A Simple Approach to Healthy Eating
There is so much information to sort through when it comes to nutrition, it can be overwhelming - even for a dietitian! While there are lots of different diets that can work for different people, and lots of handy tools for counting calories, carbs, fat, or whatever it is you're counting - how much does sticking to these strict guidelines help us, and how much does it hurt us?
I think the answer depends on who you are. In practice I find that some people function best when they have strict guidelines to follow - they seem to feel more comfortable. If this is you, all the power to you, as long as the guidelines you've chosen are healthy, balanced, and SUSTAINABLE for a lifetime.
You see, that's the thing when it comes to strict guidelines. Often they're too strict to really stick with for years and years, so the question I often ask is this: If you can make some smaller, more gradual changes that you'll stick with over a lifetime or if you can follow a strict set of guidelines for a few months, which one do you think is going to benefit your health more in the long run?
I'll let you think about that one.
The thing is, for lots of people all of these guidelines - rules, counting, remembering what they can and can't eat - it gets stressful. Eating becomes harder work than it should be, and the added stress can actually contribute to poor eating habits. Eating shouldn't be stressful, so if you find that it is for you, you might want to take some time to reflect on why.
Here's the simpler way I like to see it:
We need to remember the purpose food serves (for those who have a healthy relationship with food). 1. To fuel and nourish our bodies. This really is the main purpose of eating, so we should be choosing our food with this in mind most of the time. (80-90% is my general guideline). 2. For enjoyment. Because how delicious is food sometimes!? Food gives us pleasure, and we should enjoy that, not feel guilty about it. Yes, you can enjoy that slice of cake, glass of wine or dark chocolate, and you should! We just need to find a balance. If you have a slice of your favourite chocolate cake every day, I bet you don't really pay attention and enjoy it as much as you would if you had it only for a special occasion. Saving these foods for times we'll really enjoy them probably adds to our enjoyment.
Most of you already know what foods really fuel and nourish you and what foods are purely for enjoyment. You don't need a dietitian to tell you that. What a lot of us can use some help with is finding that right balance, and coming up with a healthy routine - ways to fit those fuelling, nourishing foods into the day to day and still enjoy food. And your dietitians are happy to help with this - in fact, we love it!
So, back to that simple approach to healthy eating. No strict lists of 'foods to eat' and 'foods to avoid'. No meticulously counting calories or carbs, adding up those numbers, and worrying about what you're allowed to eat for your next meal or what you have left for the day. Hopefully no guilt and hopefully building a healthier relationship with food.
Notice that this approach can apply to ANY lifestyle or diet pattern you choose - vegan, paleo, pescetarian, or anywhere in between. This should be the foundation.
1. 80-90% of the time meals and snacks should fuel and nourish our bodies.
- Whole foods that could have been hunted, grown or gathered.
- A balance of vegetables and fruits, proteins, and slow burning fiber-rich starches/carbs and healthy fats.
2. 10-20% of the time food is purely for enjoyment! Don't ignore this 10-20, it's just as important as the 80-90.
- Dark chocolate, red wine, a cheeseburger? Sure! Whatever it is that you really enjoy.
3. Tune in. Listen to your body.
- Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're satisfied (not full). You can follow the 80/20 or 90/10 rule to a tee, but if you're eating too much or too little you're not in healthy balance.
- This might take some work and learning in the beginning, but eventually you'll get there.
Something is wrong if 'healthy eating' is making you stressed, anxious or is so complicated you find it overwhelming. This is where a little self reflection and help from a dietitian might be handy. Food is such an important part of life - it should be nourishing, and often enjoyed!
For part 2 in my simple approach to healthy eating - Stay tuned for my upcoming post: A Simple Approach to Balanced Meals