It drives me crazy that the word diet is so loaded with baggage. “Diet” commonly means self-denial, crappy food, ridiculous promises of miracle results, crank science and a strict focus on losing weight. All of this totally misses the point: We eat so we can function every day, and that is totally compatible with enjoying our food. We are what we eat, and we need to consciously choose what we put in our bodies. Diet is about making healthy choices.
The benefits of eating a healthy diet are impressive. It’s not just about living longer. A good diet helps us feel rested, energetic, and focused on a daily basis. I know this from personal experience, and recent science is giving even more credence to this common-sense intuition.
Our gut contains a huge network of neurons, sometimes called the “2nd brain,” that helps monitor and regulate our physical health, from our stress levels to our emotional state. The intestines even contain more neurotransmitters, like serotonin, than the brain does. This explains why our digestion has such an impact on our broader mental and physical health.
It turns out that gut instinct is a real phenomenon with a scientific basis. Our digestive tract doesn’t just process food, it’s also the body’s basic monitoring system and a major center of intuition and mental health. For example, that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling is a real signal of nervous anticipation directly from the 2nd brain. Studies also show that high carbohydrate consumption is associated with depression and anxiety. I need only watch my children after a sugar binge to know this is true. First they bounce off the walls, then they have a physical and emotional crash.
A carb-heavy diet causes dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels which can then cause fatigue, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, poor concentration, forgetfulness, depression, and digestive disturbances. On the flip side, eating traditionally healthy foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has dramatically positive effects on our mood. I can personally attest to how much better I feel after 24 hours of healthy eating. So if you want to improve your daily health and productivity, there’s nothing better than eating well.
Avoiding junk food isn’t snobbish but merely good sense. Cutting sugary foods doesn’t cost a dime, nor does reducing portion sizes. I also get more enjoyment from eating a little more protein with my meal, instead of a sugary dessert. Healthy food doesn’t need to be expensive, but even if it were, would you really want to sacrifice your health to save a few bucks? Preparing healthy and tasty meals is neither expensive nor difficult once you learn how.
Everybody knows that we’re supposed to exercise. They’re right, and I cannot recommend daily exercise enough. But eating a healthy diet is the most important healthy choice because we choose our diet every day. While people often see exercise as a luxury to be sacrificed when they get too busy, daily meals are an accessible opportunity to be healthier.
I avoid making absolute rules because they’re brittle, and too much rigidity defeats the point. Eating healthy is about improving quality of life, so I treat junky foods like alcohol: enjoyable in moderation, but also dangerously intoxicating, addictive, and toxic in excess. For greater health and productivity, keep healthy eating in mind while letting common sense and moderation guide you. Remember, if your health were gone, you would probably do or pay almost anything to get it back.
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