Healthy Food Relationships
Happy New Year, blog readers! ‘Tis the time for New Year’s Resolutions, and with that comes a barrage of social media posts about fitness, health, and of course, food. No matter the time of year, I’ll always support people’s efforts to live happier and feel better. However, the topic of nutrition nags at me every time I see people posting about how they’re cranky because they’re cutting carbs, eating a low fat diet, or are unhappy with the quinoa salad on their plate.
In an effort to stop yet another person from developing an eating disorder, or beating themselves up for “falling off the wagon,” or spending every meal feeling like they’re a prisoner to their plate, I’m going to just cut through the bullshit, and give it to you straight: Stop dieting. Stop it. If you’re staring at a wilting salad, resigned to your new “healthy lifestyle,” then you’re not really living a healthy lifestyle at all, are you? If you’re committing to your health, then let’s stop the food problems before they start, and instead, develop some actual healthy habits. Here we go.
I’ll start this post by saying that I’m not a Registered Dietitian. But I AM a person who spent years battling an unhealthy relationship with food because I, like many people, started my fitness journey thinking that everything is all about calories in/calories out, low carb, blah blah blah. It took years, literally years, for me to undo all of the damage that mentality caused. I had to re-learn how to eat, how to recognize my hunger and fullness cues, and how to form a healthy relationship with food– I did this by finally embracing the idea of food as NOURISHMENT. That’s really what it is, at the end of the day. Would you believe me if I told you that you could be healthy, strong, happy, fit, not tied to a scale or a calorie calculator, and you don’t have to give up pizza, or ice cream, or whatever else it is that you love to eat? Man, that sounds like a sales pitch, but it is completely true. You can eat chocolate and still have a body-fat percentage in the athletic range. You don’t have to exist on 1,200 calories a day, or agonize over what you can’t eat. It’s not magic, and it’s not a secret. If you started 2016 thinking that it was time to make a change and get healthy, then here’s the solution… you ready?: Take care of yourself. That’s it. When you make a choice (and this really goes beyond food, this is for everything), ask yourself, “Am I taking care of myself right now? Is this behavior benefitting me?” If yes, proceed. If no, consider a different choice. And yes, sometimes taking care of yourself does involve eating a slice of pizza. Hold on, I’ll explain.
Your body needs macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and micronutrients (iron, vitamins, etc.). All food, whether that’s a cheeseburger or a veggie casserole, contains some combination of these things and will help keep you alive by fueling you. Thus, there are no good or bad foods, no foods that you necessarily should or shouldn’t eat (unless you have allergies), but some foods are more nutrient-dense than others. When you decide that certain foods are off limits, doesn’t that make you crave them more? It does for me. Kinda like when someone tells you you can’t do something… even if you didn’t want to do it before, now you kinda do, right? So, instead of telling yourself that you CAN’T have something, understand that you CAN have whatever you want. The key is to prioritize what it is that your body actually needs, while you consider what it is that you want.
For example, let’s say it’s squat day, and I need something in my system to perform the way I want to at the gym (Or if that’s not relatable, insert whatever other activity in there that describes your life– maybe your child wants you to play outside with them, or maybe you’re about to head out on a bike ride. Whatever, you get the idea). Let’s say I have the option of eating oatmeal, peanut butter toast, or a donut. All three choices will provide fuel for me… so what do I choose? In my case, peanut butter before a workout tends to make me sluggish, so mehh, maybe not that. Both the donut and the oatmeal will give me some quick carbs, which I need for energy– so which do I want? 9 times out of 10, I’m going to choose the oatmeal, because I don’t want the sugar crash that comes with the donut. But once in a while? Hell yes, I will enjoy the heck out of that donut (or two), if it’s truly what I want. Would I eat 5 donuts, or 5 bowls of oatmeal? No–not because I’m not allowed to, but because my body doesn’t need that much. That’s what I mean– there are no rules, only choices that you determine by asking yourself, “will this serve me?” Making food decisions based on how those foods make you feel, and what nutrients you need to perform certain tasks, will help you to understand the purpose of nutrition.
I do think that it’s important to understand the nutritional profile of what you’re putting into your body (i.e. reading food labels), and to have a general idea of how much you’re consuming. By that, I don’t mean counting calories, I mean being aware of what you’re eating, and making purposeful choices. I usually check in with myself and think, “ok, I ate such and such today… hmm, I didn’t really get enough veggies or protein in my system, so I’ll have a stir fry with some chicken for dinner.” And if there’s something I really, truly want (not just because it’s sitting there, but because I actually want it), like a piece of chocolate after dinner or something, I’ll work it in. There’s a difference between being obsessive and being mindful. You don’t need to eat anything that you don’t like –restrictive dieting is unsustainable, and it will only lead to MORE weight gain once you stop sustaining it. So, just think about fueling your body with what it needs, balancing that with what you like/want, and nix the negative, restrictive behaviors before they start.
It can take time to re-train yourself and to ignore all the media messages we get pummeled with each day. But in the end, no one knows your body better than you do. Listen to it, and treat it kindly.
I’m very passionate about this topic, and welcome any feedback you might have. Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section, I’d love to chat with you!
And as always, Remember to breathe.