Note: This post originally appeared on Medium.
You are most likely somewhat befuddled about what to eat.
A recent survey found that 80% of participants had “conflicting information about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. More than half of them said the conflicting information has them second-guessing the choices they make.”[i]
I believe it. Glancing at the diet and cookbooks on Amazon is dizzying. So if we are committed to optimizing our health, as well as enjoying our meals, how can we find our way through the jumble?
I started exploring this because I was at a low point, repeatedly choking through my working lunches.
Multiple screens distracted me and urgency to finish work in time to pick up my son kept me from tasting and properly swallowing. I was also making poor (crappy!) food choices.
My solution, after a lot of personal and secondary research, was to integrate moments of mindfulness into my consumption journey. I discovered that each bite is the end of a long journey of decisions (225 daily decisions to be exact.)[ii] Mindful planning, thoughtful shopping and attentive eating helped me choose food that better suited my health and taste preferences, and eat in a way that nourished rather than choked me.
DNA & Data: The Helpful Habit
During my research I found the company Habit that provides personalized nutrition recommendations based on bloodwork, DNA and lifestyle inputs. They also offer fresh meal delivery based on the results. Habit is aiming to take doubt out of food choice through personal, science-based recommendations.
I love data and was immediately interested. What food is best for *me* that was invisible to my mind and intuition? So I sent in my blood & saliva, received my personalized reco’s and had a phone chat with Habit CEO Neil Grimmer. Here are some of his comments and my perspective after getting my data.
NG: “Looking good in our jeans is in our genes. One size diet does not fit all. Habit empowers people to look inside themselves. It’s a different sense of commitment. It’s you at the end of the day.”
HS: Agree. ‘One size diet does not fit all’ really resonated with me. My husband desires, and digests, food very differently than I do (keep the onions away). So does my father (milk intolerance). And I don’t need a meal plan or kit designed for endurance athletes. So peeking into my biomarkers was a compelling proposition and fascinating experience.
Some of the data corroborated what my doctor has told me (I do not absorb vitamin D optimally). And other points were surprising, like I have the TNF rs1800629 risk variant that may predispose me to increased inflammation. Uh-oh.
I also learned that having a genetic makeup does not mean a specific outcome will take place. For example I have the FTO rs9939609 risk variant that may predispose me to weight gain. But that has never been an issue because my actions (healthy food & lots of exercise) override it.
Viewing these results, and having a coaching chat to understand everything, deepened my determination to make food choices that will best support my unique biology.
NG: “We know food is important, but we don’t know what is ‘right for me.’ Fad diets are confusing. How do we eat without doubt? Habit takes subjectivity out of the plan.”
HS: While food literature seems to agree on a few general guidelines of what is healthy (whole food, veggies, lots of water) outside of that it gets confusing. I was given personal Hero Foods, daily recommendations of nutrients and food group servings unique to my needs, and recommended ranges of carbs, fat and protein.
This guides my food selection, while still giving me choices within the range. I liked both the specificity and how they gave broader guidelines.
I do feel more confident that I have the guidance to make food choices that will best suit my body and its inner workings. Some of them I was already making, but the data gave me interesting new insights, helpful specifics and peace of mind about my selections.
NG: “Micro-decisions are hard. We have food decisions in our thought process starting from 6AM when we wake up. Habit helps free our mind.”
HS: Embracing Habit’s recommendations can indeed minimize food decisions. And taking their delivery service would do so even more. But even within this helpful paradigm we still bring ourselves to the table.
We still need to make decisions — which food to choose from the recommendations, which foods and drinks we want to allow outside of the recommendations (pizza, chocolate and truffle fries will always be in my diet, in moderation) and the quantity that we eat.
I loved having Habit’s guidelines for my meal planning, yet when it came to taking action I was still dealing with myself:
— Inner resistance: How can I possibly eat 10 servings of veggies per day? I would really prefer a cinnamon roll to this porridge. Ummm, still hungry, what’s for dessert?
— External pressure: “This is a family table and we need more meat.” “C’mon, help me finish it, I don’t want to waste it.”
— My process of eating: Sitting and chewing without screens vs. eating on the go while double-tasking.
So I found that consciously inserting moments of mindfulness throughout meal planning, preparing and eating was the missing ingredient.
Mindfulness helps me tune into my body and create space around my thoughts. It helps me notice impulses and emotions that may challenge my intentions. It allows me to have more ease around decisions and make more helpful choices.
We experience meals in our mind way before they reach our palate. So it only makes sense to learn about the interplay of our senses, brain and body and how to lean in to create outcomes we want.
Mindful attention got me interested in learning about my personalized data & DNA in the first place. Combining mindfulness with Habit’s results can be a recipe for creating optimally nourishing, unconfused meals.
Note: My personal exploration uncovered many subliminal influences we must contend with around our meals. We need presence of mind if we are to make healthy choices regarding food and make our experiences with the food we eat satisfyingly our own.
I wrote a book that shares my journey — my struggles and my questions, my discoveries, and the solution that worked for me, one based on ancient wisdom combined with modern data, and grounded in fun, practical ideas for how you can apply it within your active life.
Let’s face it: our lives don’t slow down just because we start choking or need to lose weight or want more zen during dinnertime. But as busy as we are, we can still make changes that allow us to start nourishing ourselves again, or maybe even for the first time.
Practicing mindfulness gives me a highly attuned awareness of what kind of and how much food my body desires. But since I can’t always decipher what my gall bladder is telling me and I am curious, I was very excited to find the company Habit, which provides science-based nutrition solutions based on “personal biology.”
I provided samples of my DNA (via saliva) and blood to their lab. In return, I got a biomarker report and personalized food guidance in an online report that analyzed my metabolism and nutritional needs. The report reinforced many choices I already make, and revealed some surprising new insights.
My hara was right in guiding me toward food like brown rice and salmon, my personalized suggestions for optimal carbs and protein. Surprisingly, they recommended more fat than I ever thought to eat, specifically increased monounsaturated fats. Luckily, I love avocados and already eat my fair share. I’ve also started incorporating chia seeds, one of my personal “hero foods,” into puddings and cookies. They recommended I increase my fiber and eat 10 (10!) servings of non-starchy veggies per day. Hero foods that can help me meet this goal include red cabbage and snap peas — some new items to add to my meal plans.
This new data complements my mindful approach. I am starting to integrate their suggestions into meal planning while continuing to include my fave foods, and in doing so I feel like I am optimizing the nourishment I give my body and the pleasure I allow my spirit.
When discussing my results with Habit’s head coach and nutritionist, Jae Berman, she summarized: “True mindfulness and data are both important. They are two parts to the story. Nothing can replace genuine mindful, intuitive eating. Data can be a great part of that.” Then she said what my heart was telling me: “Being tuned in through genuine mindfulness, that’s the holy grail.”
Mind to Mouth is available on Amazon and local bookstores.
[ii] Brian Wansink and Jeffery Sobal, “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook,” Abstract, Environment and Behavior, 39, no. 1 (January 2007): 106–123 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227344004_Mindless_Eating_The_200_Daily_Food_Decisions_We_Overlook.