As a profession, Naturopathic Doctors think, and talk, a lot about food – omega 3 to 6 ratios, glycemic index and load, inflammatory foods, alkaline diets, healthy fats, paleo diets, complete proteins, are topics as common as the weather in Naturopathic circles. Diet counseling is just as individualized as any other aspect of Naturopathic Medicine, and there is no diet that “fits” everyone. In order to help someone make healthy changes to their diet, it is important to understand what factors have, and do, influence eating habits.
That brings me to a conversation I had with my wife during one of the beautiful days this past week. We grabbed a coffee and went for a walk downtown (downtown Chatham, so not a particularly long walk), and got to talking a little bit about food. Over the past year we have been travelling back and forth to Guyana to spend time with the twin 7-year-old boys that are now members of our family (although not quite back in Canada yet), and my wife had just returned from a 3-week visit at the orphanage.
The children have been raised in a Hindu orphanage, so none of the kids there eat meat products. Their diets consist of lots of fruits, beans, peas, chickpeas, okra, and rice. As expected they don’t have much input into what they get to eat (although when prompted most of the kids profess a love of macaroni and cheese). They generally eat most of what is put in front of them.
During our conversation my wife noted the variety of foods the kids at the orphanage eat, and how interesting their tastes are compared to our preferences as children. There are so many cultural, social, and economic influences. It seems so much simpler in nature. My wife had what I thought was a very accurate way of summing up the challenge around factors influencing food choices. She said,
“A mother bear shows her cubs what to eat to survive, and there is really no other influence on their diet. In nature its such a simple system.”
After joking about how Naturopathicky that sounded, it really got me to thinking more about the challenge of eating well. We all have so many important variables impacting our diets. Early in life our parents or caregivers play a pivotal role in all of our food choices and set the stage for our lifetime eating habits. The role family tradition plays in diet, whether its recipes handed down through generations or habits fostered by years of dietary repetition, is undoubtedly large, but may be shrinking. Powerful advertisements, convenience foods, even the term “engineered food”, only recently became norms in human history. A mother bear may have to deal with food availability at times, but she never has to worry about vending machines, advertising directed at youth, convenience foods, or foods engineered to become addictive.
With all of the complex advice out there, it is easy to loose sight of the big picture. Food is meant to be life sustaining, enjoyable, and health promoting. The first step to pursuing a more healthful diet is identifying what factors in your life are influencing your dietary choices. When making your own food choices, or choices for your family, think of yourself as mother bear. Choose foods that are nourishing, close to nature, and promote health. Next time you turn down a food you don’t like, or are craving your favorite snack, take some time to think about how you came to view those foods the way you do. A healthy change in how we relate to food is the first step in making better dietary choices, taking a preventative approach to wellness, and improving health.