When you hear the recommendation to incorporate "balance" with food and nutrition what comes to mind? Maybe you picture a plate with some veggies, a starch and a protein, or maybe you visualize some ideal proportion of the major food groups throughout the day.
While those conceptions of balance are useful and true to a sense, there's much more to the concept of balance with nutrition than the principles of nutrition science alone. There's also the art of how to put these things into practice and how to ensure the way you eat is sustainable and realistic long term and that your nutrition is in balance for you.
Sure, the plate you pictured with a protein, starch and veggies on it is one form of balance — this is a form I like to call gentle nutrition. Gentle nutrition is applying the concepts of nutrition science in a way that isn't obsessive, rigid or overly rules-based.
While gentle nutrition is important, there's so much more to balance when we're talking about food. We're missing the point in the conversation about balance when all we're talking about is getting a balance of food groups.
So, let's talk about how this registered dietitian nutritionist likes to think about the concept of balance.
Balance definitely includes applying gentle knowledge of nutrition. Balance means allowing yourself to make food decisions that bring you closer to other people, such as eating that birthday cake with your kids — and having a great time doing it.
Balance means occasionally realizing that it's been far too long since you last ate a vegetable and planning meals centered around plenty of veggies to be able to feel your best. Balance means that you occasionally choose to eat what's convenient because there are only so many hours in the day. Balance with nutrition is the art of allowing each of these reasons for eating to have their time and place.
The trick here is: if you let any one reason for eating (i.e. nutrition knowledge, convenience, what sounds good, etc.) win out every time, your sense of balance and well-being will suffer.
When a person takes their nutrition knowledge to the extreme and makes every single food choice from a sense of good and bad foods, there are consequences. Which, by the way, isn't a food paradigm that's grounded in science — foods aren't simply good or bad, they're highly complex and difficult to apply all or nothing thinking to.
When a person makes every food decision out of a sense of what's convenient, they might not feel as great as if they were able to cook more at home. In order to really practice the principle of balance with nutrition, one must balance the ways they decide what to eat and allow different reasons to win out occasionally.
Healthy nutrition is definitely a science, but it's also a delicate art of balancing our reasons for eating and creating a healthy relationship with food.
Your job is to take the best care of yourself possible and that's a delicate balance between what sounds good, gentle nutrition, what's satisfying, what's convenient or doable with your schedule and financial means, and what's delicious. All of those reasons for eating deserve to be in balance with one another.
Don't get overly caught up in rules — use the principles of nutrition science to help guide you, but allow yourself to figure out the delicate art of balance with nutrition.