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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Healthy Lifestyle: A Balanced Perspective Toward Food.

Last Wednesday we talked about exercise and it's affect on anxiety, but we also touched briefly on diet and the overwhelmingly schizophrenic American view on food. I wanted to cover that more in-depth this week, mainly because there exists a difference between "diet" and diet...and it's important not to mistake one for the other.

For example, when I say "anti-anxiety diet", people who hear it immediately think that I am speaking of a weight loss diet. And if you are overweight and you practice portion control and eat the way I describe, then it's rather likely that you will lose weight. However, this is no "miracle", no "drop 30 pounds in thirty days" supermarket checkout diet. The focus is health, nothing more, nothing less. Physical health and mental clarity as provided by nutrition.

Being of a healthy weight is very important; the studies are everywhere. It's one of those things that we're all quite aware of, and that sometimes we don't really care about regardless. Often times, the call of greasy, high calorie foods or sodas or other unhealthy options can be too much. But it's important to realize the affect of the things that you put into your body. America views food as so many things simultaneously...a comfort, a friend, an enemy, a menace, an addiction, a source of pleasure, a necessity, a convenience or inconvenience, a frustration...the list goes on and on. And with so many different opinions here and there, how is anyone to have a balanced perspective?

I've heard it said that food should be viewed as nothing more or less than a necessity, just fuel to keep our bodies going throughout the day. I can hardly doubt that, to some people, that's all that food is. However, it's ridiculous to think that such a perspective would work for the majority of Americans. Of course, seeing food as more than just "necessary ingestion" extends far beyond this country...for thousands of years and across every culture, food has been seen as a gift, as a sign of love, as something to gather around, to give and receive, sometimes in payment for services or in barter, and so much more. The problem in America is that we created all of these over processed foods for the sake of convenience, thus ingesting hundreds, sometimes thousands of empty calories a day, effectively rendering us malnourished...and overfed.

The worst part is that these foods not only lack the nutrition that our bodies need, but they also rob us of the nutrition that we have! It's a vicious cycle and one of the biggest arguments for a whole food diet.

Now, all of this is in regards to your average American, but how much more poignant the subject becomes when you add anxiety to the mix! According to NIMH, over 18% of all Americans over the age of 18 have an anxiety disorder of some kind. That's forty million people, and the numbers keep growing. The lack of nutrition is at least one of the culprits, perhaps the main one! And yet those of us with anxiety disorders often have a more complex relationship with food than those without. So what's the answer then, and how does one live their life in this society where we are bombarded with unhealthy food choices, and then manipulated into choosing them over healthful alternatives?

The answer is a balanced perspective.

Food is not the enemy, but empty calories and processed foods are. Food will not solve your problems, but eating correctly, balancing your nutrition, and focusing on whole foods can give you the mental clarity needed to work on those problems. Food can be such a delight! But focus on eating small portions of delicious, nutrient-rich foods instead of huge portions of anything. Make cooking a relaxing time, a way to unwind or to spend time with friends. Make eating a time to sit down with your family, or your room mate, or whoever you can invite to dinner. Shop at the Farmer's Market, where you can talk to the people producing your food, make it an experience!

We're so far removed from our food in this culture...we have no idea where it came from, and we accept on good faith that it provides us the necessary nutrients to sustain our bodies. Maybe taking an active stance on your food is not convenient, but it is absolutely practical and necessary. What we eat becomes a part of us, and affects us in so many ways...why wouldn't we ensure that our food supply was of the highest possible quality?

Make food a part of your new, anti-anxiety lifestyle. Use shopping experiences at the Farmer's Market to inspire confidence in the food that you are eating. Use cooking as therapy, the warm smell of sauces and breads in the house does wonders for the soul. As you begin to eat whole foods and experience whole nutrition, your body will begin to feel better, and your mind will follow. Food doesn't have to be daunting, but it is, inevitably, an enormous part of your life. Don't try to squash it out with convenience!

-The Calm Cook

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