I recently read this article on The Guardian reflecting upon the “Clean eating” revolution. It made me think a lot about the stigma around certain foods and the act consuming them, and also about the pedestal that certain “super foods” and dietary regimes are placed upon. I am generally skeptical about many diets, be it paleo, ketogenic, plant based, gluten free, low carb, sugar free… My friends and colleagues will sometimes apologise to me when they put sugar in their coffee, or order pancakes for brunch, which makes me feel awkward, as if I’m some sort of bastion of healthy eating, striking judgement when people eat something that is bad for them. Eat what makes you happy and feel good. I get asked about what kind of “diet” I follow and I stammer and say “well I don’t drink soft drinks”.
Food-related concerns bring about strong feelings of fear, uncertainty, guilt, anger, shame and confusion to some people. I’m not a nutritionist, I study what certain foods do to the brain. Because of this I have a comprehensive expertise of how foods (based on their macro and micronutrients) physiologically impact on brain cells, to alter the function of the brain. Based on observations by both myself and other researchers, a poor diet replete with fat and sugar impairs brain function.
Living intentionally – Eat well and stay fit
I don’t diet. Nor am I some picture of elite fitness or health. I can however say I rarely get sick with colds or the flu, I don’t gain weight and I generally feel pretty well, so I think what I’m doing is good enough for my body. I work out as much as I can in a week. This doesn’t involve working out everyday, as I can’t schedule in 7 sessions per week, although I try to stay active everyday by walking as much as I can rather than getting public transport, driving or getting Ubers places. Of course I’d like to be stronger, leaner and look better and if I did more maybe I could be those things. I actually enjoy the social aspect and camaraderie of going to crossfit as much as I enjoy the workouts. As I’m a data nerd I like the fact that my progress is tracked, nothing beats seeing a “personal best” star appearing next to a heavy lift to make me feel like the hard work is paying off. Put me in a traditional gym by myself and I have no idea what to do and immediately get bored on a treadmill or exercise bike.
I also think that exercise is essential for mental health. Not only does exercise release lots of growth factors in the brain that increases neuroplastisticy, but the sense of achievement and self worth is important for mental and emotional wellbeing, helping you to decompress and release after a long work day. I get my dopamine with a side of endorphins and sweat!
I’m still cooing over how pretty this salad bowl was
Make your own food
I’m not an awesome cook. I have a few things that I’m really good at making and cook regularly that I’m really efficient at. This stops me from reaching for convenience foods. One thing that is very important to me is knowing what is in my food. Highly processed foods come in many shapes and sizes, candy, prepackaged meals, tinned foods, even those health snacks masquerading as “high protein low carb”. I avoid protein shakes because I feel that I can get my post workout protein from foods directly (eggs, lean meats), rather than drinking a pint of a substance. I also think UberEats (or Deliveroo, Foodora etc) is the enemy – I don’t want to eat overpriced, substandard, disappointing food (it’s often not the fault of the restaurant – many foods just don’t travel well). I fell into a trap of ordering it a lot in late 2016 and it hurt my bank balance and my body.
I define whole foods as minimally processed foods. I have found that eating a diet filled with simple, whole foods isn’t difficult or time consuming. For breakfast I love an omelette with kale or spinach and I can cook one up in about 3 minutes flat. Dinners are often grilled protein (beef steak, lamb, fish – salmon, trout, tuna) with steamed veggies (broccoli, zucchini, kale, yellow squash, green beans). For a snack when I’m hungry I’ll eat a banana or some nuts (walnuts or almonds are my favourite) rather than some prepackaged bar. On a Sunday I often meal prep a load of lunches (vegetable soups in winter, salads in summer) to take to work because the food on campus is so damn awful. I feel pretty content when I’ve organised a fridge full of healthy foods that I can quickly consume.
In general, my take on food is to enjoy it! Eat what nourishes your body by keeping to wholesome, fresh foods, and your brain will thank you for it.