This isn’t about how I or anyone else eats, because that doesn’t matter. This isn’t about how you should eat, because nobody knows that. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you and probably themselves. I only want to convince you that you should care about how and what you eat, that it’s worthy of your attention, and that if you can put in the effort you’ll find something that works for you and your goals.
Our lifestyle is the sum of all our habits. We want to see this through rose colored glasses, emphasizing the smaller healthier choices we make in a given day while forgetting the repetitive damaging choices that silently compound over decades. We forget that habits are no longer active choices, but responses we’ve conditioned into ourselves. Almost reflexes. We trade sleep, education, and connection for entertainment, real nourishment for mouthfeel and a buzz. We are steered by habit in almost every moment, often rationalizing what we do if we are lucky enough to notice it’s not what we really want. Our diet is one of our greatest reservoirs of potential for change. What, when, and how we eat, combined with our emotional, social, and cultural relationship with food isn’t just a factor in our lifestyle. It drives our lifestyle almost completely. Behavior and choices tied to food tell us so much about our behavior in other circumstances, we need only pay attention. Those hoping to leverage diet changes for self improvement need to hijack this grounding, central role of food in our daily lives. Rather than rules, restrictive fad diets, or meal services that do nothing to push us towards agency, we must employ heuristics, or simple processes that can help us craft more intentional habits.
Look for the choices you’re making automatically. Notice them without necessarily trying to change them.
Think about what sort of diet will support your goals. If you don’t know, ask someone who might. Be prepared for the answer “It depends.”
Change something small. Stay with the change for long enough to notice it’s effect.
An idea that came to us from Dr. Andy Galpin describes 3 main archetypes surrounding the way we eat; Cooks, Bakers, and Chefs.
A Cook is someone who is comfortable with the basics of preparing food for themselves. They have basic intuition around turning the heat up and down, stirring the pot, and adding spice to taste. It cannot be understated that in today's culinary environment, simply preparing your own food on a consistent basis is almost a revolutionary act in itself and one that helps us better avoid the minefield of convenience and "edible food like substances". In choosing what and when to eat, Cooks operate similarly; by feel. Being a Cook doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good one. It just means that this is your basic strategy around food.
A Baker is someone who understands and embraces the complexity of food preparation and manipulating diet. While cooking meat and vegetables is a discipline that relies mostly on heat and patience, baking is chemistry. Measurements are exact, and recipes are followed strictly even when baking something for the three hundredth time. Bakers as a termerapment thrive on control, and will be the type of people who succeed with weighing and measuring everything they eat and struggle when they can’t. The more you can tell a Baker about the WHY behind food preparation, nutrients, and fueling for activity, the more engaged and prepared they will be. For Cooks, this level of detail will often overwhelm and exhaust their ability to build good habits around food.
The final archetype is the Chef. These are people who can transition effortlessly between behaving as a Cook or a Baker. They have knowledge and ability to handle the minutiae of eating for a goal, but they have enough intuition around food that they don’t depend entirely on the weighing, measuring, and other variables to control. The Chef cooks by feel and this can only come from depth of experience.
Most will have an attitude around food that works best for them, resembling one of these three categories. This is not permanent and can change, but recognizing our temperament can help ensure we swim with the current rather than against it. It’s important to remember that just like movements, there are no good or bad foods. There is only context. And embracing the idea of eating for an objective (fat-loss, immediate performance vs. long term adaptation, Recovery, celebration) can be very useful. That said, learn to tell the basic difference between food, and edible food-like substances that are sold on the same shelves. There will some of the former that your body doesn’t tolerate well, and some of the latter that it does. Recognize that there are industries that depend on you choosing and behaving against your own interest. The labels and claims on food packaging are there to influence you, not inform you. Summed up, start paying more attention to what you eat, and look for patterns. The Cook, Baker, and Chef all do their work in the kitchen. If you're approaching your diet via the drive-thru, take the next step in examining why.