Paleo, Whole30, Vegan, Keto, 4 Hour Body, Vegetarian, Carb Cycling, Gluten Free, Macros, Low Carb...
Those are just a few of the dietary lifestyles that people (namely myself) subscribe to. The holidays are over which means I'm no longer elbow deep in casseroles and cookies and January stands as a beacon of hope to alleviate my winter weight woes. I often joke that my dog would leave me in a heartbeat for another owner because he is subjected to kale and spinach for scraps while your average American pup gets to enjoy pepperoni and cheese droppings.
For the record, I used to be so hard on myself come January 1st. Standing on the scale each cold January morning seemed to carry not only my own weight but the weight of the past 365 days worth of dietary decisions. Whatever number the scale read paled in comparison to the weight of the judgment and shame resting on my shoulders.
This year was different. Thanks to a new holiday tradition, one that involves reading Shauna Niequist's Bread and Wine starting around Thanksgiving, sure, there was a little extra weight on the scale but there was also something else: grace.
The healthiest and most sacred rhythms of life involve both feasting and fasting.
So instead of second guessing every Christmas cookie or holiday treat I enjoyed, no savored, every last bite in the name of feasting. And much in the same way that every buttery and carb-loaded bite from the holiday season fed something deeply spiritual within me, each day of clean eating and fasting feeds something spiritual too. I am now reminded that I'm not meant to have it all, that my occasional physical hunger is an exercise in my humanity. That I am meant to feed my body and soul more than empty calories and mindless (often emotional) meals. We were designed for intentionality in everything we do and that includes the way we fuel our bodies.
What in the actual health?
You saw the list. There are a million options, plans and programs out there. A few months ago my roommate and I decided to have a bonding night where we grilled some chicken and after some mindless Netflix scrolling we ended up deciding on What the Health, mostly because we had heard chatter about it and as health-conscious individuals it sparked our curiosity.
After grilling pounds of DEAD BIRDS we watched a documentary about vegetarianism. It was, how do you say, the world's worst timing.
As I sat there watching a familiar feeling began to creep up the back of my neck. I could sense my anxiety rolling a deep pit within my stomach. Did I need to become a vegetarian? Was I doing everything wrong? Should I be vegetarian AND Whole30 WHILE trying to count macros? Could vegetarianism be the lifestyle that finally made me feel like the superhuman goddess each dietary lifestyle promised to bring me?
It's easy to shame oneself into eating healthy but it's also easy to shame oneself into eating healthy the "right" way. Just plop a paleo person down next to a vegetarian and watch them try to convince each other that their way of eating is scientifically more sound.
What in the actual health? Does anyone have the answers? No wonder people give up on eating healthy. With so many options, messages, studies and stories it's almost impossible to choose.
But, a girl's gotta eat.
Not only do I have to eat but I want to eat. I go to bed at night as early as I possibly can just so the night will pass by quickly and the promise of breakfast can awake me in the morning. I know what I plan on eating Friday night when it's a Tuesday afternoon. I simply love food. But the food-shaming of eating plans, the restrictions, broken promises and unmet expectations had me more discouraged by food than excited about it.
Keto made me sluggish and exhausted, macros felt like a prison, Whole30 wasn't a longterm sustainable option, and I love protein and meat too much to go full vegetarian.
Was there a way to eat that worked not for the masses, not for a documentary or a brand, but just for ME? I've experimented with enough of these eating plans to have a wide variety of knowledge on a number of different ways to eat, why did I have to ascribe to one plan when I could just build my own?
I did a crazy thing. I got a Helix DNA kit and EverlyWell Metabolism test and spit in some tubes, pricked my fingers, and mailed a tiny piece of myself off to a lab to get examined. Nothing would've made me happier than to get a low metabolism test result. Don't we all want to blame something? My metabolism would've been the ultimate excuse as to why my body wouldn't cooperate with a number of eating programs. But, alas, my metabolism was in tip top shape.
However, the information I did learn was invaluable. I discovered that first and foremost, I do have 2 out of the 4 genetic markers that make me predisposed to obesity. In some ways, that offered me an immense amount of grace and allowed me cut myself some slack. I am fighting biology to a certain degree. It also keeps me motivated knowing that if I relent in my health biology will take over.
I also found out that I have a hard time processing fats and don't struggle with glucose. In less scientific terms, low-carb and high-fat diets don't do me any favors. What a relief. I can finally eat the way my own God-given body was designed to eat, not the way that works for thousands of people. It removes the pressure to try some new style of eating if I see it revolves around cutting carbs or higher fat content because my poor cells are just going to batten down the hatches and store every ounce of fat they possibly can.
For the first time in my life I feel educated about my dietary decisions because they're informed around my own unique combination of proteins and codes and everything else that makes me unique. And remember that thing I just said about the sacred rhythm of life? Few, if any, past or present eating trends are sustainable. They're meant to be experimented with, learned from, and tested. I don't regret trying different styles of eating because each of them taught me something about who I am as a person, what works for my body, and helped influence my relationship with food.
There is no perfect prescription.
And, don't worry, if you aren't ready to experiment with your DNA just try out a few different dietary options until you find a combination that works best for YOU. Don't be afraid to be a Paleo-Keto-Whole30er or a Weekend Vegetarian or a Mostly Vegan. Ultimately there's no perfect prescription for the best way to eat. Your body is fearfully and wonderfully made and deserves to be treated that way and that starts first and foremost with what you put into it. Start small, don't be afraid to try different things, and most importantly listen to your body. Create time and space to observe what your body tells you and know that these things take time.
I've partnered with Helix DNA to give away a FREE DNA kit over on my Instagram page. Head over there for a chance to win!