overall, we are pretty ridiculous about food rules, and not in a good way. We hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations, running and hiding from pain and ignoring our bodies when they try to communicate what they need.
Even in the medical community, nutrition is a small portion of what we are taught. Nutrition + Movement + self care and mental health management= Health , right?
while this is true, its so hard not to develop some sort of difficult relationship with food with all of the diets, fads, expectations, messages and pressure put on us. its not just targeted at young women anymore either. wedding diets, “baby” weight, fear of chronic disease, just to name a few. In the western world, we normalize chronic disease and throw pills at diseases as a solution. where is the middle ground? how do we create healthy long term habits that let us enjoy food, maintain a good relationship with it and not develop chronic diseases or risk factors? how do we process pain and the mental health issues that often lead to these perceptions and unhealthy relationships with food? what even is “moderation” (does anyone else hate that word?).
oh how I wish I had an answer for you.
Just because you feel comfortable or even happy with your weight, doesn’t mean your relationship with food is healthy. I will be the first to admit mine isn’t. I have a motility disorder in my small bowel and colon, where my digestion is slow as molasses and i am in a great deal of discomfort and pain often from simply eating. It would be a big fat lie if i told you i didn’t often have food fears, anxiety about eating, obsess over staying a certain number of pounds so I don’t need supplemental nutrition etc. This can look different on various days- sometimes ignoring my body’s “full” cues when I feel like I haven’t hit enough of a caloric cap, or weighing my options on a menu to fit what is less scary in terms of symptoms for me (sometimes obsessively). I get rigid about access to what I can eat, and unfortunately sometimes it does control my brain. While motility disorders are somewhat uncommon, this is my personal example of how unhealthy my relationship with food and eating is despite my background in health education, nursing, yoga, and as crazy endurance athlete.
Its so hard to decide what is right for us or what feels best. breaking habits are hard. we are creatures of habit and what we know. research and stats support that knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean much either. Millions of people that work in the healthcare and nutrition fields smoke, have chronic disease or struggle with eating disorders or nutrition. even with the education component, it doesn’t make the answer simple or easy to follow.
“keto”- or literally never eating a carb?
int. fasting- where we are shoveling food in for the 8 hours a day we are allowed to eat?
whole 30 for life? – literally 30 is in the name
macro counting- what would you ever do without my fitness pal / what if something is home made and god forbid you cant log it?
cutting out all sugar forever? good luck
None of these diets are sustainable, and often after one of these diets or “lifestyle changes” we come back and crave the foods we cut out more than ever and go overboard despite how well we felt once we cut them out. this also creates labels in our heads about food. “good” or “bad”. How absurd is that?
in a culture where meeting out for food and drink are a means socializing, we work 12 hour shifts on crazy hours, or travel for a living, its really difficult to find a balance in our bodies and a routine in the madness. we know the facts. we know whats labeled “healthy” or “unhealthy” and we know that the end goal is a happy life with longevity. But what about mental health? what if we are eating so “healthy” but we obsess, restrict ourselves, guilt ourselves or let our anxiety about food seep into other areas of our lives?
we are taught to look at “calories” which (don’t let me rant here) are a terrible basis for measuring nutrition. so what is the best thing to do, how can we find a new normal that we don’t feel guilty for.
This list is not exhaustive, but at some point in my navigating to find what works for me (which is always a work in progress) , I found these things to be the most monumental.
#1. start your day off with some fat. The American diet has us grabbing donuts, pop tarts, sugary cereals, sugar yogurt and granola for breakfast.
instead: opt for avocado, eggs, peanut butter in plain greek yogurt, or if in a rush, a bar that has a lot of good fats (kates bars, macrobars).
*this is not to say never have the damn donut! have it later in the day if you want it. yes, sugar is horrible for us and we know that. Its not realistic or sustainable to cut out all of the sugar or beat ourselves up when we eat it! that being said – stabilize your blood sugar first in the morning, get your colon and motility moving, nourish yourself with something that will fill your satiety.
#2. Ingredients are key. additives. food colors. organically sourced. corn syrup/sugar additives.
I love chocolate. and sweet things. I would be a sad sad person if i stopped eating anything sweet. that being said, if you can opt for a more natural version, SO MUCH better. you will feel better. i promise you. this doesn’t just go for sweet things, but even bars, snack foods, meats, mixes, anything packaged at all. so much of our diet is full of processed foods. stick to the outside aisles of the grocery store. find a version of your favorite meal or treat that is made with real food. ingredients you can pronounce.
… but also, don’t beat yourself up if you eat something packaged for connivence time to time, on a holiday, or even on a regular damn day if you feel like it. do your best but dont be perfect.
#3. listen to how your body feels and digests after eating something. don’t just label it good or bad
for example, if i eat ice cream or put cream in my coffee , I am out for the count for the day. I feel so awful. bloated, headache, so much gas and i’m miserable. I avoid these foods 98% of the time. sometimes I crave that blizzard or Jennis and I go for it, I feel what my soul is telling me I need.
Same goes for Kale or something extremely fibrous. I feel like crap. bloated, irritable, just a miserable human being. kale and broccoli just don’t agree with me. and thats okay! its not just junk food that makes us feel bad. rather than assigning a food as good or bad, listen to how your body responds to it instead.
#4. Emotional status.
what are you feeling? emotional eating is NORMAL. binge eating is not. craving food bad for you when youre sad should not be shamed. its something to monitor if you find yourself coping with food constantly but food has been a comfort for us for many years.
This seems obvious, but we are most dehydrated when we wake up in the morning. I like to start my day off with a big ole glass of room temp water with a little lemon if I have it on hand. i love my coffee, and thats a quick follow up for me, but water is so important!
#6. Don’t use the words “never” or “always”
By saying “I never eat dairy”, you will automatically feel badly about yourself when you eat it. If you have an allergy to something like celiac disease, your never really will be , a never.
However, If you feel like certain foods make you feel bad and try to avoid them, that makes complete sense. That being said, if you decide you miss the food and eat it one night, you will feel like crap in your body for eating it, and adding that extra mental component of breaking your diet rule, you will feel even worse. it’s okay to experiment again or try adding things back in!
#7. comparison is the thief of all joy, especially when its to ourselves
Constantly trying to keep ourselves looking the same or in an exact rigid day to day pattern is exhausting and unrealistic. We are dynamic beings that are constantly growing and changing physically and mentally. It’s okay to let go and trust that doing what makes you feel good day to day will overall reap significantly more benefits than molding yourself to a food routine or rigid diet. Again, the mental component is HUGE. Also with regard to your friends, people you don’t know on social media- if they dont give you a good feeling or align with your beliefs, don’t be afraid to change the subject or push unfollow. seriously, its so powerful.
#8. if you don’t know or want to explore changing an option, ask someone.
I don’t mean your mom or the wellness influencer on instagram. Go get blood work done, go see a provider or a registered dietician. if you are genuinely concerned something is wrong that warrants diet changes, go get your answers. You will have such better luck if you go to a source rather than trying to self navigate through a tough spot in your health. Food truly has the ability to heal your body, prevent disease and change your mood and mental health. Just make sure you are going about it in a healthy way!
this list is by no means exhaustive, and I truly feel like I could write an entire novel on food, “diets” , wellness trends and labels. I get so fired up on this topic, so i thought it was worth taking some time to write a little of it down. Feel free to reach out if you think of anything you want to debate or ask!