How many times have you started a new year by vowing that this will be the year you finally succeed on that diet? Perhaps you have signed up to Weight Watchers or bought a book about the keto diet and have committed to going all in? After indulging over the festive period it is normal to want to cut back a little but this cycle of over eating and restrictive dieting can be detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing.
For some reason, as humans we seem to like extremes. We so often think in black and white, all or nothing principles. We are either eating everything in sight or we are vowing never to touch another cake or chocolate bar again. Food can be a source of punishment, either harming us through over-indulgence or equally through deprivation and restriction. But what if there is another way?
Food as nourishment
Food can also be a source of nourishment for our body, mind and spirit. Think about it – what you eat literally becomes you! Your food provides the building blocks that make up your skin, bones, hair and all of your internal organs which keep you alive. What you eat also provides the energy for you to live a rich and fulfilling life, to work, to be creative and to maintain supportive relationships. It connects you to your environment, community and your culture.
Eating a low energy or low nutrient diet is the number one way to create a life that is low in energy and nourishment. My mantra when I was recovering from chronic dieting was “RESTRICTED EATING = RESTRICTED LIFE”. On the other hand, by consistently nourishing yourself with lots of healthy foods (without necessarily eliminating “unhealthy” foods), you will have the energy and enthusiasm to create the life that you dream of. As Geneen Roth rightly said:
Trusting your body
There are so many popular opinions about what a healthy diet is that it can be overwhelming. Fans of keto or Atkins diets say that carbs are the devil and a high protein, high fat diet is the way to achieve lifelong health and weight loss. On the other hand, doctors and dieticians recommend high carb plant-based diets to over come disease and stay slim. Weight Watchers and Slimming World advise to eat whatever you like as long as you stay within your points allowance for the day.
All of these diets “work” in the sense that they can help you to lose weight or in some cases to heal health conditions. But they all have one thing in common. A lack of flexibility and the transfer of power and motivation to something external. By following a restrictive diet, you are saying that you do not trust your own body to keep you healthy and that someone else knows better. I believe the opposite that our bodies know best. It is simply our environment that can make things difficult!
You might think that your food habits are a result of willpower. Either a lack of willpower or a strong will to eat healthily. However, recent research shows that most of our choices are based not on conscious decisions, our goals and motivations but rather on habit and environmental influence. Our brains like to conserve energy and the easiest way to do that it do put simple tasks, like eating, on auto-pilot. Simply put, we eat the way we do because it’s what we are used to.
Changing your food habits
This is why changing your diet is so difficult at first. You go from preparing and eating food automatically to having to think about every decision which takes a lot of effort! You might need to learn new recipes, go shopping more often and spend more time in the kitchen. But if you manage to convert these new knowledge and skills into habits, they soon become the norm and are much easier to maintain.
When I work with clients, we follow the VISION-GOAL-ACTION protocol.
This means starting with an overall vision for your future health, setting some goals to motivate you and then deciding on simple actions that you can take daily to work towards those goals. This is a proven technique that actually works. Consistent actions, no matter how small, are what become your future positive habits that over time bring you closer to achieving your goals and becoming your vision of your healthiest self.
Some tips for creating healthy habits around food:
- Always write a shopping list and stick to it – It is much easier to use your willpower once to not buy things you don’t want to eat than it is to use it again and again to not eat the foods that are already in your cupboard
- Learn a few simple, tasty, healthy recipes – We all know that feeling of coming home after a long day at work and having zero motivation to cook a healthy dinner. Having go-to meals that you can prepare easily without thinking is so important for these situations
- Focus on what you can add to your diet – So often when trying to eat healthily we think about what to avoid but our brains are literally programmed to want what is forbidden. It is much better to focus on adding in healthy foods that trying to remove unhealthy foods!
- Make your meals a ritual – Mindful eating is the number one way to tune into your bodies’ intelligence. It knows what it needs and how much if you only listen. Eating meals in a peaceful, quiet environment without distractions makes mindful eating much easier
- Take pleasure from your food – This one should go without saying but sadly, many people think that healthy eating has to be boring and tasteless. In reality, a truly nourishing meal can be extremely satisfying and tasty one we let go of the idea that health is dry chicken breast and salad.
So what exactly is a healthy diet?
I prefer to keep things simple! There is no one-size-fits-all diet that can meet all of our needs. The amount of food, the ratio of food groups and how you should eat depends on many factors including:
- Metabolic health
- Activity level
- Body composition
- Life stage
- Climate and season
I wrote more about this in a previous post: What is the perfect diet for humans?
To put it simply, the healthiest diet is one that consists of mainly whole, unprocessed food, includes lots of fresh plant-based foods and has plenty of variety.
This definition of healthy eating is not restrictive and can be applied to many different dietary patterns. Throughout history, humans have survived and thrived on a huge variety of diets depending on which location of the world they live in. But what they all have in common is that they eat an abundance of real food which come from the earth (including animals as well as plants).
Eating with the seasons
Something that has been lost in many developed societies is eating with the seasons. Historically, humans would have had a huge variety in their diet, simply by eating what was available to them in their environment throughout the year. Nowadays, we have huge supermarkets full of preserved, processed foods and produce imported from all over the world. We are spoilt for choice and although this does give us variety, it also cuts that spiritual connection with nature that we can experience through eating a more natural diet.
I first became interested in seasonal and local eating for environment reasons. I wanted to reduce the carbon footprint of my diet by eating less foods that had been transported across the world by plane. But I soon realised that eating with the seasons also has health benefits. Eating locally-grown produce means the food is probably fresher and as seasonal foods grow abundantly, they have usually been sprayed with less chemicals to protect them. I also feel like nature knows best and perhaps in the future we will find out that the nutrients available in foods at particular times of the year offer us particular nutrients just at the moment we need them!
Why not try making a list of a few foods you would like to include in your diet each season? Experimenting with new foods and recipes each season is a fun way to connect with nature and make sure you are getting a variety of fresh foods into your diet. If you’re in the UK, you can use the calendar below to find out which produce is available locally each season. BBC also have a seasonal recipes section which is great if you are unsure where to start. If you live elsewhere, you can Google search “seasonal foods” and you should find some helpful resources.
The best diet is the [insert your name here] diet
Overall, when it comes to the way you eat, it is important to find what works for YOU and not listen blindly to others. The only way to do this is to experiments with different food and eating styles and pay attention to how you feel. This might sounds obvious but how many times have you eaten a meal and genuinely observed how you felt after?
Usually we only notice if there is an extreme reaction, for example if a particular food makes us feel sick or causes bloating. But what you eat affect you in so many ways including your energy levels, stamina, mental clarity, mood and even the quality of your sleep. The amount of food you eat, the combinations of foods at each meal and even the timing of your meals can impact the way you feel throughout the day.
I shared in a recent post about the different body types according to Ayurveda and how particular foods can influence individuals in different ways. For example, one person might feel energised and clear on a diet high in raw fruits and vegetables whereas another might feel freezing and lethargic. Some people need more protein and animal-based foods to support their constitution, whereas others thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Many people love three-square meals a day but some feel better with smaller meals and snacks.
All of this is to say that there is no simple right answer as to what to eat to be healthy. But this should be a good thing! You can shift your perspective from following dietary rules to asking your body what it truly needs to be nourished each time you eat. Every meal is an opportunity to support your physical, energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies as I explained in yesterday’s post. If you learn to see food as nourishment, you will no longer be trapped in the cycle of dieting and over-eating but you will naturally come to a place of balance and find peace with food.
Today’s challenge: Complete a food diary
One of the tools I use with my health coaching clients is a food diary. Not as another way to count calories and deprive yourself, but as a way to see objectively what, when, why and how you eat. Today’s challenge is for you to complete a food diary for a minimum of three days this week, using the downloadable template below to:
a) Record when and what you eat throughout the day as well as how you were feeling physically and mentally before and after eating
b) Review your whole day of eating and check for the above principles. Did you eat mostly whole foods? Was there plenty of variety in your day or week? Did you include lots of fresh plant-based foods?
Hopefully this activity will be enlightening and you will see for yourself some simple changes you can make to improve your diet. It is important to do this task without self-judgement or criticism – what you eat says nothing about who you are as a person, it is simply the food habits that you have right now.
If you are in the Moon Life Well Women Facebook group, I will be sharing some additional resources to support you in making healthy changes to your diet. So enjoy and I will see you tomorrow when we will be moving onto to the topic of movement!
Over to you…
- Comment: What is one thing you would like to change about your relationship to food?
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