I am an educated, modern American woman and I, like maybe 99.9 percent of my peers, have food issues.
Though I am in good shape with a healthy body and healthy BMI (21.7) and I eat my share of kale nicely balanced with chocolate, I still—like every other woman I know—spend an inordinate amount of time fretting about what I eat. I occasionally (okay, regularly) feel guilty or conflicted about food choices and bad habits (tortilla chips, the aforementioned chocolate, and maybe ice cream), and I care about how I look.
This craziness around diet advice and food/body/image/reality simply comes with the territory of being a human these days.
A History of Diet Advice
I grew up with a grandmother who fried chicken like nobody’s business and served it with golden baked crescent rolls—a sublime flakiness of pure white flour and butter. “Go ahead, have another. One roll isn’t going to hurt anybody,” she’d say as I reached for seconds, or thirds, defying the stern look of my weight-conscious mother. Then I’d go home and pop in the Jane Fonda video to “feel the burn.”
That was 30 years ago, and the commercial empire around diet, exercise, and body image since then has been like the American waistline, ever expanding.
“Go to any bookstore and the diet section is the largest section,” says world-renowned physiologist Pete Egoscue. There’s always a new trend, a new weight-loss fad, a new study touting the health benefits of some spice or herb or esoteric ancient grain. “You can ascribe to the Dean Ornish camp that embraces plant-based nutrition, or the Dr. Sears/Atkins camp that’s all about high fat, high protein and dairy, low carb approach to weight loss. Both have mountains of research backing them up. Both have thousands of devotees,” says Egoscue. “So who’s right?”
Plenty to read as you sip your kombucha. But try swallowing this radical idea: “It isn’t what we eat. It’s what we believe about what we eat.”
Forget Diet Advice, It’s About Attitude
Egoscue has come to believe—after decades and decades of working with people to align their bodies and observing the connection between diet and exercise—that how you think about food is key.
Sounds a little woo-woo? Well, perhaps no more so than a kombucha cocktail, but let’s unpack it.
Back to the question about who’s right? The paleo/protein advocates or the plant-based: “They both are,” says Egoscue. “Because it’s not what we eat, but how you feel about what you eat. Your choices matter, but they don’t matter as much as what you believe about your choices. And you always have a choice,” he says.
The fundamental shift, Egoscue suggests, is to start to think of food as fuel for the body’s motion. “If you think of food as fuel, then you begin to choose those things that give you energy and are good for your body,” he adds.
The Key Role of Alignment
It’s not just a fantasy food pyramid built on the power of positive thinking. It’s more about body over matter. Because the more your body becomes structurally balanced and aligned, the more energy you have, the easier and more pleasurable it is to move and exercise, and your metabolism naturally cranks up, Egoscue explains. And then your body naturally craves healthier foods.
“And the more balanced you are structurally, the more balanced you are in choices of food, in the habits you form, in your work and profession, etc.,” he says. For Egoscue, “health is not the absence of pain but the presence of peace of mind,” and freedom from beating yourself up over every calorie you consume can bring extraordinary peace of mind. Believe me, this I know.
To me all this makes sense when I think of it in terms of appetite alignment. Doing bear crawls, I feel a subtle shift in my core strength and improved posture, and when I run, my lower back doesn’t hurt like it used to. My flexibility is improved and I’m sleeping better. I still struggle with Crab Walks but I’m working on it. Without a doubt, improved alignment gives me improved range of motion and more energy. And by re-aligning my diet with subtle shifts – less processed food and more nuts, whole grains and vegetables, drinking more water—I have more energy too.
They work together, this balanced body and (more) balanced diet. I still enjoy a scoop of Mocha Chip ice cream after dinner, regardless of what Pete says about the evils of sugar (that’s another post), but I’m working to make choices empowered not by what the culture says, but by what my body wants and needs.
“The more balanced we are, the more self-aware we become, and better choices we make. And we shouldn’t regret our food choices either, unless we’re eating sugar,” Egoscue says.
So I guess I still have some things to work on.