Those who talk about the ‘right diet’ (‘diet’ here is used in the sense of ‘what we eat’, rather than ‘how to lose weight’) tend to assume that there are good and valid rules for the general population. Even where lip service is paid, by conceding that an individual’s needs must be accounted for, at the root of this approach is the dogmatic acceptance that such a thing as a ‘right diet’ exists. Moreover, it exists not as a ‘brooding omnipresence in the sky’ but one that can be accessed and described, and therefore, at the end of the day, human diversity is subservient to the overbearing authority of the ‘right diet’.
Many vegans are sure that their diet is right for most of the population, as are most of the Paleo people, or those who adhere to Chinese or Indian traditions. To these we can add trained specialists such as dieticians or nutritionists, who are sure of the clear and certain rules that derive from scientific experimentation.
What’s the problem with the concept of the ‘right diet’? That any discourse that assumes its viability also assumes that there’s a ‘wrong diet’, and those who adapt a ‘wrong diet’ are wrong, and will surely end up suffering ill health, when compared to those who wisely chose the ‘right diet’.
But it’s more than that. Implicit in the idea of the ‘right diet’ is the affirmation of present or future rewards and sanctions for nutritional choices. And this is nothing less than a dangerous idea. It is an idea that nurtures voices that subject us to constant grading, and eventually, categorises us as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on what we ate. This internal dialogue is so prevalent that it needs no words. We eat what we perceive of as the ‘wrong’ diet and immediately experience the feeling of a sinner, including the necessary guilt and shame.
Most of those who embrace the idea of the ‘right diet’ are very adept in accepting all the reasonable caveats – “no harm in the occasional slip-up”; “this is no dogma”; “all in moderation” – but unfortunately these are only exceptions that strengthen the rule, and the underlying message: the ‘wrong’ diet is an infraction, a misdemeanour which will turn into a rather grave felony if repeated, and is to be punished by immediate or future harm to health as well as by a feeling of deep remorse.
What we have here is the journey that disconnects us from our body, in favour of a body of external knowledge, coupled with the joy of emotional eating to compensate for the feelings of guilt and contrition.
How to escape that trap? Luckily – with ease!
First, remind ourselves that no-one has a mandate over knowledge in general, and over the ‘right diet’ in particular. Only you have that knowledge, and it should fit your body and your life experience.
The variety of voices that contribute to the ongoing and expanding debate over nutrition and diet are exhilarating and helpful, even when they are ridiculous or extreme, because the process of negating challenges our own predispositions. Almost all, therefore, are worth listening to with an open mind and open heart. And yet, it is equally important to be aware of the nature of the voice that is speaking at any given moment: does it seek to open a discussion, is it a curious voice, or is it proselytising, interested solely in converting one more lost soul to the true and right path?
Second, choose! Choose, choose, choose – make a conscious choice as to what is right for you, right now, irrespective of any imaginary limits. This would entail, sometimes, rejecting some quite powerful voices that demand our attention and bar us from listening to … ourselves!
- Voices that refer exclusively to scientific proof as the route to the ‘right’ diet, and waive certificates to showcase their expertise. These voices prefer a concrete body of knowledge over your own personal experience, and almost always end up listing forbidden foods, whether implicitly or explicitly, whether in a moderate or expansive way. Incidentally, these voices should be distinguished from those who talk from experience, and in particular – those who experience with a critical approach.
- Voices that refer to our ancestors or to other cultures to decide what to eat. Such voices are not attuned to your reality, and seek to impose on you rules that are clearly irrelevant for you. Most of you did not grow up in rural China or India (even if you are of Chinese, Indian descent) and you are even less likely to be cavemen (or -women) or gorillas. Reading this, you are probably living the modern world (for better or for worse) with a very different lifestyle. In most cases, the designated rules are both ‘positive’ – in the sense that demand action – and ‘negative’, entrenching a limit on the … right to eat everything, and the freedom to choose as you see fit.
- Voices that prefer strict rules to choose what to avoid. Such voices are focused on refraining from … sugar/animal products/gluten/fat/carbs instead of positively choosing … plenitude. The plenitude that these voices will offer the world will always be limited, as it does not trust your ability to choose well.
Avoidance that is dictated by external factors is the keystone/foundation of emotional eating and is in complete conflict with the body’s ability to know what is best at any given moment. In other words, it is in conflict with intuitive eating.
The road to intuitive eating, which – being personally tailored and triggered in every choice – is never aligned with the ‘right diet’, but rather encompasses everything. Permission is granted to eat everything, no matter what. This means that there is no black and white, right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy. No calories need to be counted or even considered, and there is no need to be conscious of ridiculous food categories?
Intuitive eating requires unbounded plenitude which includes active and conscious choice. Therefore, your ‘right diet’ is the sum of all your conscious choices. If you are generally healthy, the more you deepen your proficiency with the practice of “actively choosing food” you will most likely find that you need no rules, no professional, scientific or traditional knowledge, and no restrictions that deny you active choice within everything that is on offer.
Intuitive eating, like every lifestyle choice (related or unrelated to nutrition) is not for everyone, but is a state of mind that may benefit many who have not considered it, or even encountered it. If this road is of interest to you, the guiding principle should be: “against the background of good personal health and plenitude, my body knows what to ask for. If I listen, I can choose if and how to respond”.
This requires accepting the plenitude, and trusting the body. Following these two steps, accurate and fitting choices will multiply, naturally and effortlessly.
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