Healthy Choices with Health Coach Liza Baker: What’s the best way to eat?

When people find out that my husband is Chinese, they often exclaim, “Oh—then you must know where to find the best Chinese food in town!” Um, yeah. It’s at my house.

And when they learn that I’m a health coach, the common response is, “Oh—then you must know, what’s the best way to eat? Because I’ve been thinking of becoming [keto/paleo/vegetarian/vegan/vegeterrorist … fill in the latest hot eating style here], and I’d love to hear your advice.” Um, no. Can’t do that.

I can’t do that because, legally speaking, it’s beyond my scope of practice: health coaches can’t diagnose, treat, or prescribe. What I can do is help you to figure out what food and lifestyle choices are right for you, right now.

I emphasize right for you and right now because 1) there is no one right way to eat/live that works for everyone, and 2) our food and lifestyle requirements change over time.

Right for you

Consider two siblings—okay, I’m talking about myself and my brother. We’re 18 months apart, share the same gene pool, shared the same upbringing—same nature and nurture, in other words.

My brother is a committed vegan, and his favorite exercise is running—I mean crazy long distances. I’m an omnivore with vegetarian tendencies, and my favorite form of movement is walking and yoga. Same nature, same nurture, two very different paths once we reached adulthood.

And yet we’re both healthier in our 50s than we were in earlier decades.

That’s because of what Integrative Nutrition®—the form of health coaching I practice—calls bio-individuality: the principle that we are all unique individuals with different nutrition and lifestyle needs.

Bio-individuality is the primary reason that we can’t look outside ourselves for the answers to what will nourish us optimally: your mother, your BFF, your coworker, your guru, the flash-in-the-pan diet du jour (even when written about by an MD)—none of these have the. one. answer to the question, “What’s the best way to eat?”

How do you know you’re falling prey to external advice? It often comes wrapped in the word “should.”

Only you can figure out through trial and error what is the right way for you to eat, through experimentation and observation of your health as if your body is a laboratory.

Then you can move from saying, “I should eat this way” to “I choose to eat this way.”

Right now

If “should” is the trigger word that warns you that you’re looking outside yourself for advice, then “used to” is the expression that lets you know you’re turning to a former version of yourself.

“I used to eat this way and feel great—why am I draggin’ my wagon now?”

“I used to run 5 miles during my lunch hour—now I just want to nap.”

“I used to sleep 4 hours a night and be able to work just fine.”

When you grew from an infant into a toddler, your food and lifestyle changed. When you became a child, then an adolescent, then a young adult, they changed again. So why wouldn’t they keep changing as you reach full maturity, midlife, old age?

Chances are you’ve entered a new stage of life and need to go back to the lab to figure out what’s right for you, right now.

Sustainable shifts

Is that all I’ve got for you? ‘Cause it’s not very helpful, and it sounds like a lot of hard work.

That’s where another principle of Integrative Nutrition®—sustainable shifts—comes into play.

Since we’re heading into the new year and New Year’s resolutions are on people’s minds, it’s a good time to talk about why 80% of them fail by the second week of February. More often than not, we don’t set ourselves up for success—and we also tend to bite off a lot more than we can chew.

We think that we’re going to run a 10K, lose 30 pounds, find a new job, start a meditation practice—which are noble resolutions, only we don’t consider what all the small steps in between are going to look like. We want to go from zero to 100 in a matter of days, and when we can’t, a form of all-or-nothing thinking takes over, and we throw up our hands in disgust.

Why not think in terms of the smallest, most painless, sustainable shift you can make right now—and make that your resolution? That way, you’ll more easily accomplish it and you’ll be able to celebrate yourself rather than beat yourself up. Think of it as a form of “underpromise/overdeliver.”

  • If you’re a couch potato, you’re going to need to walk around the block without getting winded before you can walk for a mile, much less run a 10K. For the month of January, commit to walking around the block (or, brrr, walking in place for 10–15 minutes while you watch your favorite show).
  • If you live on fast food, for the month of January, swap out a salad (yes, you can have the dressing) for a burger 1–2 times each week.
  • If you are miserable in your job—or, thanks to Covid, unemployed—commit to revising your resume or simply scanning the job postings for 15 minutes every day.
  • If you want to start a meditation practice, commit to sitting still and breathing quietly for 5 minutes before starting your day.

Then, in February, kick it up a notch—just one small setting on the dial—and keep at it throughout the months that follow. And keep celebrating your wins, no matter how small!

But seriously, what is the best way to eat?

I know, I teased you with an answer to this question then took a big detour.

So if changing your food choices is one of your goals, there are a few guiding principles you’ll want to keep in mind.

  1. Start with whole, close-to-nature foods
  2. Cook them from scratch at home
  3. Eat them in moderation and with gratitude/mindfulness

And remember to move toward these principles in small, sustainable shifts. You can learn a lot more about food choices on the Simply: Health Coaching podcast—season 1, episodes 12–29 are all about this topic.

WLAA health columnist Liza Baker is a health coach, cookbook author, blogger, podcaster, nonprofit consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four spread across the globe. Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and empowerment, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice.