Just like that, a new school year in full swing. The funny thing is, I’m not a part of it. Every August or September for basically my whole life I’d be cracking open new books, ready to take on the world of academia, but not this year. It’s a strange feeling.
As I look back on my time in college, I realized there were a few key things that shaped my perspective about nutrition and healthy eating. In the title, I say, “learned while studying nutrition” because many of these things were not stated out right. Some were implied and others are entirely my own inferences. Nonetheless, they are pillars of my food philosophy.
They may seem basic, but I still hope they will be helpful to you. Allowing myself to believe these things has helped shape my view of what healthy eating means. They gave me the courage to be gracious with myself when I didn’t eat a “healthy” meal.
So, let’s jump in!
1. There isn’t and never will be a diet that is perfect for every single human being.
I would so far as to say there is no need for diets at all!
Unless you have celiac disease, severe allergies, or another condition that requires a certain way of eating, restrictive diets are not necessary or even helpful. Research shows that diets do more harm than good. Sure, they may help you lose weight in the moment, but they create a mindset of limitation that often stretches beyond one’s relationship with food. People who follow restrictive diets bounce back and forth between achieving their goals and completely undoing them, sometimes dealing with debilitating disappointment. This yo-yoing tends to creep into other parts of our lives.
It is far easier to learn to eat intuitively.
Eating intuitively is about educating yourself. You need to know three things to be an intuitive eater: what nutrients your body needs, how much and how often your body needs them, and in which food the nutrients you need exist.
2. There is room for all foods. Praise the Lord and pass that chocolate cake!
Sure, I could live off well-constructed salads for the rest of my life, but do you think I’d be happy about it? Not really. Despite my seriously intense love for salads, if they were the only thing I could eat, I would get tired of them. I would have to tell myself no every time I saw tabbouleh, bean burgers, and ravioli. That would be absolute misery!
So, guess what? I’m not going to tell myself no. I’m not going to restrict myself to healthy thing and reject all other foods. To those treats and less healthy foods, I will say yes sometimes. I won’t say yes at every meal or every day, but I don’t have to tell myself no all the time either.
I spent a recent holiday weekend with my family. One night we ate nothing but pizza and nachos for dinner. Yep! It’s true. I’m not ashamed or hesitant to admit it because they aren’t forbidden foods. They aren’t totally off-limits for me and I would encourage you to think about them this way. When I eat well and make conscious, healthy choices 90% of the time, I DO NOT feel bad about enjoying food and reasonably indulging.
Reasonably is the key word here. It’s easy to get carried away with your favorite ice cream flavor or the most crinkly, crispy French fries. This is where you have to learn what your body needs and listen when it is telling you something isn’t right. Three scoops of ice cream may be too many if you end up with a headache every time you eat that much. Maybe that extra handful of fries gives you a stomach ache. That is your body trying to tell you something. Know your body and listen to it.
3. Even though recommendations are always changing, a few things that never change.
What’s in one day seems to be out the next. Recommendations change literally all the time, sometimes overnight, or at least it seems that way. This expert says one thing and another says the exact opposite. I know… *sigh* It’s confusing. The good news is that there are a few things that are and have always been recommended:
- More fruits
- More vegetables
- More whole grains
- More lean & plant proteins
I’ve mentioned this point before, and I really believe it makes all the difference. I’m not saying we should ignore the latest food and nutrition research. Not in the least. What I am suggesting is that these four statements have been in every set of dietary recommendations in some form for the past few decades. No joke!
If you are looking to eat better, these four points are a great place to start.
4. Small changes are better than huge flying leaps.
People often fail when they try to change everything at once. It’s just part of being imperfect human beings. Think about goals you have tried to achieve. Which ones worked out and which ones didn’t? What are some of the reasons you weren’t able to complete or sustain them?
Ok, I have two scenarios. You decide who will likely be most successful.
- Ava sets a goal to slowly increases her produce intake by 1 serving day and works up from there to meet her goal of 6 servings a day by week 7.
- Liam reaches his goal of 6 servings of produce a day immediately sustains it for a short while. By week 3, he finds it too challenging and gives up completely.
The answer may seem obvious.
Ava will likely be more successful than Liam in reaching her goal. Why? Because Ava is starting small. She is making manageable changes and sticking to them. She is taking small sustainable steps toward reaching her goal each day. She is not taking one gigantic leap, feeling like she made a mistake, and abandoning all hope of change, like Liam did. Maybe one day Liam will try to increase his produce intake again, but do you think the thought of failing will ever leave him? Unfortunately, probably not.
5. Nutrition does NOT, I repeat, does NOT have to be rocket science.
It seems like it is must be of the time—*pouting face* all those big words you can’t pronounce. I have a degree in this stuff and still second guess myself. Nothing in this world is perfect, that includes nutrition and the science behind it. Who knows, fifty years from now healthy eating may look different than it does today. The fact of the matter is we are doing the best we can with the current information we have.
I am and you are, too!
You don’t have to eat perfectly at every single meal or day or week or month. Just make healthy, small changes where you can. If you continue doing that, you won’t be so intimidated by your nutrition goals.
So, don’t sweat the small stuff. If you and your kids ate tacos every night this week, oh well. If that’s what worked for you and your family than go with it. At least everyone ate something and hopefully had a few vegetables along the way.
Those are just a handful of things I’ve learned and they have truly shaped the way I eat and think about food.
Healthy eating is about food as much as it is about your attitude and the way you think about healthy vs. not as healthy. Do you think you’d allow yourself a handful of chocolate chips if you were deathly afraid that it would make you fat? No way. Will one handful of chocolate chips make you fat? I don’t think so. Maybe if that handful were one of six you ate every single day. If you love chocolate chips and you want a handful every couple days, then you get yourself that handful and ENJOY IT!
Don’t be afraid of food. Food is fuel. Food is nourishment. Food is your friend! ❤