Yesterday I did an Instagram experiment. I asked people what their ten favorite foods/ingredients were. One, because I was just curious and two, because I wanted people to think about this.
For so many people today this is a super hard question. Between our culture telling us what we can and can't eat and the mixed messages we receive about some of our favorite foods, a lot of us have completely stopped eating for enjoyment. So when someone asks, "what're your favorite foods," it's hard to remember and come up with an answer.
If this is you, don't worry-- over time, as you make peace with foods, begin listening to your cravings along with your body's response to different foods, you'll be able to recognize those favorite foods in your diet, the ones that make you smile while you eat them and feel good afterwards.
Knowing your favorite foods matters for several reasons, but here are a few of my favorites (pun intended).
1. Establish a positive connection to your food
When we allow ourselves to enjoy food and better yet, realize which foods are our favorites, we cultivate a positive connection to food. For a lot of us, eating has become something to worry about or just get through, but the truth is we were meant to enjoy food --eating foods we like can help us get back to this. Also, when we establish a healthy love for certain foods, we come away from eating those foods more satisfied than when we eat foods we don't like. Satisfied eaters are a lot less likely to find themselves raiding the pantry or obsessing over the next meal one hour after eating.
2. increase nutrient absorption
An intriguing study done in 1977 looked at the nutrient absorption of different meals eaten by southeast asian women. When Thai women were fed a traditional Thai meal which they professed to enjoy, iron absorption was significantly higher compared to when Swedish women (who weren't used to the meal) were fed the same food. Additionally, the Swedish women absorbed more iron when they ate their own traditional diet. But in case, like me, you're thinking, "well, duh, the Thai women were used to consuming that food and were better adapted to digest it," the researchers then fed the Thai women the same Thai meal, but blended it all up so that it wasn't as appealing. Same foods--less enjoyable. The result was amazing---the Thai women absorbed 70% less iron from the unenjoyable homogenized meal than from the meal that they enjoyed.
Cultivating enjoyment through incorporating your favorite foods and creating a positive, relaxing eating environment has the ability to improve both digestion and satisfaction--two very important components of eating!
3. make grocery shopping & meal planning easier
From a very practical standpoint, when you are confident in what your favorite ingredients/foods are, it's a little simpler to stock them regularly. A well-stocked fridge and pantry put your mind at ease that yes, there will be food when I get home, I don't need to overeat now. Also, when you're confident with certain foods, it becomes easier to throw together different recipes using those foods. You can always add variety by trying one or two new ingredients per meal and making simple swaps, but your primary ingredients will likely stay close to what you like.
If you don't know what your favorite ingredients/foods are, take time over the next few weeks to think about it. Eat foods you think you like with a new lens. How does this food really taste? Do I enjoy it? How does it make me feel? Try foods you used to enjoy, but haven't allowed yourself to have in a while. Ask the same questions. Keep a list.
What if my Favorite Foods don't make me feel good?
This is a common concern. I hear people express fear that if they'd allow themselves to eat their favorite foods, they'd eat cookies and ice-cream all the time. But here's the kicker: if you truly allow yourself to enjoy those foods without guilt and pay attention to what amount feels good to your body (sounds simple, takes time) you'll likely find that you can eat those foods in moderation.
Another strategy that can help is to remake your favorite foods at home. For instance, let's say you really like Mcdonald's hotcakes (this used to be my favorite as a kid ;) but every time you eat them you have a stomach ache. Or let's say you have a diagnosed intolerance to gluten. Do yourself a favor and instead of cutting pancakes--a food you love-- completely out of your diet, find a recipe with oat flour or some other gluten free flour and make it. Try those pancakes--if they taste like dirt, try another recipe until you find one that you enjoy just as much as the original. I'm all for food swaps IF they come from a place of making your body feel better instead of fear and IF they actually taste good!
Honest confession here: I made my toddler some "healthier" cookies the other day to give him at breakfast and they were terrible, SO I'm going to try again. It kind of defeats the point to eat your favorite foods, if you don't enjoy them. Exhibit A: IMO frozen bananas are not nearly as good as real ice cream, so I'm not going to remake that one, I'm just going to let myself have ice cream in amounts that make me feel good and satisfied.
So what about you? What are your favorite foods? How do you enjoy them? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
Until next time, happy fueling and stay nourished :)