Knowing What and What Not to Eat

February 9, 2014
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Continuing on from Part One of Crowding Out, dealing with the glut of food date out there, Ashton Miles takes a look at the possible answer to the question of ‘What can I eat?’

Emerging from the low-fat, low-carb, low-everything diet hangover, we find ourselves with more information and diet-related vocabulary than ever before and none the wiser about what to actually put into our bodies.

As investigators work to systematically identify and vilify particular food groups or nutrients, and encourage us to strike them entirely from our diets, we come to look at healthy eating as a process of constant elimination and restriction. The problem with this, mentally, is that restriction only increases our craving for the forbidden food. It is from this system of forceful elimination that unhealthy eating habits, fraught with anxiety, guilt and obsession, can develop.

The Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York are supporters of the ‘crowding out’ technique, which works not only in approaching what goes into your body, but in the equally difficult task of drowning out the constantly changing and at times contradictory health messages being hurled at us daily.

Knowing What and What Not to Eat

The theory is simple and works on an emotional, mental and physiological level; instead of cutting things out, focus on putting things in. The idea is that if we fill our diet with the good stuff (mainly green, leafy vegetables and fresh fruit) there will be less time and space for the not-so-good stuff. Mentally, this eliminates the ‘restriction’ knee-jerk reaction we have against being told ‘no’, because you can really eat as much of this stuff as you like. Physically, with more wholesome nutrients in being absorbed, the body naturally sends out less hunger signals, and eventually stops craving sugar, fried foods, refined carbohydrates and the likes.

It’s commonly understood among nutritionists that although as a society we are overweight, we are constantly hungry because we are in fact, on the inside, starving. The truth is you can eat potatoes, corn chips and white bread until the cows come home, but until your body receives the nutrients it so desperately craves, it will continue to tell you that it needs more food. Crowding out addresses the cause, not the effect, and leaves no space for these signals, or the bad foods they drive us to consume.

Food journalist Michael Pollan’s bestselling book bears the title of his food philosophy, “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants” and its back-to-basics pragmatism sheds light on the harmful food-like substances we have come to accept as part of a normal diet. On reading, it is hard to believe that we’ve reached a stage in which such simple advice be necessary, and yet, it somehow is, and more than ever. If you’re feeling pulled apart by conflicting health claims, and can’t get your head around what to actually put in your trolley, take Pollan’s advice, and shop around the edges at your supermarket.

Need a bit more information? Some of Pollan’s no-fail rules include:

–       If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.

–       Cook. Cooking for yourself takes back control of your diet.

–       Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.

–       Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.

–       Always leave the table a little hungry.

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  1. It’s a bit over-simplified but good basic guide for anyone who doesn’t want to take time to learn about nutrition.

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