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When people find out that I am a dietitian I am often asked if there are some foods that I refuse to eat. Foods that are so bad for you that I would never let them touch my lips. Like all people, there are some foods that I prefer and others that I would rather not eat. However, if I really think about it, there is no single food that I would never eat under any circumstance.
In my opinion, labelling foods as ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’ can contribute to the formation of a bad relationship with food. I think that foods should instead be labelled as ‘foods’ and ‘better foods’. Most of the time we should eat ‘better foods’ (whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, fish and dairy products). However, I don’t think that we should vow to never eat a meat pie again just because it isn’t as nutritious as a chicken breast.
Food plays a cultural role as well as a nourishing role. You should not feel guilty about occasionally eating less nourishing foods that feed our cultural needs.
In Australia, the meat pie is a national icon, and therefore it should be enjoyed on occasion when celebrating Australia Day or on long road trips. On such occasions, I hope that you feel 100% guilt-free while you enjoy your meat pie.
If my friend makes a cake for a special occasion and offers a slice to me, I will try it and give him/her my compliments. It doesn’t have to be a ‘healthy cake’, just an ordinary cake made with love.
If you demonise less nourishing foods and vow to never eat them again I can see one of two things happening:
- Outcome 1: Your “super healthy” lifestyle cannot be sustained for all eternity, you eventually cave in and eat that meat pie, you then feel guilty for eating the meat pie and binge eat more food. Consequently, you feel disgusted with yourself which then lowers your self-esteem.
- Outcome 2: You become obsessed with living your “super healthy” lifestyle which causes you to isolate yourself from others and eventually avoid social gatherings which don’t cater to your limited diet.
Now that you are no longer demonising certain foods, how can you ensure that you still eat nourishing foods most of the time? How can you make a healthy lifestyle so normal to you that it doesn’t feel like a chore?
Do you remember ever waking up and not feeling like going for a 5km run outside in the cold? Well, that is me, every single day. What I then do is focus on how I feel while I run (it isn’t that bad, I actually enjoy the fresh air). How does a 5km morning run make me feel for the rest of the day (it makes me feel healthier, energised, productive and boosts my confidence)? How will I feel for the rest of the day if I don’t go for that run (I’ll feel bloated, lethargic, and not my best)? So I decide that I would rather go for a run because it isn’t that bad and I don’t want to feel like rubbish for the rest of the day. Each day I go through this thought process for every decision. When I have a craving for ice-cream I think about how it will make me feel after I eat that ice-cream (not satisfied, still wanting more sweet foods, gross, not feeling my best). Then I think about what my body really needs (e.g. sleep, water, shower, fresh air, nourishing food) and how I’ll feel if I deal with my real need properly. I know that I’ll feel my best and that I’ll be proud of myself for listening to my body.
When deciding whether to make a healthier choice, ask yourself how your decision will affect your mood for the rest of the day. Learn to LOVE the healthy choice because it makes you feel AWESOME, not because it is the right thing to do.
So rather than focusing on losing a certain amount of weight or following rigid diet/exercise plans, remember to ENJOY eating healthily when you are hungry (and stopping when you are full), get enough sleep and do exercise for fun. This strategy is more sustainable and ensures that your efforts to be healthy are not making you miserable or worn out.