How to have a happier relationship with food
- Written by Eric North aka “The Happiness Warrior”
As The Happiness Warrior, I see people wherever I go struggling with their relationship with food and nutrition. It never makes sense and most of it seems so pointless and meaningless. It’s my mission to help us be happier and it starts with understanding the cycle of life. What we eat matters and how we eat determines our health and happiness. If we are what we eat, then why do we have such difficult relationship with our food?
Over the years my relationship with my nutritional needs has become an essential component of my very being. Eating smart and at the right times has become embedded in my subconsciousness. My instinct is clear, and my intention is set. There’s always a plan for the day ahead and I adjust each day’s nutrition based on my physical and mental needs. To be fully functional all of my systems need to act as one. Gut health, smart food choices, and daily exercise are a prescription for both happiness and wellness. My meals sustain my needs with purpose.
Food can not only sustain us, but with the right timing and choices all of us can start being more in tune with our dietary needs. We can balance our desires with good decisions that help us age better, carry less body fat, feel better mentally, and age more gracefully. Nutrition is the opposite of diet with all of its negative connotations. Words have spirit and what we say is what we believe. There’s no create unhappiness with our nutritional choices when we learn to understand our real needs and desires. The time to start anew is always before us.
Every day I see people living in regret, not being honest with themselves, and rarely allowing themselves to be happy. They’re uncomfortable with how they look, how they feel, and are never easy on themselves. They forget that to be human is to make mistakes and they continue the cycle of harm and suffering. Some indulge and some punish themselves. They compare themselves to others much to the emotional distress and rarely see things how they really are. Perhaps they’ve never realized their inner beauty or unrevealed potential, but one thing many of them have in common is an unhappy relationship with food, nutrition, and self-esteem. Much to our unhappiness we use food for all the wrong reasons. We can stop this sabotage when we are honest with ourselves and realize our potential.
When I was very young, I was scrawny, shy, and somewhat unhealthy looking. I had very picky eaters for parents and those qualities were easily adapted and followed. We always ordered plain hamburgers at fast food restaurants and had to wait on the side with strange looks from the cooks. It was embarrassing but we were a family and we stuck together in our plain foods and bland diet!
Eventually as I grew older we expanded our range and began to eat for our health and vitality. My parents believed that fitness started at a young and we worked out together both at home and on vacations. I learned to care for my growing body, enhance my performance, and understand my physical and nutritional needs. We ran, played sports, biked, hiked, and swam. It was a good beginning to a lifetime of physical awareness for which I’m very grateful. I began my lifelong journey in learning the value of a fitness, living a healthy lifestyle, and the underlying role of nutrition.
HOW WE’RE CONTROLLED TO EAT
Every day we are blasted with messages for fat laden, over salted, sugary foods. They may make us feel good at first, but over time the damage to our metabolism can be fatal. Food is the fuel that we use to create our reality, why not make better choices, and change our lives?
For many years, I’ve had a phrase that I’ve lived by “there’s nothing good for us that comes from big corporations”. There may be exceptions but when we look around our entire existence is controlled by advertising and subliminal messages. Pizza in its elegant simplicity has been ruined by ranch dressing and mayonnaise has fouled our sushi. Marketing is the key to both our stomachs and emotions.
COMFORT FOOD IS NOT
Almost nothing feels better than a home cooked meal surrounded by the people we love. In these fast paced and rapidly changing times this is what we yearn for but are too often distracted and tend to neglect. Food is what brings us together, but it can also move us further apart.
Comfort food has its place in small amounts but using it to avoid feelings or emotions is a trap that we will soon regret. As humans we’re wired to look at food as a scarce resource and comfort food is always in abundance. It's a cycle of self-created feelings of remorse, guilt, and regret. Comfort food rarely has a happy ending!
THE EIGHTY PERCENT RULE
I believe that the healthiest diet comes when we stop seeing food as a scarcity that must be hoarded and rather as a set of choices that make us feel more empowered. Sadly, there are many out there who lack the resources for obtaining a healthy diet, but the reality is that too many of us consume more calories than we use. Eating more than we need is never the road to happiness and much of it is wasted.
We should always eat when we’re happy and experience joy in the flavors and variety of our foods. Be grateful for the abundance in our lives but eat no more than you need. I try to follow the “80/20” rule and stop eating when I feel eighty percent satiated and full. Nutrient rich foods are the key, they make us feel “full’ and they provide the fats, protein, amino acids, and vitamins that we need. Leftovers are never wasted in our home, and we consume everything that we gather and purchase during the week.
Note: One of the easiest ways to start getting a better body image is to cut out sugary and artificially sweetened beverages and lose those extra pounds. Juices and sodas are rarely worth the calories and leave us craving more. This is a sure way to lose weight, start slowly and wean yourself down if it's hard in the beginning. It can take up to three weeks for us to change our routines. Diet soda is just as harmful to our metabolism and gut bacteria.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
One of the easiest ways to take control of eating patterns and habits is to develop a consistent schedule for meals and snacks. The latest research continues to show that our metabolism works better when our bodies are in sync with the timing of our consumption. It slows as the day goes by and is almost shut down before bed. Most of our calories should be consumed before midday and evening meals can be portion controlled and turned off at least two or three hours before bed. This is how we create a happier dynamic for our lives when nutrition is balanced and scheduled with self-discipline.
Another tip that I’ve found which makes a huge difference in my life is to have set grocery shopping times. Every Sunday morning works for me and when something gets in the way, I’m always struggling to catch up on my meals for that week.
HAPPINESS WARRIOR RULES FOR EATING
My number one rule is to prepare my meals at home. Dining out is fun when I have a special purpose, but I’m always careful with my selection. I know that I’ll feel better when I go without rather than stuff my face with over processed and poorly prepared or presented food.
Grocery shopping is best done by ourselves and not from a service. It may be convenient but it’s wasteful and harms our focus and intention. Food is love and how we love the food we eat is how we learn to love our bodies and ourselves.
I devote half of my time in the store to the produce section and make time for a farmers’ market whenever possible. It’s always great to know the people that produce our food and let them know how important they are. Through these relationships I’ve learned much about how our food is made and the lives of the people that produce them. It makes my food taste better and helps to create a better connection between the land and my plate. Here are some of my essentials that keep my brain and body functioning at its best:
1. Cruciferous vegetables, my vice is organic broccoli which can cost twice as much but provides much more flavor. I can always substitute with other vegetables such as cauliflower, collard greens, and cabbage, but broccoli provides the most nutrition and health benefits. It’s even been proven to help the immune system and be Covid19 protective.
2. Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds. A small handful every other day is enough.
3. Seeds-Chia, Sunflower, and pumpkin are cycled through my meals every day.
4. Olive oil for everything to help the heart and keep my blood flowing.
5. Fresh pineapple is one of the most valuable foods that I eat every day. It helps alleviate inflammation and pain, aids digestion, and provides a very healthy and clean carb with a low glycemic index. It even helps speed recovery time post-surgery and following intense workouts.
6. Avocados are the perfect source of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber. One half a medium or large fruit is enough for one day.
7. An organic apple every day will definitely keep the doctor away. Whenever possible I try to buy organic to benefit my gut biome. The best time for an apple is any time, but for maximum results eat one an hour before bedtime. Healthy gut bacteria will grow, and it aids in digestion.
8. Fresh vegetables of any type are always going to provide health rewards. Bright colors and variety are the key to aiding our longevity.
This is just a sample, but the rule is simple: Nutrient dense foods will always help make us stronger and feel better about ourselves. Confidence and self-esteem will rise and help us create our best selves and live our best lives. We can change our relationship with food and turn our lives around. Be grateful if your life is abundant and think about sharing with others. Be happy with the choices you make and watch your life expand with wonder.