In my pursuit of a simpler life, I decluttered my home from top to bottom. But with the satisfaction of living with less came the realization that my life was cluttered in other, less obvious ways.
I wrote in the conclusion of Your Simple Home Handbook that “a simple home is the doorway to a simpler life all around!” and sure enough, I found that I could live more intentionally if I simplified my approach to nearly every aspect of life.
One of these aspects was food, a subject I’m very fond of. As a closet Francophile, I’ve read a number of books on how the French “do” life, and because food is a passion for the French, all of these books include a chapter or two on eating. The French seem to approach many things in life with simplicity and elegance, and I found that I wholeheartedly agreed with their treatment of food.
As much as we Americans obsess over food, we have a cluttered food philosophy that could use a little French inspiration!
I think for American women, the biggest hurdle we have to overcome in order to eat simply is our diets.
Growing up, my mom didn’t diet, so I had no idea how precious a thing a diet is to most American women until I reached my mid-twenties. And then it struck me how women rotate through diets the way their children rotate through sports in a school year. There is always a new diet to try, and they spread like wildfire through word of mouth and now, especially, via the blogosphere.
Now, this isn’t to say that diets don’t serve a purpose or truly help people, because I do believe they can. At their best, diets address specific medical issues or food sensitives, give women confidence in their bodies, and boost quality of life.
The closest I’ve come to following a specific diet was when I began learning about real food six years ago and was introduced to the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and Nourishing Traditions, the cookbook written by WAPF’s founder. Both the WAPF website and Nourishing Traditions have been useful resources to me, and I agree with many of their principles.
I’ve found that the Nourishing Traditions diet (yes, I would define NT as a diet), can lead to tremendous amounts of overwhelm, rule-mongering, and judgement if you don’t adhere to the principles as strictly as others do. I’m sure these results were not the intention of the author, but they exist nonetheless, in this diet and probably every other.
Because at their worst, diets are overly restrictive, legalistic, and perpetuate a negative body image and a narrow view of food.
Americans are constantly on the lookout for an easier diet with a more obvious outcome, but diets almost always complicate the way we eat rather than simplify it. You have to learn the rules of each diet game–how many calories you can eat, what types, and when you can have them. This may work for a while, but diets are difficult to sustain for the long haul.
If you don’t follow your chosen program correctly, you’ll become either disillusioned or bored and flit to the next on-trend diet, hoping for better results.
That is why, after thinking about trying half a dozen different diets, I decided to try none.
I realised I was getting too caught up in the pressures and trends of today’s popular diets. I needed to take a few steps back and redefine what simplicity looks like for me when it comes to eating.
It makes my life simpler to bake with real flour, but to balance our grain intake with more vegetables at mealtimes.
It makes my life simpler to have an occasional pizza night, but to experiment with homemade crust and sauces.
The way we eat now does not follow a specific plan, and any rules are of our own making. Our approach could be loosely classified as “a real food diet,” simply because we avoid processed foods, but it’s not a capital “D” Diet in the sense that we follow a program or reject any specific whole foods.
These are the elements of our “French” approach to food:
Eat actual food.
Milk. Raspberries. Salmon. Walnuts. If it’s food, eat it! As much as possible, avoid the fake food that has sneaked into our grocery stores.
Enjoy food immensely.
Appreciate food with all your senses. Don’t treat it as mere fast fuel to get you from A to B. Play with the variety available to you, and respect food’s role in nourishing our bodies. Celebrate food with a good dinner party now and then, and savor it on ordinary days by sitting down at the table with cloth napkins and a lit candle and no TV until afterwards.
Cook from scratch (as much as possible).
The art of preparing a meal entails slowing down, understanding how ingredients work together, and appreciating the gift that food is.
Watch your language.
Don’t think of your food in terms of calories and grams of protein, and be cautious about referring to food as “bad” versus “good.” The way we talk about and treat food will likely become our children’s opinion of it, too. If we’re constantly dieting, demonizing particular foods, or making distinctions between “kid food” and “adult food,” our children will grow up with a complicated relationship to food and continue the patterns of pickiness and guilt-associated eating that we try so hard in adulthood to break.
Understand that food is just one ingredient of a healthy lifestyle.
Eat well, but don’t neglect adequate sleep, movement, social interaction, being outdoors, and all the other things that make up a vibrant life.
When you declutter your diet of rules and stipulations and every new trend, you’ll find room to breathe again; to enjoy simple, wholesome food simply prepared and gratefully relished.
Books for my fellow francophiles
To read more about the French approach to food and life, here are some fun books you might enjoy:
Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
Ooh La La!: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day by Jamie Cat Callan
A cookbook for homemakers who love to eat simply
A few years ago, I teamed up with two friends to write Real Food for the Real Homemaker. This cookbook is based on our simple, homespun approach to food. It includes over 75 classic, wholesome recipes. No complicated steps, no odd ingredients. You can check it out HERE.