What does healthy mean to you? Further, what does healthy eating mean to you? Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch are registered dietitians and authors of “Intuitive Eating – a Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach.” They define healthy eating as “having a healthy balance of foods and having a healthy relationship with food.” Healthy eating will look different for each person. We all have different preferences, cooking skills, cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic status. What is healthy for one person, may not be healthy for another.
We often think of healthy eating as the type and amounts of foods we consume, but we often overlook our relationship with food, which is also important. It is sometimes easier to understand how food makes us feel physically, but what about how it makes us feel mentally and emotionally? If eating is causing stress, anxiety or guilt, there may be room for improvement in your relationship with food.
Many of us already know how to eat healthy. The dietary guidelines for Americans as well as the use of “MyPlate” are great recommendations that are backed by science. These recommendations include the following for a balanced meal. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate with grains and a quarter of your plate with protein, plus one serving of dairy. While these recommendations are great, it is often much harder to follow. Because the truth is, life happens. When we get busy and stressed, we often consume unhealthy foods. And that’s OK.
So, how can you start healing your relationship with food and honor your health with nutrition? Intuitive eating is the concept of honoring your health by listening to your body’s cues to meet your needs. It means eating food that tastes good and makes you feel good. We will only scratch the surface of intuitive eating and what that entails in this article, but if you feel as though you could benefit from a healthier, happier relationship with food, you may want to read more about intuitive eating.
Ditch the diets
First off, it is important to recognize the damage that dieting can do. Dieting is typically some form of restriction of food, which often includes under-eating what your body needs. So often “cheating” or being unable to stick to a diet is seen as a lack of willpower. The reality is our body’s biological hunger and need for fuel causes these intense cravings. Undereating can also damage your ability to trust your body’s innate hunger and fullness cues. Studies show that up to two-thirds of people who diet will lose weight and regain more weight than they lost due to the body’s natural defense mechanism and slowing down of the metabolism to conserve fuel.
Make peace with food
Foods are not inherently good or bad. The food you choose to consume does not make you morally superior or inferior. When we restrict certain foods, it often makes them more desirable, which can lead to uncontrollable cravings and possibly bingeing down the line. By allowing yourself to have pleasure foods, you take the power away from the food. Remember, you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. One snack, one meal or even one day of eating will not make you unhealthy.
Eat enough consistently
Food is fuel. Just as we need to put gas in a car, our bodies need fuel. Eating consistently every few hours can provide us with the energy we need to conquer our day. Snacks can come in handy to help bridge the gap between meals and satisfy your hunger. Days get busy and it can be easy to ignore our hunger cues and skip meals. Skipping meals can lead to ravenous hunger and overeating later in the day. If you’re wondering what your meals and snacks should consist of, consider eating enough fruits and vegetables, grains (preferably making half of your grains whole), dairy, protein from lean meat sources, fish, plants (beans, legumes) and fats (such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and seafood).
Remember that eating for your health is so much more than consuming specific foods in certain amounts. Honor your physical and mental health by consuming foods that taste good and make you feel good. It’s important to make sure we’re consuming enough nutrients, but what we consume consistently over time is what matters.
If you feel you could use assistance with nutrition and what works for you, consider seeing a Registered Dietitian. Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts who have completed a degree from an accredited dietetics program as well as supervised practice requirements, passed a national registration exam and continue professional development and education throughout their career.
Rachel Hughes, RDN, LD, is a clinical dietitian at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. She designs nutrition programs to improve or maintain the health of patients. She often works with patients with diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease and obesity. To request an appointment with Rachel, please call (573) 681-3000 ext. 6006.