Soul Food

This Christmas I'm feeding my soul.

About 95% of the time, I make decisions about what to eat based on health. I really believe (depending on what you eat) food is either medicine or poison. I think about this a lot and I try to live by that rule.

 The best fish tacos in Panama

The best fish tacos in Panama

 We even (finally) found some quality beer!

We even (finally) found some quality beer!

But there are times that food is as much medicine for my soul as it is for my body. In my book, Christmas is one of those times.

A few weeks ago I wrote a few tips about how to survive the holidays. My hope, though, is that you can go beyond surviving and start living.

 Jordan making (or eating) smores after hiking in Glacier National Park

Jordan making (or eating) smores after hiking in Glacier National Park

Now, when I say soul food, I don't mean junk food. Those are two different (and commonly confused) ways of eating. I have a philosophy that there are basically two reasons why we should eat: 1) to fuel our bodies and 2) to nourish our souls.

Unfortunately, I meet a lot of people who eat without accomplishing either one of those goals. This comes in forms as innocuous as "mindless" eating (munching on Skittles while watching a movie) or as destructive as an unhealthy coping mechanism ("I had a rough day at work so I'm going to eat this giant bowl of ice cream.")

So let me tell you about some of the ways I plan to fuel my soul this Christmas. I hope that you can, too.

Eat with Family

Or friends. Or co-workers. Or strangers at the neighborhood community meal.

 Friends Drew, Caitlin, (me), Lisa, and Tim making quesadillas over a campfire at our campsite next to the river in Arkansas

Friends Drew, Caitlin, (me), Lisa, and Tim making quesadillas over a campfire at our campsite next to the river in Arkansas

The experience of food is meant to be shared. You don't have to talk about food, cook food, or really think about food that much to understand this principle.

The idea is that it is better to eat a bowl of ramen noodles than it is to have a four-course dinner - as long as that ramen bowl is shared with friends around a campfire telling stories about the good ol' days.

Eat Crazy Stuff

I can't wait to eat my friend's homemade caramel corn. It's the most amazing homemade caramel corn ever. And this is something that I never, ever eat during most of the year - I mean, it's sugar on butter on carbs - what could be worse for my body? At Christmastime, though, this is my ultimate soul food.

 College friends Meredith, Becca, and Monica enjoying an ice cream treat!

College friends Meredith, Becca, and Monica enjoying an ice cream treat!

Here's where it's important to separate junk food from soul food.

Junk food is anything that isn't healthy for your body, but differs from soul food because it also fails to nourish your soul. So eat crazy-bad-for-your-body food once in a while. But when you do, pay attention to it long enough for it to nourish your soul.

Eat Good Stuff

I know I'm going out to eat a lot in this next week.  I usually limit going out to eat to only once per week, so going out multiple times per day is pretty rare.

  Jiaozi  - traditional Chinese dumplings

Jiaozi - traditional Chinese dumplings

I also know that going out so often will lend itself to a diet in the next week that is significantly lower in fiber, fruits, and veggies (see: lentils) than I'm used to. So you know what my plan is? At least a couple of times I'm going to find the healthiest thing on the menu and pick that.

Why? Because I'm worth it.

I really don't think my body deserves to be punished for going out to eat and enjoying the holidays, so I'm going to choose healthy food when I can. And - I guess this is how you can tell I'm a dietitian - an arugula salad tossed with roasted beets, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette for dinner is my idea of the perfect balance to a heavy lunch.

Follow it with a glass of a house Cabernet? Yes, please! Hello, Heaven.

Experience your Food

I don't even care if I sound crazy-hipster-nutritionist-foodie. I really mean this. Because I love food.

 Seattle Farmers' Market

Seattle Farmers' Market

We live in a land of plenty - sometimes to a fault. This is a world in which we can have fresh strawberries in December and Alaskan salmon in the Midwest. It's normal (rather than special) to have oranges for Christmas.

I am thankful for this. I am thankful for the abundance. But while I am thankful, I am often saddened. For in our abundance, we forget our blessings.

How amazing, how lucky am I to eat my arugula salad in the winter. To have a family to eat out with. To have more than a bowl of rice and a bowl of beans. To have more than an MRE in the field. I am so lucky to not only have enough calories to eat, but also to have so many choices about what I put into my body.

 Niece Lucy, licking whipped cream off the beater at Thanksgiving. Almost  nothing  is better than  real whipped cream .

Niece Lucy, licking whipped cream off the beater at Thanksgiving. Almost nothing is better than real whipped cream.

I hope you have time to ponder these thoughts this Christmas. I hope that you cherish your family, cherish your friends, and cherish your sugar cookies.

May you have a very blessed and happy holiday season.

With love, from Peas and Hoppiness.