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How to achieve a healthy nutrition? Which is the best diet? Which is the ideal food for the human being? By nature, what are we supposed to eat? What food does really deeply nourish us? What food does rather not feed us, or even harms us?
Each animal, in nature, knows instinctively what to eat, what to consider food. Animals surrounded by nature don’t make mistakes. They identify and recognize their true diet and when food is abundant, they feed their self with balance.
For us creatures who bartered natural life for evolution, choosing the most appropriate food is not an obvious thing at all.
For much of my life, I did not know how to feed myself.
In fact, for many years in my life, I ate without considering which food would make me feel good and which one would not. For years, even when I started to be in charge for my own nutrition, I ate what family, society, customs and traditions offered me. I didn’t see any other choice outside the borders of the known, the customary.
As it happens to many people, I began to feel uncomfortable and then really bad. As I tried to understand the causes of my discomfort, I began to feel, with increasing awareness, that my relationship with food was based on conventions, habits, emotional states, social customs. I felt that the act of feeding myself had to do with everything, except with my body and its needs. I felt that I didn’t self-educated myself in nutrition: I inherited and created some eating habits, and never questioned them. At that time, the idea that my nutrition could be based on an informed choice, dictated by my taste but also by genuine knowledge of what could make me feel good, began to make its way to me.
So, about fifteen years ago, I started to get interested in food, nutrition, and dietary patterns. In recent years, especially in the last nine, I red a lot, I studied and practiced many nutrition programs, from the most famous ones to the most revolutionary. The more I researched, the more information I found.
Never before, in fact, has the debate on food, healthy nutrition and diets been so broad and controversial.
Just by entering in a search engine a few keywords – health – nutrition – healthy nutrition – ideal diet, you find yourself overwhelmed by studies, texts, authoritative opinions, university researches, best seller books, programs, blogs, video channels. Never before, has there been as much information and never before has it been so difficult to navigate. For each authoritative study, there are hundreds who claim the opposite. For each nutrition luminary that swears his truth, there are scores that ensure the opposite. Health institutions provide guidelines denied by revolutionaries and excellent studies.
The information created by users adds material to the already vast literature on the subject: it is a feast for the eyes of food and nutrition blogs. The web is full of endless testimonies of people who were born again, saved by a certain type of nutritional model. Each of them is often contradicting a lot of others. Yet, they are still extremely fascinating because they are true stories and they create a much greater emotional involvement for the readers than cold clinical trials.
I spent many hours of my life reading books, studying, listening to gurus and browsing sites.
In the end, about 5 years ago, I found myself more educated, but still confused. I learned a lot, but I still didn’t know what I should eat. I treasured much valuable information, I understood very well what I should avoid (ie what it was unanimously considered poor nutrition or intoxicant food), but I still didn’t know how to feed myself every day.
I was frustrated and I wanted to understand. Three main meals? Or 6-7 small meals? Fasting for breakfast? Having an emperor breakfast? Do not eat before going to sleep? Drinking between meals: good or not? Do we have to eat meat to stay healthy? Is meat bad for us? Must we avoid dairy products? Do we need to fill up on animal proteins? Is it true that only a plant based nutrition ensures the eternal salvation? Do we have to take supplements? Do we have to eliminate all refined sugars? Do we have to eliminate grains and yeast? Do we have to avoid fat? Do we have to get our fill of omega 3?
Really, I didn’t know how to find my bearings.
So, I decided to make a revolutionary act (at least ita was for me): I decided to put away knowledge for the time being and I started to listen to my body.
As in books, at conferences, in universities, and in professional sites of nutrition I could not find an ultimate truth, one brighter than the others (each study on nutrition is damn convincing), I decided to look in the only place where I could also put the truth to the test: in my body.
I started my listening experiment, based on observation, connection and on a dialogue with my body and my organs. I started from scratch. I began a sort of weaning in adulthood, just by listening to the subtle minimal reactions of my body. It took some time and a lot of attention and sincerity, but I felt it was necessary for me to learn to really feed me, for the first time in my life, starting by myself.
I left aside preconceptions and desires, habits and opinions, fashions and alarmism and I explored my body and my reactions. I could do that at any time, because there was no situation in which, even for a few moments, I could not listen to myself.
Of course, I tried to be honest as much as possible: a deep listening to reactions and consequences to the ingested food, not to the desire to eat a tub of ice cream in the middle of the night.
Certainly, it is not easy to distinguish the authentic messages by the habits, the automatic reactions, the set times, the suggestions that come from the outside, the social experience of food. But everyone can do it.
I started to feel new sensations: I discovered that quality of the message that my body sends me when he’s really hungry, and what instead is the nuance of the message of satiety. I learned to distinguish the moods by the needs, habits by authentic desires. I found out that my body was trying to tell me many things regarding how he wanted to be fed, from a really long time.
I specifically found out that no theory, however good, can completely replace the act of listening to our body. I found out that it is true that we are not all the same, that, apart from some obvious undeniable things, everyone has their own needs and responds differently to food. I also discovered that we respond in different ways to the times of the day and to physical and intellectual efforts, to moods and to emotional events.
I found out that we must be guided by great experts, who can teach us a great deal, but the feedback that comes from our body is an essential element.
Integrating the most accurate knowledge, the cutting-edge theories and the advice of doctors and nutritionists with the act of listening to our body can really enhance the benefits of dietary re-education.
That’s because nutrition is, more than a science, an art: it needs a scientific basis, but when it is tailor-made, calibrated to the individual, is more effective and actionable. I met nutritionists with a holistic view of the human beings who think similarly. They use their science as an art, by adding to the palette of basic colors that is the set of their knowledge, other colors, and shades inspired by the needs of the person that they are helping.
As for my path, I discovered the food combinations that most suit me. I learned how to best support my digestion. I understood at what times of the day my body prefers to be fed and when it is only burdened if I keep eating. I learned how much food I really need to consume at each meal. I learned to recognize when I am hungry and thirsty and when I am satisfied or just tired.
Today I know which are the foods that are good for me. I have no claim to state that my nutrition model is ideal and I will not label it. It just meets my needs: it makes me feel full of strength and vital and balanced. It allows me to eat whatever I want with no restrictions (I believe that except in special cases when required by health conditions, no one should live on a diet: everyone, once they found out what’s good for them, can live by eating without restrictions, to satiety and with joy).
I found a nutritional way that supports me and makes me thrive. It is mine, and it is evolving. It changed and it will change again because I will change over the course of my life and my needs will change too.
Also, I feel that the way I feed myself is inseparable from a lifestyle that keeps mind, body and soul connected.
I listen to my body and its needs, I pay attention to my emotional needs and to the wishes of my soul.
I learned to feed my body with rest and silence, light and quiet, fresh air and natural sounds, when it needs these things. The body doesn’t live only on food and some other elements are vital. The body needs tactile inducements and sensory emotions. I try to always listen to my body. I try to give to it what it asks for, harmonizing its requests with my lifestyle and the needs of everyday life. It is not always possible, but I promise not to forget what it told me. I promise, if not immediately, to find a moment later to give it what it asked.
The body is amazing: it reacts very well when you listen, it proves to be a very empathetic partner and responds with joy and vitality. I experimented on me that the only unforgivable action is to not listen to the body: it means actually not listening to ourselves.
To those who may ask me for advice about food, I would answer: ask your doctor, ask a professional for help in your journey of nutritional re-education. Choose someone who is empathic, who is really available to you and who sees you in your entirety. Then study, search, choose your gurus and your models. Meanwhile, do something revolutionary: start to listen, to observe, to talk with your body and with your organs. Listen to what happens to your body when you eat. Get in listening, refines the internal senses. Seize every whisper, every little reaction. Learn to distinguish the signals, to discriminate between them. Learn the language that your body speaks and communicate all the information you acquire to the professionals who are helping you. Widen the dialogue, put on the table all the information: the authoritative one that comes from outside (doctor, nutritionist) and the one that comes from within. After all, you and only you are the beneficiaries and the recipients of your nutrition.
Photos of the stunning berries by Francesco Martines.
Photos of the plates by me.