Information overload, and resolutions

Before I started studying to become a nutritionist, I had this food thing down. Sure, there were details here and there that I wanted to clarify, but basically, I knew the right way to eat.

After I started studying nutrition, I realized that I have no bloody idea. I have an awful lot more information about food and nutrients and ethics and locality and methodology, but when it comes to what’s actually going in my mouth, all that knowledge is actually kind of paralyzing.

I think it’s a common predicament for people who are interested in improving their health. Before they start on their journey toward better health, they are blissfully (or willfully) ignorant. They eat what they like. They eat what they’ve always eaten. Every once in a while, they might read something or hear something on the news about the latest and greatest superfood, but for the most part, their food philosophy stays cozily unexamined. I’ve met these people (they’re weird).

Once they start trying to change their eating, however, the floodgates open. All of a sudden, it’s not “Should I have a sandwich or a salad for lunch?”, it’s “Should I eat whole grains, or should I go paleo? Is sugar the devil, or will the food gods pardon this raw organic fair trade agave? What about goji berries? Should I eat this delicious salad my mother has prepared for me, even though the tomato is not organic and is probably grown by migrant worker babies who live in slums and is fertilized with the tears of endangered seals?”

Cue me in a corner, curled up in a ball singing show tunes about cookies.

Or just cue the cookies.

Since I’ve got kind of a complicated relationship with food, anxiety or stress surrounding food is likely to result in defaulting to autopilot (actually, any stress will do it, but stress about food is especially troublesome). In this case, autopilot may be defined as crap, and lots of it. And crap-land is where I’ve made my residence for the past year.

It’s embarrassing.

It’s the reason I’m having such a hard time getting excited about becoming a nutritionist. How can I be a nutritionist, when I am overweight, when I am tired, when I am willfully shoveling into my body exactly the kind of garbage that yo momma warned you not to be seen with?

The (hypothetical) good side to this predicament is that when it comes to bad eating habits, I am pretty much un-shockable. So all you ate this week was McDonalds and Christmas chocolates from the office kitchen? Okay, moving on. So the only green thing in your fridge is the unidentified contents of the tupperware container in the corner of the bottom shelf? Been there. Yesterday. Empathy I have in spades.

I get how hard it is to make changes, because it’s hard for me too.

Since it’s almost the new year, there have been lots of posts on my RSS about resolutions. I read this one by Penelope Trunk the other day, and it reminded me of what I know already–permanent change has to be simple, and it has to be easy. By easy, I don’t mean that it won’t involve a lot of work. I mean that when you think about the change that you’re proposing to yourself, your brain (and your body) should go “YES!”

I really like her suggestion of breaking resolutions down into their tiniest parts, and committing to only one of those parts. Her example was with going to the gym–instead of resolving to work out for an hour a day, commit to going to the gym and sitting in the parking lot for an hour a day. The task itself is incidental. What’s important is movement in the direction of the task, setting up the pieces, showing up. The more resistance, the tinier the commitment.

I did this exercise the other day with a bunch of habits that I’d like to change. What I found in every case was that my resistance had nothing to do with the task itself. For instance, I’d like to build a daily yoga practice, despite having done no yoga in months. When I started breaking this down into smaller pieces, I found that one of the reasons I say no to yoga every morning is that I’m not comfortable with the room that I’m supposed to be doing it in. Another reason is that I don’t like feeling rushed in the morning, and forcing myself to do yoga when I’m running late is stressful.

So instead of resolving to do yoga every morning, I’m resolving to make a list of room renovations and to take steps toward improving my sleep. I’m excited about these resolutions–I really want to do them, I have all the tools and information that I need to be successful in my efforts, and I am not overwhelmed by the thought of completing them. That means they’re good.

It’s kind of a step down the rabbit hole, I guess. I started with yoga and ended up with chalkboard paint. But I know I’m headed in the right direction because the paralysis is gone.

Back to food.

Yesterday, my blogroll of goodness and genius gave me a present in the form of this TED talk by Dr. Terry Wahls. Faced with rapidly accelerating symptoms of multiple sclerosis, she used her medical knowledge to create a nutritional regimen to address her body’s needs. She went from being immobile to, well, walking around a stage giving a TED talk in less than a year. Wow.

Besides the inspiration, what I gleaned from her talk was a brilliant suggestion: Eat three cups of dark greens, three cups of sulphurous vegetables, and three cups of colourful produce every day. So simple. So smart.

As soon as I heard her say this, something clicked in my head. Instead of arguing with myself about the minutiae of dietary theory, I should just eat some vegetables. And once I’ve eaten nine cups of vegetables, if I happen to want a cookie (or three), that. is. okay.

It reminded me of something that I learned in school–before you tell someone to take something out of their diet, put something in first. This makes so much sense.

So that’s my resolution. Not for the new year, but for now. I’m committing to the three cups of greens and the three cups of sulphurous vegetables every day, with some wiggle room for the coloured stuff till I get the hang of it.

There’s nothing to argue about, no grand debate. Dear self, just shut up and eat your broccoli.

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