Guest blog: Meredith Whitely, Food at Heart – Learning to love real food, one bite at a time…
I’d followed her on social media for a while but I met the lovely Meredith (A.K.A the face behind Food at Heart), in person for the first time a few months ago at a yoga retreat hosted by Lauren Barber and we bonded over our love of food and chocolate. Of course, my personal “Can Eat” outlook on food and Meredith’s “Joy of Eating” perspective made it inevitable that we’d have to have a good natter and so we recently ended up having a really great chat about how more people can discover a love of “healthy” nutritious foods without feeling like eating what’s “good for them” is a punishment. This stemmed from conversations I’d been having with some of my nearest and dearest about misconceptions about nutritious foods and relates back to the article I wrote for the Health Bloggers Magazine on whether “healthy” needs a rebrand.
After our chat, Meredith kindly agreed to put down her thoughts in a guest post to share with you all. And, as you’ll discover, there was so much to say on the matter that we’ve made this into a two part-er.
I’m going to be totally honest with you; this is not one of those “I used to stuff my face with junk food and now I’m a convert to macrobiotics” type stories. Nope, the truth is I’ve kind of always been into vegetables. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian, but I eat lots of vegetables, pulses and grains, with a bit of seafood from time to time. And it’s because I genuinely enjoy this type of food and it makes me feel really good.
Yes, I’m an all out card carrying fruit and veggie lover. And do you want to know why?
Learning to taste
I’m fortunate enough to have grown up eating beautiful Aussie produce, cooked to perfection by my mum. I knew from an early age that vegetables and whole foods are supposed to taste good. I don’t have nightmares of soggy sulphurous broccoli or grey over-cooked peas. Okay, there were a few things I loved less than others – like silverbeet spinach, which was a little bitter for my childhood taste buds so I used to try and hide it under leftover bones on my plate. But vegetables and fruit, and what I call ‘real food’, were the main component of our family diet.
Since that time I’ve cooked (and tasted) A LOT, so have developed an instinctive sense for how flavours, aromas, textures and colours work together. I’ve grown the tasting skills and experience which mean that I genuinely love eating whole foods.
In the interests of balance, I should say that alongside vegetables, one of my other favourite things to eat is good quality dark chocolate. Both have taught and developed my palate – and continue to as I explore, taste and enjoy the food I eat.
However you don’t need to abandon all hope if this wasn’t your upbringing. I’m only sharing this to explain that my mouth and brain got used to this way of eating over time – and you can too! Our brains are actually pretty adaptable, and we can train them to learn and discover new experiences and pleasures. And this is what eating well and eating healthily should be: a pleasure.
The real pleasure of real food
I always feel a bit sad when I see restrictive ‘juice cleanses’ and ‘detox’ regimes that imply healthy eating needs to be a punishment. Or something only done in short bursts before you revert back to ‘normal’ (i.e. not so great) foods. There is maybe a bit of a mindshift needed around what healthy eating means as a starting point.
The truth is, eating nourishing food can be delicious, but it does take a bit of practise. It also helps a lot if you can get a few basic cooking skills under your belt to support you. However, eating and cooking well doesn’t necessarily need to be complicated or involve expensive food.
Sometimes the simplest food is the tastiest, so don’t be concerned if you don’t currently cook a lot. For example, I’ve just bought some incredible cherry tomatoes grown in the summer warmth and they are bursting all over with juicy flavour. These little tomatoes chopped up, with some garlic, red onion, basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, pepper and sea salt, and casually scattered on beautiful crunchy sourdough are the makings of a beautiful summer starter – with no cooking involved!
It might take a few tries and a bit of experimentation to find a handful ingredients or simple dishes like this that you really enjoy. And then these few things will grow to a more few things. And then more. And you get the idea…
Perfectionism is the enemy of balance
Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You don’t have to be a ‘pie and chips from the van on the street corner’ person or raw organic yogi,; there’s an in-between. Though I must warn you, you may find the more you taste and eat unprocessed food, the more you may find that some of the things you were eating before don’t taste so good. Or perhaps they still taste good, but you just don’t fancy eating them quite so often.
A very good friend of mine is a great example. Until her mid-thirties she was a big meat lover and a big sugar lover. She decided to experiment with cutting her sugar consumption down to see how she would feel. As it turned out, within quite a short time, she was feeling a lot better. But what surprised her most was that all the sweet food she had previously loved started tasting SO sweet (which is down to the fact that eating lots of very sweet or very salty food deadens our palate to it).
Intrigued by this, and already feeling pretty good, she decided to also cut down her meat consumption and started eating only vegan food during the day time in the week (though please note, this wasn’t processed vegan food). Gradually, her meat-free meals slipped into the occasional evening and she now eats lots of veggie driven dishes at night time. And loves them. She still eats meat, but nowhere near as much as before, and she really savours meat when she does eat it.
This all happened over the space of a couple of years – and if you’d told her that this was going to be the outcome at the beginning of her journey, I suspect she would have laughed at you. Very hard. This is just one example of how your tastes can change and that doing this doesn’t mean saying goodbye to all the food you love forever.
Thanks so much for sharing your perspective Meredith, I’m sure my readers have found your approach refreshing – I can’t wait to have you back on the blog next week to share your tips for getting started with exploring tastes! In the meantime, if you want to check out more of the foods that Meredith is joyfully eating, go check out her wonderful Instagram account (be warned – do it when you’re hungry at your own risk 😉 ).