are highly in tune with their bodies may be able to know immediately how a carb or starch is affecting them without testing, but not everyone is going to be able to have this level of body awareness to start.
If you’re going to do this process, I advise eating one type of carb at a time so that you can know exactly how that food is impacting you. If you eat multiple starches in one sitting then it will be hard to know if you are reacting more to one and not the other. Believe it or not, not all carbs and starches are the same for all people. I know of people who have found that when they started testing their blood sugar they found that they could tolerate rice, but couldn’t tolerate sweet potatoes. Or they may be able to tolerate plantains but not regular white potatoes.
Carb tolerance is HIGHLY individual and if there was one thing I could change about the current state of nutrition it would be to stop vilifying them across the board and start doing what works for YOUR body.
Where to Go From Here
It’s no wonder that people, especially women, are more confused than ever about what foods to eat. In light of all the nutrition info we hear every day, it can be confusing to figure out what foods work for you and what do not. We often get swept up in the chaos of the world without stopping to take a step back and really assess what works for our own needs.
If you find yourself running into emotional issues around food or you notice that you are experiencing unwanted behaviors around food, I encourage you to reach out to someone for help. In addition, if you suspect food sensitivities/allergies, or blood sugar handling issues then it would be wise to consult with a doctor or other practitioner so they can help you in supporting your body’s needs.
I am hopeful that the tips I have shared with you today will assist you in your own healing journey and relationship with food. Remember to treat everything as an experiment, as though you are a detective gathering as much information as possible. From there you will begin to have the knowledge to make more empowered decisions about the foods that work best for your body.
Jessica Espinoza is a heart-centered Nutritional Therapist and Mind Body Nutrition Coach, as well as the founder of the popular Delicious Obsessions website. She is dedicated to helping women heal their relationships with food and body so they can finally find the peace, freedom, and energy they need to live bigger and serve the world at a higher level. She loves all things real food, yoga, the outdoors, family, and her sweet pups. You can always find her latest musings on JessicaEspinoza.com and DeliciousObsessions.com.