How on earth did eating well get so complicated?

Do you remember a time when it was just cereal and milk for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and meat and 3 veg for dinner? This was pretty much how my family ate growing up in the 70s, 80s and 90s and we were fit healthy kids.

The good news is that eating well does not need to be complicated. These three relatively simple concepts are one way to avoid getting confused about what or how to eat and you can apply them to just about any style of eating.

1. Eat food because you’re hungry
2. Eat food your body needs
3. Eat food that you enjoy the taste of

You don’t need to make food choice based on calories, nutrient content or the latest food trend – and no you don’t need to completely avoid sugar, eat “clean” or go Paleo! Of course if you really enjoy any of the latter eating trends and you feel they serve you well both mentally and physically, then that’s fine too.

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So let’s unpack this…

1. Eat because you’re hungry:
While this may seem like a no brainer, many people are out of touch with their appetite cues and eat because it’s a meal time, other people are eating, just in case, out of boredom or to help soothe emotions. You may also decide to eat something simply because “it’s good for you”.

2. Eat food your body needs:
Choose from a variety of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, eggs, meat, fish, nuts & seeds and minimally processed whole-grains and dairy foods. While not everyone chooses to include all these food types in their diet, if you do, you should get all the nutrients your body needs – but you don’t need to include all these food type to get adequate nutrition.

The fascinating thing with being in tune with your appetite and responding to true physical hunger, your body instinctively knows what it needs and crave a variety of nutritious food.

Along with a variety of the nutrient rich food, you can also include some of the more highly processed fun foods – food you eat more because it tastes good, that you enjoy in the company of others or simply to relax and give yourself some pleasure.

If you feel out of control around certain foods or feel unable to trust your appetite, you may benefit from talking with a health professional who can help you with this.

3. Eat food that you enjoy the taste of:
Eating should be pleasurable and there is a huge variety of food that is capable of providing both nourishment and pleasure. By eating food you enjoy, you can nurture a healthy relationship with food and your body, and you never need feel like you’re on a diet or missing out. Eating food you enjoy is also a maintainable way of managing your eating well for life.

Why not calories?

If you choose a food based on calorie content, are you considering your appetite, how the food will taste and whether or not it will satisfy you? If you are, then the food is likely a suitable choice. If you’re choosing a food purely because it’s low calorie, you may not find it as satisfying and you’ll end up craving and eating something else. 

Why not nutrients?

Similar to calories, if you’re choosing a food because it’s low fat, low carb or sugar free, you may not find it as satisfying and still be craving something else. If you eat a food because it’s full of vitamins and you’re not hungry, you may be giving your body nourishment it doesn’t actually need. Routinely eating when you’re not hungry can make it harder to work out when you’re actually hungry. 

Note: Non-hungry eating is a very real battle many people face and you may benefit from talking with a health professional who can help you with this.

Why not the latest trend?

Most diets, or dietary advice, rely on external rules or cues to help you manage your eating. By this I mean they suggest you eat certain types of food and restrict others, they may also ask you to weigh and measure food portions and/or track your calories. For most people, a more powerful and sustainable way to manage your eating is to learn how to listen to, and act on, your internal cues of hunger and fullness. This way you don’t need to rely on an external source to guide you with what, when and how much to eat. Trusting your internal cues also gives you the freedom to manage your eating when you’re out of your usual routine, travelling for work or on holidays – the times that pretty much everybody finds they are unable to stick to their diet or meal plan.

I am not saying that various diets or food trends are wrong or don’t help anyone, I am just describing an alternative way to manage your eating. Although, listening and trusting our appetite cues is our default way of eating – babies and kids do this until they are taught otherwise.

If you’ve spent years, or a life-time, looking externally for the solution to your health through various diets or diet programs, perhaps it’s time to start look internally. Just some food for thought.

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