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Changing the Mindset of Eating

Changing the Mindset of Eating

There is an expression in Spanish, cambia el chip, which literally translates to “change the chip” but signifies a change in mindset. It originated from changing the memory chip in cell phones when visiting another country to avoid crazy roaming charges. For example, you arrive in a foreign country, swap your home memory chip for a local one, and low and behold, commence communication with the natives. The expression conveys the idea that if something is weighing heavily on your mind or getting you down, cambia el chip and start fresh!

I can safely say that we need to cambia el chip in the way we eat.

There is no shortage of information telling us what to eat and what not to eat. There are entire books devoted to that, yet these methods don’t seem to be helping our ability much.

Instead, what if we change the way we think about food so that the how, what, when, with whom and why would just follow naturally.


Eating in Modern Times

Popular TV shows like The Vikings,Spartacus and the legendary Game of Thrones have uncovered strong feelings of nostalgia for the ancient times long passed. Could it be it reminds us of the days when well-chiseled athletes roamed the earth? It is probably safe to say that most of us would prefer to be more fit and healthy, but modern life just gets in the way. Despite being impressed – and rather alarmed – by the ability of Lagertha Lothbrok to fend off burly Vikings, with sword fighting finesse, it does seem like a lot of upkeep to maintain a body like that these days.

Humans have certainly evolved by leaps and bounds, both mentally and physically, from those lean, mean fighting machines of the ancient world. We no longer have the need for everyday body armor, despite the fact it would be totally awesome for Casual Fridays.

The great strides we have made in tackling infectious diseases of the ancient world have been matched in modern times with increasing rates of chronic disease, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. In fact, much of the blame stems from our ever-expanding waistlines.

In a 2013 Lancet report, researchers discovered an alarming worldwide trend in obesity rates over the past 33 years: a 28% increase among adults and a 45% increase among children. That amounts to an increase from 857 million people in 1980 – pausing for dramatic effect – to 2.1 billion overweight and obese people, as of 2013. Hardly a sexy HBO drama.

There are largely four factors at play contributing to the majority of the illness, suffering and early death related to chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control: lack of exercise, poor nutrition, tobacco use and drinking too much alcohol. Using this as the framework, countless campaigns, initiatives, product makeovers, political debates and professional discourse have ensued in an effort to curb the curve on obesity and obesity-related diseases. Many campaigns have been successful in helping people change behavior, while others have not met the mark. It is the quintessential display of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Caught in the middle of it all, the rest of us are simply trying to eat.


We Are Over-Thinking It

By “We,” I mean those of us who eat food and feed our families. I am not talking about the scientists exploring the links between food, nutrients and health outcomes. There tend to be two camps in nutrition education in the public domain: one is by-the-book nutrition while the other demonstrates a total disregard or misrepresentation of the science behind nutrition. I like to hover somewhere in the middle since most things in life are not black and white.

As the wife of a molecular geneticist, I have a great appreciation for science, yet also understand how basic research findings are often over interpreted in an attempt to generate clickable headlines. Nutrition research and epidemiology help us advance our understanding on how food and its components interact and affect human health. Scientists should be over-thinking it when it comes to examining methods of preventing chronic disease, food allergies and acute illness. Nutrition science also helps us find the best foods for optimizing life cycle needs during periods of infancy, childhood, pregnancy and aging. Therefore, I embrace evidence-based science as a nutritionist and pair that with a humble perspective and common sense as a parent feeding my children.

For those of us looking to simple eat real food, we shouldn’t have to perform a comprehensive literature search in PubMed to find ingredients for tonight’s dinner. That seems overly complicated to me, even as a nutrition professional. Nor should we have to edit our shopping list based upon every news headline, morning talk show piece, Facebook update, mysterious “natural news” article or Twitter feed.

I don’t know how it got so complicated. Modern conveniences were supposed to be just that – conveniences. However, the more information we receive,  the more we are spiraling out of control and are overwhelmed by the complexity of eating in modern times.

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Take a step back and get yourself off the hook a little, will you?

Not every meal will be a beautiful vision, wholesome triumph, culinary creation or Pinterest inspiration.

By aiming for perfection in our meals, we set the bar too high and often give up from repeatedly missing the mark.

For those of us stuck in the trenches of mealtime warfare, it is time for a cambia el chip. We need a fresh start!

Change in Mindset

A high profile, and rather controversial, example of our need for a total mind makeover in modern eating is that from the White House Garden.

Mrs. Obama, a modern superwoman on a busy schedule (sound familiar), openly admitted how difficult it was feeding her daughters homemade healthy meals on a regular basis. Wait, did you hear that? Our First Lady, yes, the one with the all the staff, tools, money and resources known to the free world, needed a fresh perspective on how to feed her family well.

Instead of printing a list of “superfoods” and taping it to her White House refrigerator, our First Lady decided to start a movement. Back during the inception of the garden in 2009, she was quoted in the New York Times as saying:

In this hands-on learning environment, students care for and watch their vegetables grow plus they have fun eating the fruits of their labor. My hope is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.

About what, exactly, does she mean by “educate our communities” – on how to hoe vegetables? I think not. Most likely, Mrs. Obama wants both adults and children to think differently about food – where it comes from and how to cultivate the crops – and to develop an appreciation for its beautiful bounty so that the feeling about food will become contagious in the family and subsequently the community.

Visitors to the White House Garden are not lining up by the thousands to see the arugula. Each person is there because, fundamentally, they believe in the message the garden conveys: change the way we experience food, think about food, appreciate food and love the process of discovery.

Even the famous author and food revolutionary, Michael Pollan, is quoted as saying that the White House Garden “teaches important habits of mind.”

Have I convinced you we need a cambia el chip in how we eat? If so, how do we apply these principles to our everyday life in the daily grind of feeding ourselves or our families?

Well, we take it one day at a time:

  • Stay curious about food and health; there is always more to learn.

  • Do what feels right for you and your personal lifestyle and schedule.

  • Be confident in your ability to eat well and enjoy the process of discovery.

  • Instead of obsessing over what you are not doing perfectly, focus on what you are doing better. Build upon that momentum.

  • Start by learning how to build a better plate. I like the Harvard Healthy Plate the best.

  • Sit down to a home cooked meal with your family tonight; enjoy yourselves.

Don’t worry if the produce is not locally sourced, the fruit is not organic, the beef was not grass-fed, you seasoned your veggies with a dollop of butter (gasp!) instead of cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, you haven’t started the overnight chia seed pudding recipe for tomorrow’s breakfast. Let it go… let it go… can’t hold it back anymore, Wait, where was I?

Cambia el chip in how you approach mealtime and the rest will follow suit.

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