Good health is your personal golden-egg-laying goose. Without it, nothing much works. And though it may be some people’s chosen life pattern to live at what others perceive as suboptimal levels of health, most of us aspire to generally feel well.
As a woman in mid-life, I look back in wonder: How did my parents seem to have so much energy when they were my age?
The answer, I think, has to do with how they set their priorities and structured their lives. For them, life was a regular series of weekday work and weekends spent getting things done that they could not otherwise achieve during the week. They allowed themselves a fair amount of exercise, ranging from roller speed skating (Dad), jogging (Mom and sometimes Dad), biking (Dad) and moderately paced walking (Mom). They generally prepared meals at home six out of seven days, though if a week involved more work, they might order a pizza one night or pick up Church’s Fried Chicken another night. Always, we had breakfast together and always, supper. Mom packed lunches the night before school or work.
I don’t eat the way we did back then. One of my highest priorities is focusing on fresh, whole foods and things made from scratch. Although preparing them does not require much time, getting the food to the stage where it can be cooked or put together does—whether it’s rinsing and de-stemming Swiss chard, prepping lettuce for salads, cooking beets in advance, and chopping potatoes or slicing squash.
Unless I’m terribly harried, I enjoy this work. But I also step back and marvel at what goes into this particular organism’s (my) self-maintenance. Without self-maintenance, by which I mean taking care of all the things you need to take care of you, it’s hard to have good self-regulation—whether in your everyday interactions with people or just day-to-day physical well being.
Food makes a huge difference. Even with somewhat lower energy levels, I’d be far worse off if I ate much the same way I used to, through my late 20s.
The more you eat high-quality food—less processed junk with chemical additives—the more you begin to notice a difference in your attitude toward life and your tolerance of things you may not have tolerated before, because you were running on empty, “didn’t have it to give” and may have been operating on a hair trigger, in terms of your reactions to others.
My beloved noticed this sensation just yesterday, at the summer solstice. We had breakfast out, at a place we enjoy as much for its ambience early on a Sunday as for its food. The difference was, this time, he felt hungrier than usual, so we ordered what we normally have there (quiche for him, eggs for me, and fruit for both of us) and split a side of roasted potatoes along with a side of sausage for him. Toward the middle of the day, he began to feel “off” in his abdomen. I noticed he seemed down and felt somewhat sluggish. The only thing we could peg it to? The thin disks of sausage, which looked to be the sort of product delivered by a large food distributor, not local and not grass-fed.
This increased level of sensitivity is a helpful thing; it helps us to maintain mindfulness about what we eat. I noticed something similar a few months ago when I ate a cheese pizza after years of being off gluten grains. It tasted great, at first. But the day after felt worse than a college-days hangover.
This is not necessarily because of gluten; it could be the fortified flour used to make the white flour used in the pizza. Given what felt like brain fog after eating the pizza, you can bet I won’t be having anymore unless I make my own at home.
Increasing your physical sensitivity around food is a wonderful gauge. Eating healthful foods will change your palate. Used wisely, your increased sensitivity helps steer your food and drink choices. But you do have to use it—to act on your “gut sense” as well as knowledge about food.
At the same time your physical food sensitivity gets sharpened, your personal tolerances may also change. This is good to experience, too. Eating healthful food grounds you and helps you become better attuned to what you want and don’t want in your life, what you will and will not accept, in terms of others’ behavior and your mutual interactions. Probably because it connects you with your surroundings—even if you buy from local farmers and don’t grow it yourself—eating food grown without chemical sprays and artificial fertilizers boosts your self-awareness. You may be more tolerant of other people generally while also strengthening your personal boundaries and acting on those boundaries in ways that respect both yourself and other people.
A lot of people want to reach for herbs first to do what the often-long work of changing the diet entails. This is a mistake. Though it can be helpful to use certain herbs, or combinations of herbs, such as digestive bitters, in this process, herbs are not stand-ins for the daily intake of healthful food and they do not comport with the eating of junk.
So, protect your base. Eat foods whose tastes you enjoy. Make liberal use of culinary herbs (coriander, marjoram, basil, oregano, garlic, fennel, dill, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, turmeric, black pepper, and more). Have some plain water with a squeeze of lemon or a little apple cider vinegar. You can gradually make a shift—not go cold turkey—and eventually replace the things you once ate or drank regularly with new, better-for-you, regulars. You’ll feel better and appreciate life even more.