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 (or pasta), with fruit, yoghurt and toast for snacks? This was pretty much how my family ate growing up in the 70s, 80s and 90s and we were healthy, energetic kids.
The good news is that eating well does not need to be complicated or involve special ingredients or expensive “superfoods”. The following relatively simple concepts are one brilliant 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 enough of what your body needs for both nourishment and pleasure
3. Eat food that you enjoy the taste of
You don’t need to make food choices based on calories, carbs or the latest food trend – and no you don’t need to completely avoid sugar, eat “clean” or go “Keto”. That said, if you really enjoy any of these eating trends and you feel they serve you well both mentally and physically, then of course that’s fine too.
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, or have lost connection, 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 manage emotions. You may also decide to eat something simply because “it’s good for you”. If you’re unsure what your hunger cues are telling you, then you may need to look at getting back in tune with them – you can read more about this here.
2. Eat food your body needs:
Choose from a variety of whole foods (or core food group foods) such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, eggs, meat, fish, nuts & seeds and grains and dairy foods. While you don’t necessarily need to include all these food types in your diet, when you do eat a variety of these foods, chances are you’ll get all the nutrients your body needs without needing to over-think it, or track macros. It is possible to achieve adequate nutrition without consuming all these types of food (e.g. if you’re vegetarian or have a food intolerance), if this is you and you’re worried you might be missing out on something, perhaps chat to one of our dietitians.
The fascinating thing with being in tune with your appetite and responding to true physical hunger, your body instinctively knows what it needs and craves a variety of nutritious food. Yes you will still want to eat “fun” foods such as chocolate and ice-cream, but these don’t prevent you from getting adequate nutrition from all the other foods. I like to think of “fun” foods as food you eat more for taste than hunger, or food you enjoy them in the company of others or eat 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 one of our dietitians or one near you 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. Whoever said “If it tastes good, it must be bad for you” was wrong – this is simply a diet culture message designed to confuse you and make you reliant on following a diet rather than trusting your own body.
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 our dietitians or one near you 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.