Most of us want to eat well. And we should. It is imperative for optimal brain and body function.
While it is obvious that certain foods are not great for us (yes, that Krispy Kreme is not designed to nourish your body), in this online age we are constantly bombarded with sometimes conflicting nutrition information as to what is best to eat.
Although well-intentioned, with so many different camps advocating for the specific diet that they believe is best for all, it can be confusing as to what is the right thing to do!
So is there one diet perfectly suited to everyone?
Many prescriptive diets can be very beneficial in certain circumstances. But these circumstances don’t always apply to everyone. While useful for some, for others, certain diets can be extreme and difficult to maintain long-term.
Instead, an inclusive focus on eating mostly real, whole food, in a balance that works for you, could be a good way for sustaining healthy and positive eating habits.
Finding your balance
Following a strict dietary regime and undoing years of eating habits is hard. Willpower alone is not sustainable and it can be exhausting counting and obsessing over every aspect of nutrient intake. Yet, finding your balance, and eating well, can be simpler and more intuitive.
You have likely heard about eating a “balanced diet”. This generally means having a variety of whole foods, covering the macro- and micronutrient spectrum, being (healthy) fats, (quality) protein, (wholefood) carbohydrates, fibre, water, vitamins and minerals.
To work out what is right for you, there are a handful of studied diets that share some commonalities that can be used as a general rule of thumb for eating well overall:
- Consume minimally processed foods, as close to the original source as possible, and foods made up of these ingredients
- Comprise mostly plant foods
- Choose the best quality animal products as possible (if consuming). Meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and fish, are all products of what they eat, live and breathe
Essentially, as opposed to overthinking and scrutinising specific nutrient content, one can simply focus on eating whole foods.
Also important is ensuring the food is tasty, enjoying a wide variety of food, and where possible, eating seasonally.
It is good to remember everyone is unique with different levels of tolerance, motivating factors, and approaches for a successful shift in diet and health habits. For example, with added sugars, some prefer to gradually reduce intake, while others are better off going cold turkey. Know that even small and gradual shifts toward eating more whole foods can make a difference to overall health.
So, when attempting to eat well – and maintaining a positive approach to food – be mindful and tune in to your body to work out what is right for you. Whether you feel bright and energetic, or a little foggy-brained and bloated, closely listen for your body and brain’s reaction to what you have consumed within 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 2 hours, or even 24 hours, after eating. Your body will be telling you if this food is working for you or not!
This will take time and practice, but you will soon discern what your body needs and can do without.
Be kind to yourself
As you begin to listen closely to your body’s needs and move along your journey toward healthier eating, it is important to be kind to yourself when you feel you have eaten something not so great.
For example, let’s say it is Gran’s birthday celebration and she whips out some cake for the occasion. You have been doing your best to keep intake of sugary stuff down, so when a serve comes your way, do you say have to say, “Um…no thanks”? Of course not!
If you want it, you can take your cake with thanks to your Gran, appreciating the effort she has made. Remember, some processed food or a little added sugar is okay (for most).
However, never feel bullied or pressured into eating something you do not want. It is also okay to politely decline.
But on this occasion, you have had the cake. You like it. And then you regret it. But feeling regret, or guilt, will get you nowhere.
We have an attitude that life and diets are black and white, good or bad, all or nothing. For most of us, it needn’t be so extreme.
Nutrition, health and the human psyche are complex, and food choice and enjoyment are heavily intertwined with our emotions. Your self-talk can influence the impact food has on your body. If you choose something sugary or junky, self-talk in the direction of guilt, regret or something as extreme as hate will not serve the greater goal for improved health.
Enjoy the cake (or whatever it is you have had) for what it is, consider it in the context of both the occasion and what you’ve eaten throughout the day, then move on and know you can make a better choice next time.
In the end, remember you are choosing to find your balance and to eat well most of the time in an effort to improve your health. This is a worthy act of kindness for yourself. Just be sure not to sabotage all your positive choices and intent by being hard on yourself when you occasionally have that something you mightn’t consider ideal.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)