My older cousin Davey (OK he goes by “David” these days but I’ll always know him as Davey) posted something on Facebook the other day that made me literally lol: “I love organic food, or as my grandparents called it, food.”
We live in an interesting time. While having more on-hand, readily available choices in our foodstuffs than ever before, we also have exponentially more of a burden to seek and know what’s in our food, where it came from, and how its regular consumption might affect our health and bodies.
In the past year or two I’ve switched to mostly local, organic produce, stopped eating (most) white sugar, gave up meat, cut out most soy, started making almost everything from scratch and nixed almost all packaged products—from shampoo to fat burners to snack crackers. I’ve started spending a LOT more time researching my options and standing idly in the grocery store isle studying ingredient lists—all to try and get back to the wholesome, simple way of life our grandparents enjoyed.
I find this burden of informed choice frustrating and tiresome a lot of the time. I care about my health, about the environment, and about animals. But sometimes I just want to eat something I enjoy without investigating each of its scientific-sounding ingredients. Sometimes I don’t have $4 to spend on an organic pepper. Sometimes I just want some lard in my beans.
The thing is, you don’t have to adhere 100% to any one eating preference or healthy choice you may have (unless of course you’ve got an allergy or other intolerance). In fact to do so often seems to be counterproductive, encouraging eventual binges or intense cravings for whatever it is you’re denying yourself.
This is the downfall of many “diets” (I know I’ve fallen victim!) and the basic principle behind Skinny Genes, my friend Brittany’s nutrition and emotional wellness program, which says to just eat what you want—and choose to omit certain things because they make you feel bad, not because you want to drop pounds or because someone else said you should.
In the case of trying to buy all organic or all local all the time, being too strict with yourself often causes you to give up altogether (especially if your funds are low). And it can drive the people around you crazy. Being too adamant about eating only the healthiest foods, while no doubt admirable, totally alienates you from everyday people and experiences.
Being lenient and gentle with myself and my eating habits has totally changed the way I relate to food. For a long time, I wasn’t sure what to call this approach. Folks would ask “are you a vegetarian?” and I’d reply, “kind of, not really.” Pescatarian was a little closer, since I still eat seafood, but still not quite right. I’m kind of a locavore, but I won’t turn away blueberries on sale for $1 a carton, even if they are from Chile. I might have had some bacon with my breakfast this morning. I’m mostly this and a little bit of that. I’m flexible.
It was my good friend Janice who I first heard throw out the term “flexitarian.” She was talking about this very phenomenon, of striving to seek out healthy foods (and furthermore what “healthy” really means to you amidst all the fads and deceptive packaging), but not being too strict about eating just one way or another. “I like ‘flexitarian,’ she said, “because it doesn’t make me feel trapped into anything. I make good choices, but I also go with the flow.” Yes. It made so much sense. And since that day I, too, have adopted the label of “flexitarian.”
Being a flexitarian means slowly adapting the way you eat to fit yourself and your body, without wedging yourself into any of the many boxes that are out there. It means cultivating an awareness about food that goes beyond what tastes good and fills you up. It means staying informed, understanding the delicate state of our food supply, and at the same time remembering to relax, enjoy yourself, and have fun.
It all comes down to making the best choice for yourself, in each moment, and not worrying too much if you can’t stick to a strict regimen. Those are no fun anyway. A good friend of mine used to say “everything in moderation, including moderation.” As long as you feel good, physically and emotionally, and are happy with the choices you’re making, you shouldn’t have to worry so much about what to eat (or not eat).
That’s the way of the flexitarian.
Originally published for PK4 Media.