How can you eat well?
What a simple question with such a complicated answer.
Why is this question so complicated? Is it because everywhere you turn, there's a new diet that's better than all the other diets, and also completely different than all the other diets. It's because you've probably tried a diet or a few and have been successful... well, for a bit, then regained all you had worked so hard to lose. It's also because our morality seems to be tied up into our food choices and our weight. Since when does being a certain weight make you worthy or not worthy of, well anything?
It gets even more complicated because certain ways of eating work really well for my neighbor or for my sister, but not for me. What then?
Then we add in the whole concept of stress. Does your life make you overly stressed, does your diet add to your stress levels? If your diet stresses you out, you can plan your meals and eat healthy without dieting.
Long story short, there's no one way to eat well. It's going to look a bit different for everyone, and that's OK. It's OK because we have these amazing bodies to remind us when we need to fuel ourselves, when we're feeling satisfied, and when we need more of whatever nutrient, etc. Here are four quick tips to eat better and honor those awesome bodies of ours:
The more foods you like, the more opportunities you have to eat delicious food that is also nourishing. We can learn a lot from thinking about how kids develop their own eating behaviors and preferences. They learn these behaviors from trying different foods, watching their parents' examples and from commercials.
Child feeding experts encourage parents to continue to introduce new and old foods to their kids until they like them. Interesting concept, as adults we can and should do the same.
I think of my own self and this statement really hits home. As a teenager, I wasn't a difficult picky eater, but I found myself scooping aside a number of vegetables from my dinners. After multiple introductions to these certain vegetables, I've found them to be two of my favorite add-ins to nearly every dish. I even throw raw mushrooms into my lunches, which according to my co-workers, is weird.
But case in point, continuing to expose ourselves to certain foods can be majorly beneficial to eating (and liking) more foods and to eating a more balanced diet that provides the nutrients that allow our bodies to function well. Seems simple, but it's a concept we often forget in the nutrition world. It's not bad to encourage people to try new foods or try new ways of preparing foods.
In other words: eat mindfully. This may seem overly simplistic, but there's something powerful about making an effort to fully experience your food. It'll allow you to enjoy what's good and leave what's not. Enjoying your food is an important component of feeling satisfied with your eating. That means you're able to eat an amount to satisfy your hunger and fuel your body, plus you're able to enjoy your food, which is worth a lot on its own.
How often do you put off eating in order to save calories or just eat fewer calories in general? Then, to follow up with that question, how often do you find yourself ravenous and reaching for anything and everything in sight? We hear this as 'losing willpower' but it's really just our bodies' innate sense of preservation. When we're hungry, or our bodies temporarily think we're starving, our bodies compensate to make everything sound overwhelmingly amazing. It's to preserve our bodies from starvation. But that does the opposite that we want when we try to restrict.
Eat these foods regardless of "healthiness." Just like when you're really hungry, when you deprive yourself of foods that you enjoy, it's really easy to become obsessed with that food. We want what we can't have or don't allow ourselves to have.
When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want, all food becomes emotionally equivalent. That permission opens the door to make eating decisions that nourish our souls and bodies. And it makes life far more enjoyable.
Marci Evans, a Boston-based registered dietitian talks about food addiction and restriction in a fascinating podcast called Food Psych. Check it out here.
Eating is something we have to do daily, multiple times each day. Therefore, eating is something that should be enjoyed at least most of the time. If eating isn't enjoyable, it's time to rethink your strategy — you deserve better.