I had a realization yesterday that peanut butter is the perfect metaphor. Not peanut butter just sitting there in the jar, but the consumption of peanut butter by me. I stopped eating peanut butter and made the jump over to its much sweeter cousin almond butter about a year ago and except for the occasional Thai food or even more rare gluten free peanut butter cookie, I have avoided peanut butter. I stopped eating peanut butter once I learned that it was irradiated and also contained a harmful carcinogen, aflatoxins (which are found in other foods as well, and peanut butter contains less than just plain peanuts). Furthermore, almond butter contains a better fatty acid profile. It was a tough switch at first, but then I came to prefer the taste of almond butter and haven't looked back since.
Until that is, I bought a jar of Organic Maranatha Peanut Butter to use in my chile chocolate mole sauce. I figured since the amount in the recipe was significant enough that swapping would change the flavor but small enough that I wouldn't be taking in too many bits of the bad stuff. I mixed it in the recipe and decided to take a little taste of straight up peanut butter. I tasted it and at first nibble it tasted like Tahini to me, very not sweet. But I nibbled a bit more and suddenly my mouth was filled with the familiar taste sensation of a rich peanuty flavor. Yum and uh oh. I had told myself that a little bit (i.e. the recipe amount) of the "bad" stuff was fine, but as the exception rather than the rule. But suddenly, it was all I wanted. And this gave me a great deal of conflict. Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks?
You have to understand that while many of you have the luxury of not having anxiety about the nature of your food and its health benefits, I slipped and fell down a slippery slope from which, despite my best efforts I have not been able to clamor out of. It began when I went into my holistic natural chef program at Bauman College. I do not think that the process that went on in my brain is what happens to everyone when exposed to the type of information I was. We learned all about the types of foods we should eat and the things we should avoid. I was already a really healthy eater but learning about radiation in your peanuts, mercury in your fish, the dangers of processed food, phyto-estrogens in soy, chemicals (among other things) in your meat, the way homogenized milk permeates the digestive wall, etc profoundly affected me. When we first learned these things, I had not yet learned all the ways to incorporate and keep variety in the good healthy foods I was wanting to eat. For the first month and a half, I would go into a grocery store and wander around for 30 minutes, reading labels and putting things back on the shelf, paralyzed, not able to find anything I wanted to eat. It was not a nice way to feel, but eventually as I learned more I was able to navigate the space and still find plenty to eat without delving back into those foods that were not good for me/things I no longer accepted as food I would consume. Unfortunately, what remained was a warped sense of what healthy eating was and "being bad" was.
A few years ago, when I lived in London, despite loving a salad, I still pretty much ate whatever came my way. I had a healthy appetite and enjoyed a moderately healthier version of the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet). As my running increased, so did my bodies demands for pure clean healthy food. I got into cooking and I began to be much more discerning, I became a foodie. Over the course of three years, I found what worked for me and made me feel good. Once, I started my program, I went to the next level of this and incorporated new things, or moreso, eliminated more things. I felt an amazing boost in my energy, mental clarity, running and general health. I shed a bunch of weight. I found out I was gluten intolerant and later soy intolerant and that explained some of my digestive woes. At long last, I had a laundry list of what I would and wouldn't eat. I became "that" girl at restaurants who has to ask for special considerations and what is in every dish. I definitely didn't/don't mind it because I am giving my body good clean healthy fuel. The things I gave up, I didn't desire anymore. I had broken my addiction to them. I never looked at a cheeseburger or slice of pizza and said, oh I really want that. I had transitioned from not knowing what to do or eat (as in the beginning) to knowing exactly how to find something I could eat no matter where I went and not compromise my food values. I found it interesting though that instead of leveling off and just cruising along, the anxiety I felt those first days in the grocery, pushed harder and made me feel like, well if you feel this good eating this, then.... even though there was pretty much absolutely nothing in my diet that really could even be argued as a vice or indulgence, but my brain would not rest. Every time something tasted too good, my brain would try to chime in that I must (if something tasted so good) be eating something bad. Now, I know that is ridiculous. Despite having conflicting feeling, I also have strong logic. I am able to compare my list of food values and am able to pull myself away from that edge. But it is intensely frustrating. Have you ever felt conflicted over drinking a cup of coffee? Or eating a gluten free, vegan, alternative sweetener scone? Probably not. But that is what my brain does. I don't eat meat or dairy, soy, gluten, corn (when I can avoid it), refined sugar, processed foods, sweets or snacks, vegetable oils (canola), coffee or alcohol. I only recently started eating (again) cage-free organic hormone free eggs and wild line caught fish (and only a few times a week). Over December, I thought about it and determined that I could actually remember the last actually "bad" (and still not that bad) thing I had eaten during the year, some Peanut M&Ms after my WC100k. It is ridiculous that I was able to even determine that or know that. I am well aware this is not a normal thought process. The best way to be healthy (including having optimal digestive health) is to have positive thoughts and beliefs attached to the good foods you eat. You do your best to eat a healthy diet and don't beat yourself up when you slip up. I am trying to learn how to not beat myself up and abide by the prevailing thought that you don't have to be 100% pure and perfect all of the time. Not only do you not HAVE to be, its damn near impossible. You have to live your life and as I ponder a jar of peanut butter and feel the conflict welling up inside me, I have to remind myself that its peanut butter not a cigarette, its not even a double cheeseburger. And even those things in moderation aren't inherently bad, its the habit that is bad. It is when those things are the norm. My screwy mind fails to give me credit for the fact that even my deviations are healthier than 99% of what others eat.
I took another nibble of the peanut butter, fearing not some invisible toxin or other ill that may or may not exist in an otherwise perfect running food (fats are a runner absolute must have!), I realized that I had a lot to learn and that my foremost concern was relinquishing some control and letting go of a pursuit of perfection that could never be obtained. I realized with each bite that, look, I am still alive, still healthy, still ok and that the anxiety not the good/bad food was what was more damaging to my health than anything. The underlying issue is what needs to be discovered and addressed. It may not mean that the anxiety goes away immediately but it goes a long way in helping me get on the right track and break out of my funk. The healthy way I eat is not in danger of changing back to my old ways and consciously choosing on occasion to include a few things on the periphery of my list, is not only ok, but a meditation in breaking out of very negative thoughts and overcoming the neurotic mind.
What it comes down to in the end with all things, whether it is food, running, working, loving, living, existing is that you do what you can, you try your best and you let the rest of it go. Stewing, fretting and guilt over your failings ultimately serves no productive purpose and can only be of further detriment. So I for one will eat my peanut butter and sip my occasional almond milk latte with a clear heart and mind, having learned the peace I have found with those (and other) choices is the best possible thing in the world I could do for my health, spirit and being.