Now, you may be thinking “That’s great, chocolate makes me feel good!” and, while I’m sure that it does, keep reading to understand what I’m really saying here. . .
Next to emphasizing whole, unrefined foods, I believe that the second most important dietary habit we can adopt to improve our health is to pay attention to how the foods we eat affect the way we feel and adjust our eating patterns accordingly.
Most of us know that dogs and cats will eat grass when they are not feeling well. In fact, they will go out and find a specific type of grass to eat. Although grass is not a normal part of their diet, they are instinctively drawn to it under certain circumstances.
To a large extent we have the same ability to ascertain which foods are helpful or harmful to us at any given moment, on any given day, or generally throughout the course of our lives. We can do this by noticing the feedback our bodies give us when we eat various foods. This is nature’s lab test. If we pay attention, we will see that our energy, mood, overall sense of well-being, or levels of specific symptoms (such as pain, nasal congestion, headaches, etc.) will often change during or after eating certain types of foods. We just need to make the effort to sensitize ourselves to this feedback.
Over time, if you consistently pay attention, you will begin to identify foods which are enhancing to your health and well-being, and those which detract from it. This allows you to adapt your diet to your body’s unique needs. If you want to experiment with this you can start by setting aside three or four days in a row, preferably when you aren’t too busy or stressed, and make an effort during that time to slow down and pay attention to how you feel as you eat, as well as after your meals, snacks or beverages. Notice how you are feeling before you start your meal, while you are eating, and for two to three hours afterwards. You may even want to make note of how you feel when you wake up the following morning.
Most of us are regularly having responses, both positive and negative to the foods we are eating, but because we aren’t trained to pay attention to these signals we simply don’t make a connection. Not too long ago, I had a patient who suffered from chronic fatigue, respiratory difficulties and various aches and pains. While I did recommend a few homeopathic and nutritional supplements, my primary therapy was simply to assist the patient in identifying which foods made her feel better and which foods made her symptoms worse. Over time, this patient’s symptoms improved dramatically as she made appropriate dietary changes based on her own observations with my guidance. Dietary changes aren’t the key element in every case of course, but they do often play a role, and sometimes a very dramatic one.
How can foods affect us so dramatically? They may improve or interfere with our metabolism, affect our hormonal balance and nervous system for better or worse, increase or decrease inflammation or trigger beneficial or dysfunctional immune reactions. Some foods increase the toxic burden within our bodies while other help us eliminate the toxins.
Much of the time these effects within the body can be felt as increased or decreased energy, mental clarity, sense of well-being, pleasant or unpleasant changes in mood or a worsening or improvement of various symptoms such as pain, anxiety, digestive difficulties, insomnia, etc. Furthermore, we don’t all react to foods in the same way. As the saying goes “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.
When foods are truly healthful for us they tend to have a beneficial effect on how we feel as we are eating them (a well functioning body is a pleasant place to live). More importantly, they tend to continue to have a beneficial effect on how we feel over time. This may apply to a specific food or class of foods, such as gluten-containing or dairy foods, but it may also apply to how foods are prepared, fried versus steamed, for instance, or how foods are combined. If we pay attention to how we feel while we are eating a meal or snack, and for the next few hours, or even the next morning when we wake up, we can begin to discover patterns. As we observe consistent patterns, we can begin to change the foods we eat, how we prepare them and how we combine them to increase our overall well-being. This gives us a lot of power in shaping our health and the quality of our daily lives.
To continue: Universal Diet Principle No. 3