I'm sure you've heard it before, but have you ever given it a second thought, or considered how very true this common phrase is? You are what you eat, really! Let me tell you about how I came to realize this in my life, then we'll talk about the ways your diet can impact you, that most people haven't considered (hint: I won't be talking about your waistline, or the number on the scale).
When I was in middle school my younger sister, probably about 7-8 yrs old at the time, was diagnosed with ADHD. My mom is a teacher, and in her experience she had worked one-on-one with students who also had ADHD, most of these students were on prescription medication to treat the disorder. My mom was not a fan of the impact these drugs had on her students, they addressed the behaviors/symptoms but she felt as if they dulled her students personalities and emotions as well. So, when prescriptions were recommended for my sister, my parents decided to look into alternative means of helping her.
After doing some research they discovered "The Feingold Diet" a diet developed in the 1970's by Dr. Benjamin Feingold meant to alleviate the symptoms of hyperactivity. The diet focuses on eliminating certain food additives, such as artificial food dyes (I mentioned last week that these are labeled with a warning in other countries for this reason). My parents decided they would try it with her, because if something so simple could help her without having to put their daughter on a prescription, they were all for it. I wouldn't say it was that simple in the beginning, trying to tell a 3rd grader that she can't have some of her favorite things anymore wasn't always pleasant for my parents, and realizing how very many foods contained these additives was eye-opening, but it truly made a huge impact. I remember even I could tell if she had eaten something she wasn't supposed to; she would be off-the-wall-hyper, or as an older sister would say, annoying, and then I'd find out that she had a Twizzler earlier and it all made sense (Red40 had the biggest impact on her). Even now that she's an adult, when she eats something with a trigger-ingredient in it, she can feel how much more difficult it is to focus on things.
Going through this with my family opened my eyes to the real impact the food we eat can have on us. This is when I realized that what you eat really matters, that the story of your food doesn't end when you're done tasting it, that it can effect you long after that.
Shortly after I had made this realization, I had to start working on my eighth grade science fair project. Being the newly enlightened kid that I was, I did my project on the impact of food on the behavior of kindergarteners. My partner and I worked with a local kindergarten class, we asked the parents to note what their children had for breakfast each day, and then we took notes on their lunches, and observed their behavior. The conclusion of our study was that the children who had healthier foods in their day, were more focused and more well-behaved, just as I had hypothesized. Now, I'm sure there were some flaws, we were eighth graders after all, but this project was the start of my never-ending pursuit to understand food, diet, and its impacts on our body.
About 11 years later now, and I'm building my career around helping others with their diet and lifestyle, and I want to share my knowledge as far as it will reach!
How you are what you eat:
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” -- Ann Wigmore
You may have seen this one coming, but just in case it didn't occur to you while reading about my sister, the food you eat can and does effect the way that your brain functions. Your brain, guys! That's kind of important, right? The food that you eat can change the way that you think, the way that you behave and the way that you feel, all based on how certain foods (and things added to foods) impact your nervous system.
Yeah, seriously. You thought it was crazy that just one twizzler could drastically change my sister's whole day of behavior. How about your food actually altering your DNA? I went to the Boston Museum of Science for my birthday last year, and they had an awesome exhibit on the life cycle, which of course included nutrition. One of the things I learned there was that the food that you eat can permanently change, and/or damage your DNA, this DNA is then passed onto to your children, and their children, and their children, etc. It's suspected that this might be why the children of today are more prediposed to diabetes and obesity than generations of the past. Next time you think nutrition isn't important, just think about your unborn children.
Ever find yourself on a seemingly hopeless hunt for better face wash, or acne treatment, and seemingly nothing is working? Maybe next time take a look at what you put into your body, rather than what you put on it. Your diet can truly make or break your skincare routine. If you think something you're eating might be causing you breakouts, find out! Keep a food journal, and note the days when you skin is the worst, see if there's a certain food you're eating around those same days, then try taking it out for a few weeks. You may be pleasantly surprised. Oh! And your diet can also impact the signs of aging in your skin, if you don't want premature wrinkles, start thinking about what you eat. Your skin cells only have a lifespan of about three to four weeks, which means they are reproduced all the time. Your body can only create new cells using the fuel you provide it, so give it some quality fuel and you may find you have more beautiful skin than you ever thought possible (same goes for your hair and nails!).
Please tell me this one was obvious. What you eat is definitely going to impact the way that you process foods. Ever feel like you're just always bloated, gassy, or constipated? That's not something you just have to live with (even if it's common in your family) it's very likely that it's caused by something you're eating (that your family also eats). The food journal mentioned above, could help figure this out too, or if you know you eat a lot of junk...just start there. What you eat doesn't only impact the way your digestion feels, and functions, but it also impacts a super important part of your body, called gut flora, or gut bacteria. There are about ten times as many bacterial cells in your gut flora, than there are human cells in your entire body, and when this huge collection of bacteria gets out of balance, or is suffering it can impact us severely. These good bacteria aid in digestion, produce key nutrients, protect against toxins, and they play a big role in regulating the immune system, so you definitely want to keep them healthy with good foods.
Your Immune System:
Speaking of your immune system... The health of your gut flora is one big aspect to your immune health but the actual foods you eat and whether or not they contain certain vitamins and nutrients can have a serious impact on how often you get sick. If you don't feed your body a healthy balanced diet it won't be properly equipped to fight off the germs you are exposed to in your everyday life.
Tip: if, and when you do get sick...if you're prescribed an antibiotic take a probiotic supplement with it, antibiotics can wreak havoc on your gut bacteria.
Food as Medicine
If I'm being honest, I really only skimmed the surface here as to how much food affects your body and well-being but hopefully it drove home my point. Food is about so much more than how much you weigh, or how you look. With a nourishing diet you can prevent, and even cure a multitude of conditions. What you eat effects everything about you and your well-being. Every time you make a choice about what to eat, you're making a choice about how you feel, and how you function, so consider that.
“The responsibility to be healthy is in your hands—no one else is going to do it for you. So ask yourself: do you want to live in a body that allows you to do the things you want to do, a body that is full of health and capability, that you are proud to call your own? Because it’s your choice.” -- Cameron Diaz, The Body Book
Thank you so much for reading, feel free to share this article, and the spread the knowledge!