Focusing on the Nourish Facet can transform your life. Eating real, nutrient-dense food is easily one of the most effective ways to optimize your body shape, enjoy consistent energy, and age wonderfully. You know this.
But what if—despite this knowledge—you simply can’t stomach kale?
Or maybe it’s not kale. It could be shiitake mushrooms or blueberries or sweet potatoes. It’s any food that’s touted as being “super” and is filled with vitamins, minerals, and other magical phytonutrients, yet you just don’t like the taste, texture, or both. (Many of us feel this way about one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet: liver.)
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: There are no superfoods.
If you don’t like kale, I’m sure there’s another leafy green you actually do like (that’s chard in the picture, by the way). Blueberries aren’t the only foods that are high in polyphenols—you can indulge in other brightly colored produce and relax. If sweet potatoes are too orange-tasting for you (yes, people have told me this), there are other colors you might prefer, or you can enjoy another root vegetable. Why have rutabagas fallen out of favor? Let’s bring back rutabagas!
Because here’s the thing: Pleasure is a big part of nourishing yourself.
Functional medicine doctor, Chris Kresser, recently sent out an email about this very topic. Considering his Paleo approach to wellness, it also had a very provocative subject line: The Beer & Pizza Diet.
He described a patient he once had who was extremely sick, significantly underweight, weak, and having severe problems with his digestion. Nothing they tried helped and he was down to eating just a few foods. Then he simply quit coming.
Flash forward about six to nine months later when he returned looking like a different person—happier, energetic, and back to a good body size. What had happened?
Quite a bit, in fact. In his sickness, he had become isolated. He lost his girlfriend, as well as most of his friends, and his job. He believed he was going to die. Since he felt that way, he thought, “Why not go out with a bang? “
So, he decided he would go out to have beer and pizza at least a couple of nights a week with his friends and eat whatever he wanted on the other days of the week. He reached out to old friends and made contact. He volunteered at a local animal shelter (he had been studying to be a vet before he got sick).
~Dr. Chris Kresser
So as you can see, this wasn’t all about the food. Dr. Kresser’s patiient also a mindset-shift . He rediscovered old connections. He regained purpose.
Still, I believe that a big, overlooked part of wellness is the pleasure you can take in taking care of yourself. Food is an obvious way you can practice this.
Recent discoveries in the fields of neuroplasticity and psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrinology have revolutionized our understanding of how these factors can literally change the structure and function of our brains, which in turn affects gene expression in every cell of the body.
In [my patient’s] case, the joy, connection, and pleasure he got from reconnecting with friends, expanding his life, and eating foods that had positive associations for him were enough to transform his health and heal his body.
There’s a saying in Chinese medicine: “It’s better to eat the wrong food with the right attitude than the right food with the wrong attitude.”
~Dr. Chris Kresser
So am I giving you carte blanche to have artisanal pizza and cabernet for every meal—I mean, you do have your standards, right? Does this mean you can, or even should, eat whatever you want as long as you enjoy it?
Who do you think is writing this?
Let’s be real. Certain foods simply aren’t good for you, whether they’re overly processed, contain damaged and damaging substances, or trigger sensitivities or allergies. Keeping that it mind, there are two really helpful things you can do…
Bring pleasure back to your plate
Savor your meals
This is very basic advice yet it’s still often ignored (even by myself, I’ll admit). Your mom was right—slow down! Turn off the tv and pay attention. Be a gourmand. Appreciate how your food looks, its aroma, and the different textures in your mouth. Chew thoroughly. Set your fork down in between bites. How can you enjoy anything you eat If you rush through it?
Go ahead and be a snob
Indulge in the best you can, especially if it’s a treat. Think that burgers are bad for you? They don’t need to be—either make your own or find a place that serves grass-finished meats with organic toppings and gluten-free buns (I’m partial to Roam in the Bay Area). Craving chocolate? Try a Lily’s or Endangered Species bar—or find a local purveyor who uses high-quality ingredients to make super-decadent truffles. Your taste buds will thank you.
Learn to love the foods that love you back
Remove overly processed foods
Don’t skew your taste buds! Real food can taste bland if you’re used to the flavor intensifiers found in junk foods. By taking them off your plate—and out of your pantry—you’ll allow your palate time to reset. Depending on how long you’ve been eating them, this can take some time, but it will happen. I used to consider Diet Coke, Mrs. Field’s cookies, Smart Food popcorn, Cadbury Creme Eggs, and KFC to be indulgent treats. Now they’re punishment. They literally do not taste like food to me anymore. Blech.
Save foods you’re not crazy about for when you’re really hungry
This great tip has been proven to help you start to like previously undesirable foods. You have choices here: You can plan to serve kale (or whatever food you don’t like) with dinner and then wait until you’re ravenous before eating; or purposefully choose to order it at a time when you feel like even the menu is beginning to look edible. Plan to repeat this several times before you start to notice your palate shifting, but it’s well worth it.
When you begin to enjoy the foods that help you feel like the best version of you, you’ll have created a win-win situation. Taking pleasure in your meals is the immediate benefit. Loving how your body looks and feels may take more time, but it’s wonderful knowing that you’re making aging your ally. This is truly nourishing yourself—with or without the kale.