There are no absolutes in nutrition. The debate over what’s considered healthy is ongoing, and with new study findings come new fads, new diets, and new rules. Contrasting these trends with what tastes good creates a tug-of-war between desire and responsibility. The result is a relationship with food that’s laden with confusion and mistrust.
What works for your body and what fits into your life is unique to you. There’s a reason why 95% of diets fail; there is no singular, correct way to eat. Instead of following external rules on how to live your life, make your own by experimenting with food and exercise that fuel your soul.
To change how you think about food, examine the self-imposed rules that shape how you eat.
Most of our behaviors are simply harmless preferences, such as choosing brown rice over white. Rigid thinking starts to affect behavior when we make choices purely to soothe our fear or anxiety, such as refusing to eat white rice when it’s the only option for dinner.
Black-and-white rules are the hallmark of rigid thinking. Our preferences remain innocent when we can still make compromises, like eating the white rice instead of going hungry. Preferences transition into rules when we sacrifice convenience, enjoyment, or eating itself to stay within self-imposed limits of what, when, or how much it’s acceptable to eat. If guilt follows a food choice, or when our mental and emotional energy input outweighs the pleasure of eating, rigid thinking may be the cause.
You can change how you think about food when you identify your rules and evaluate how they might be negatively affecting your life.
Calorie and macronutrient tracking has also become a common use for our smartphones. Apps like myfitnesspal require users to log all the food and liquid they consume each day, as well as the activities or steps they take. This is incredibly time consuming and establishes unrealistic standards of perfectionism.
Discovering what feels good in your body is unlikely to result from focusing on calories in versus calories out. In fact, this calculation is not as simple as it sounds, and maintaining the right balance is even harder.
Daily caloric needs vary from person to person and depend on a number of factors, including genetics, age, height, body composition, daily activity levels, and hormones. There is no precise, predictable number to strive for, and even if there were, it’s impossible to calculate all the energy we expend throughout the day. Our bodies are constantly in motion and we burn calories to enable every daily physical function. Internally, your body expends energy digesting food, metabolizing nutrients, and even while thinking.
Let go of this tiring practice and understand that your body isn’t a computer, and that true wellness isn’t an exact science.
Maintaining a physical exercise schedule that negates your daily food consumption is typically rooted in the desire for thinness or attractiveness and can quickly promote a dysfunctional relationship with food.
You know that exercise has a ton of health benefits, but that’s not always enough to get you out the door and to the gym, is it? When you structure exercise around its calorie-burning effects, you might feel like a slave rather than a willing, joyous participant. Reflect on how freely and joyously children play, and recall a time that you got your heart rate up while having fun. What were you doing?
Reframe physical activity as fuel for fun rather than to cancel out food consumption, and you may discover a new appreciation for movement.
We often allow ourselves to be guided by rules that won’t actually deliver what we want. When it comes to eating, this usually means prioritizing how you want to look instead of how you want to feel.
Here are some examples of feeling-based goals:
I want to feel…
Emotional eating is normal. It’s impossible to untangle your feelings from food, and you shouldn’t have to. After all, who wants to have a birthday celebration without cake?
We tend to view emotional eating as negative and then beat ourselves up for having any emotions while eating. An impossible standard means guaranteed failure. Instead, allow yourself to eat in the presence of feelings and know that your emotions are not causing you to eat.
Like many things, emotional eating occurs on a spectrum. If you only feel your feelings with food, then you’re not actually processing your emotions. Emotional eating becomes an issue when your emotions start to control your food choices or when food is your only coping mechanism. Remember, food is just food, not therapy. You can’t use food as an emotional suppressant or processor. It just doesn’t work.
Before there were nutritional labels, there were personal preferences and the shared wisdom gained from noticing how particular foods affect our bodies. If you want to enjoy your favorite foods without stressing over the calorie content, focus instead on how you feel when you eat it.
What subtle flavors do you taste? What are your energy levels like after dinner? Did you enjoy the experience of sharing a meal with your family without focusing on the food? How did you feel the next day? Did you have any digestive issues or skin reactions, or did you simply feel fine?
Discovering which foods make you feel vibrant (and which don’t) is a personal and rewarding journey. Try thinking about food in terms of how it benefits your life instead of its consequences on how you look.
Mindfulness is a way of maintaining awareness in the present moment to thoughtfully acknowledge and accept current thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surroundings. Using this technique while eating will give you a new way to connect to food, and to notice your cues of satisfaction, fullness, and hunger.
Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework that integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought. The 10 principles are:
While the principles might sound straightforward, they take practice and commitment. Intuitive eating is a proven and widely-respected approach to health and wellness that will ensure you maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Have you ever found yourself examining something on your plate a little too deeply? Suddenly, rice looks less like an ancient grain and more like a pile of refined-carbohydrates-stripped-of-their-nutrients-that-will-make-me-gain-weight. We take in so much conflicting information about nutrition that scrutinizing our food becomes automatic and mindful eating becomes a challenge.
Rediscover the nature of food. Think back to when you were a kid and a pile of rice was just a delicious treat to fill you up before you went about your day. You didn’t fear eating because food was inherently safe. At the end of the day, food is just food – the fact that you eat at all matters more than what you choose to eat.
Research has shown that only 36% of our overall health can be attributed to individual behavior, which includes physical activity, sleep patterns, stress and anxiety levels, and diet patterns. Try not to place so much emphasis on food when it comes to your overall wellbeing.
You are not alone in your desire to improve your diet and lifestyle. Everyone has different personal goals, which makes this a complex topic. How would you like to improve your relationship with food?
Consider how your goals shape your eating habits, and extend compassion to yourself as you uncover any eating behaviors that you’d like to change. Self-awareness is vital to this process, and Savor is here to get you started. To begin now, download Savor today from the App Store or Google Play.