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I would like to demystify some confusion around the best way to assess food and to hopefully change the way many people look at food in general. Here goes…
To begin, some brief semantics: for something to be called food, it has to contain calories that we can burn for energy. Calories are the “gas in the car” and come in the form of protein, fat, and carbohydrate. In nature, these calories come ‘packaged’ with other nutrients, namely vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants (plus water and fiber) that help your ‘machine’ run efficiently and with minimal wear and tear—the motor oil in the car. However, in the modern world, humans have invented foods (refined/processed foods white sugar, refined white flour, oils, non-wild animals etc.) that, while technically foods, come packaged with very little besides the calories—in other words, mostly gas, and very little motor oil. I call these invented foods ‘light box’ foods since, for example, the ‘box’ of calories of a Big Mac doesn’t contain much inside of it by way of the stuff that helps our bodies maintain a high level of health.
Food is just one of the things that affects our health and happiness, but plays a significant role in both. When my work with clients touches into the food realm, I help them, via small steps over time, to transition to heavier box foods—foods that are even closer to their natural state than the foods they’re currently consuming most of the time. This is the point at which my clients and podcast listeners find themselves thinking about food in a very different way, and here’s what I mean…
The heavier box the food, the more space that food takes up for the same amount of calories. A tablespoon of olive oil (an extremely light box food) yields a huge amount of calories compared to a tablespoon of lettuce. While I am staunchly against calorie counting, I do believe judging food by calories is a more effective way to assess food than by the space it takes up on the plate. In other words, someone sitting in front of a big frickin’ salad is most likely consuming a fraction of the calories compared to someone sitting next to them with a much smaller plate containing a Big Mac, large (nay, super sized) fries and a coke.
As you transition to heavier box foods, you begin to pay more attention to eating enough than to eating too much. During the training for my 50 miler, when my caloric needs were increased, I continued my high intake of fruit and veggies, but added in a little additional nuts and seeds (heavy boxes, but not as heavy as fruits/veggies) to make up the calories, simply because I didn’t have the time to eat a room full of lettuce.
Often I get the comment that I must have to be very careful about the food I eat, and yet I think about food less than pretty much everyone I know, precisely BECAUSE my ‘most of the time’ is in the heavy box realm. Those whose ‘most of the time’ are light box foods typically consume more calories per meal with less nutritional value. One of the many benefits of eating mostly heavy box is that you’re never hungry, and you don’t have to count, measure, or weigh a thing. It becomes less about the size of your meal, and more about abundance, self-care, and enjoyment. Food for thought.