What do you believe about food?
That more greens equals more health? That snacking is bad? That snacking is good? That gluten and dairy are ‘evil’ and should be avoided at all cost (or at least punishable by a few hours of self-flagellation after consumption)? But also that dairy is important for strong healthy bones and teeth? Do you believe you need to be eating more fat, or less? That an appropriate time for dinner is 6pm or 8pm?
Where do these beliefs come from?
How do we come to know what we allow into our subconscious and permit to drive thousands of decisions across the rest of our lifetimes?
When it comes to food, we seem more desperate than ever for knowledge, but as a culture we’ve built the most confusing syllabus possible. As a result, most of our food beliefs come to be in a haphazard, slapdash kind of way. Like seedlings that stick to your hems on a walk through a wooded path. They come from our families, from news headlines, and previously from the now widely attacked food pyramid.
But what we believe about food is actually one of the most important sets of beliefs we will ever construct.
These beliefs are critically important because they ultimately translate into exactly what we put in our bodies — and when, and how much, and with who — and thus become foundational to our health. We’re actually quite adept at acting on our beliefs. “Red meat will cause heart disease and cancer,” we were told. And so dutifully we cut back, reducing our per capita meat consumption by 30% between 1986 (when red meat consumption peaked) and 2014. “Dietary fat makes you fat,” we heard, and so whole milk consumption fell by 75% and low fat milk consumption jumped 300% between 1970-2014. Our beliefs have consequences for our actions and heavily influence what we choose to buy and eat.
The importance of our food beliefs compounds when you consider that not only will what we believe about food shape what we eat, but it will also impact how we metabolize it. This phenomenon is perhaps best exemplified by The Milkshake Study, run by researcher Alia Crum. Here’s the set up: subjects were offered one of two milkshakes: a “sensishake,” (“only 104 calories, zero fat, zero guilt”) or an “indulgence shake” (“620 calories of decadence. yum.”).
The catch? Both milkshakes were exactly the same. Same quantity, same ingredients, same calories. And yet, the subjects who drank the “indulgence shake” self-reported less hunger in subsequent hours and their levels of Ghrelin, the primary hormone associated with hunger, were significantly lower for hours longer than those who had the “sensishake.” Their bodies actually registered the shake as having more calories and being more satiating, signaling to the brain to stop seeking out food. There is a wonderful video about the study that I highly recommend.
What do you believe about food? When’s the last time you took stock of these beliefs? Which ones serve you, which ones don’t? Are there any that it’s time to let go of?
I (Astrid) spent years thinking about these questions and building my own set of food beliefs based on new research (like the milkshake study), ancient wisdom (like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine), and common sense (like the concept of Intuitive Eating). I’ve experimented with them in my own life and evaluated how each belief makes me behave and feel. I am excited to share many of these with you and hope that they spark a desire to try on some new beliefs of your own.
Some of my food beliefs:
- I enjoy eating
- I trust my body to tell me what it needs
- There are so many tasty, nourishing things to eat every day
- Food quality matters … a lot, and by prioritizing the quality of my food I can have a positive impact on my health and the enjoyability of the experience of eating food
- What I choose to eat massively impacts the environment and humanity
- Where and how I eat is important to me
- Different people need different foods at different times — I need different foods during different seasons of the year and seasons of life
- Nutrient deficiency can cause illness and nutrient replenishment is part of the solution
- I am entitled to decide what I believe about food based on my own research, reflection, and experiences
Some of the beliefs I realize I’ve held in the past that now feel limiting, untrue, and/or incongruous with my experiences that I’ve let go of:
- The number of calories I take in is a hugely meaningful number that will determine my weight and health
- Certain foods are unequivocally “bad for me”
- Controlling my food intake is the best way to control my figure/body
- I can control what I eat most effectively with “will power”
- A carrot is a carrot is a carrot (the “same” foods have the same amount of nutrition)
- Where and how I eat isn’t that important (e.g. eating in a car = eating while walking = eating while sitting)
- My food beliefs and practices can/should stay constant all year long
- Other health “experts” know better than I do what I should be eating
- It’s ok to berate myself about what I’m eating, even as I’m eating it
- Everyone will respond the same way to the same diet / lifestyle changes
Agni as a company has adopted a set of beliefs that are at the foundation of every food we make and offer to the world:
- The food I eat has an important and tangible impact on my short and long term health
- Foods are not inherently “bad for me” or “good for me” — what’s right for me may be different from others and may change with my age, my needs, and with the seasons
- How I feel about the food I’m eating changes the hormones and neurotransmitters my body releases and therefore how well my body digests it
- When, where, and how food is grown, harvested, transported, stored, and prepared is extremely important to the quality of the food and ultimately it’s impact on me and the planet.
- You may realize the answers to your personal healing may be more simple, convenient, affordable, and delicious than you expected.
If you’re curious to start examining your own beliefs and/or feeling ready to try on some new ones, a great place to start is with self-reflection. I’ve found answering these questions — especially in writing — is a powerful way to start the process:
- What did my parents believe about food? How did they teach or transmit these beliefs to me explicitly or implicitly? Which ones do I still believe?
- What have I learned from peers and/or the media about food?
- When is the time in my life I have felt most comfortable and content with my relationship to food and my body? What was true about the foods I was eating, but also about the times of day, mindset, and circumstances under which I ate?
- What elements about this time in your life are you curious about bringing into your present? What might that look like in practice?
Whatever this uncovers for you, remember to give it space and try to receive it without judgement. The beliefs you hold and the foods and conditions that make you thrive will very likely be unique to you — different than the ones that work for your mom/friend/your favorite Instagram personality. And that’s great.
Another great way to explore your own beliefs and create space for new ones is to read about other’s beliefs, how they arrived at those beliefs, and what about that set of beliefs has worked for them. You can do that by reading others’ stories about their relationship to food (we’ve compiled many via Humans of Agni!) or by reading longer form articles and books. A short list of a few books that have deeply impacted my beliefs about food:
Wherever you are on your food journey, may food (and all that surrounds it!) continues to bring you more and more joy and nourishment.