Food rules: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.


When you normally think about food and rules, your mind probably wanders to words like diet, restriction, intolerance, sensitivity or allergy – honestly, the list goes on. Among all that noise… that chaos… that seems to continuously buzz in our ear about what to eat, how to eat and when…somewhere, I believe, is the truth about food.

Michael Pollan, a New York Times best-selling author and food journalist, has written several books, detailing the evolution of food, our perception of it and how (ultimately) simple it can be.

I’ve followed Pollan for a while now, watching his PBS or Netflix documentaries over the years. However, it’s the first time I decided to purchase one of his books. I chose Food Rules: An eater’s manual because eating can be frustrating and feel complicated. In some ways, we have been conditioned to think of food this way - either through food marketing, culture, environment, family history and so on. Over the years, and even as I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, food interested me. It’s everywhere – social functions, home, work – you can’t escape it. Every day, you get up and eat. It’s a constant in everyone’s life and something we should be curious about. It’s a part of the ebb and flow of life -  something to be shared during celebrations and even funerals.

You are what you eat. It seeps into how we feel and how we relate to society.

Some people find food complex, while others don’t care. I’m somewhere in the middle – absolutely intrigued by its power. That’s why I started picking up books about food: food culture, food history, food psychology and science. Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual was on my list.

The book is a short read – 139 pages and 64 rules. It doesn’t overwhelm you with facts and thoughts about food. It’s a great introduction to what food is, what it isn’t and what we assume food can be, or has been. It doesn’t dive deep into the science, or make-up of food, but instead helps you avoid foods that have been created by food scientists to push large amounts of salt, sugar and fat into your diet.

If you’re looking for an introduction to food and indicators of how to identify good food - without the pressure of calling it - The Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers or JennyCraig – then I’d recommend picking up this short, informative read. Here's what I learned.

Don’t think too much.

This is sometimes easier said than done. But sometimes in a pinch, I find myself weighing the pros and cons of eating foods:  Should I eat here or there? Would that be too many carbs today? Is that enough vegetables? Will the dressing cancel out the health benefits of the food? What size can I get so that I don’t overeat? Honestly, overthinking food is a huge struggle of mine. This book helped me realize that overthinking is natural, but planning your meals can help. 

Rule #19 – If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.
— Michael Pollan

Eat What You Can Identify

Think fruits, vegetables, plants, nuts, seeds and protein (meat or plant-based). Most of the time, these foods are along the perimeter of grocery stores or at farmer’s markets. If you don’t have to read a nutrition facts label to identify the food, then you can probably eat it. 

Rule #2 – Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
— Michael Pollan

Pay Attention

How do you feel after you eat? Stuffed? Still hungry? If you’ve never paid attention to how you’re feeling as you’re eating, then you should start now. That’s how it all started for me when I found out I was gluten intolerant. I noticed certain foods made me feel sick and uneasy. Headaches followed and I had joint pain. You may not feel anything at all after you eat. If that’s the case, think about your physical appearance – has anything been a constant issue? Think acne, weight gain, weight loss, hives, etc. If none of this applies to you, then I’d say pay attention to substances you’re putting into your body. Be conscious of how food is raised, prepared and served. Look at the effects it has on others or the Earth. 

Rule #63 – Cook.
— Michael Pollan

All of this can help you no matter where you are on your food journey – losing weight, gaining weight, improving your relationship with food, creating a balanced diet, learning to cook, or getting an introduction to food marketing and the food industry. The book can spark other areas of interest when it comes to food, health, communication and wellness. You’ll find yourself laughing, or in awe of some of its simplicity, even pointing out things you took for granted - like crazy sayings from your grandmother. Think old adages: Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.

I’m learning how to improve my relationship with food not only for myself, but also to share its power and goodness with others. Eating is a necessity and you should have a positive experience every single time – whether it’s French fries or quinoa.