Tis the Season...to be Bewildered and Dispirited by the Overabundance of Nutrition and Exercise Info
Updated: Jan 3
Every New Year there is no shortage of communications about diet, exercise, nutrition. I will add one more article to the pile! But in all seriousness, I am already feeling overwhelmed by all the resolutions, challenges and Top 10s trying to catch my attention on social media and the news. I was happy to find this New York Times article that presents 10 popular nutrition topics each with a brief "abstract" on how to think about it. Have you ever wondered, is coconut oil good or bad? What's the FINAL answer?? And do we really need to drink eight cups of water per day? Really?? You have all probably been there. Someone, even people with advanced training repeat some nutrition "rules" as if they are set in stone as law. Yet, one thing that is certain is that scientific knowledge is always changing. Science is also subject to distortion and bias through the lens of publications, influencers, marketers, and even politicians.
But really. I'm not a nutritionist and I won't pretend I am. But I DO know how mindfulness has helped me a lot with nutrition, even a lot of the items on this top 10 list. Let's take coffee, Number 3 on the list, for example. Sometimes that buzz is just what I need to get that superhuman strength and concentration, but it can come with the downside of addiction and crashes. Mindfulness of eating entails pausing and listening to the signals of your body - including the ones that tell you that you're satiated or that a certain food is not good for you. In the case of daily coffee intake, it could be masking your ability to tell if you are truly tired and need rest. Instead of making it a habit, I have asked myself, how will this serve me right now? It may also help create an "escape" valve from an emotion. For example, I began to recognize, in Pre-COVID times, when I used coffee breaks as a way to escape a feeling of inadequacy, loneliness, nervousness or fearfulness.
Okay, so how about food boosting your brain? In the past six months, I have made a concerted effort to make my meals "plant forward." This means that the bulk of my meals are plant-based and particular emphasis is given to eating mostly fresh or cooked vegetables , then grains and lastly animal derived foods. Such practices are popular and I was wondering what little tweaks I could make to lose a little more weight, have better moods, less "destructive" thoughts and emotions, and create less harm in the ecosphere. Well it turned out that jumping on this trend was helpful and I know because of observation data on myself. Having strong mindfulness practice, and I include mindfully-practiced yoga, helps me sense the results of changes in my diet. Of course, I can supplement with physical data from photos, scales or just the fit of my pants. But I also ask myself the inner question, do I feel a change in mood, thoughts and emotions? Do I feel better about my ecological impact? The answer is YES and it does help to have a practice which allows me to tune into the subtle cues that indicate there are changes, a skill which I learn in yoga and mindfulness.
There are other ways my practice supports me in my nutrition and exercise journey - discernment. Clear thinking is essential when wading through the sea of information. Discernment helps me not get swept up and stand back objectively. Who is the source written by? What are their qualifications? What is their intent? How new is the information? Will it change in the future?
Another way my practice supports me is on the emotional level. Of course, grit, concentration and dedication are all important for reaching my goals, but the entire range of emotions and behaviours can also impact our goals. In mindfulness, we learn to pay acute attention to physiological and psychological cues of emotions, so we can anticipate them and take constructive responses. For example, I noticed when I was running to coffee or snack breaks at work as an escape. Having the skill of mindfulness of emotions helps with the inevitable encounter with emotions that could derail our health journey: frustration, sadness, fear, etc. We all have these emotions and mindfulness also gives us tools to work with, including metta (kindness) and karuna (compassion). These give us vital intrinsic self-help tools that help us be okay with the results, no matter what they are.