WHAT HEALTHY MEANS TO ME
Updated: May 19, 2021
With the start of the new year comes a resurgence in popularity of extreme diets that make lofty promises: "X diet or way of eating will melt those pesky pounds, give you more energy, help you sleep, live longer... It's the new unicorn of diets!"
It's truly fascinating to see how diet promises and human psychology intertwine. People are often looking for the new savior of diets that will drastically change their lives. And the media capitalizes on that with extreme messaging to get you to buy in. What I can't help but notice is one thing that these diets share in common: they often can be overly restrictive and lead to cycles of guilt and shame if one does not have the "self-discipline" to follow all the rules of the diet.
As a dietitian, people often ask me what I think the best diet out there is with the expectation that I will tout some diet that tells you what is "good" to eat vs. what is "bad" and should be avoided at all costs. Well, my answer may surprise you. I don't think there is one BEST way of eating for anyone. Each individual is different with unique health concerns and needs. Diets may be sustainable for some, but for the majority it comes with a lot of yo-yoing. What's often ignored is that in this quest to eat healthy, one's relationship to food can be challenged. Have you ever thought that part of being healthy isn't just about eating nutrient-dense foods, but also about developing a healthy relationship with food, one that doesn't consume your thoughts or affect your ability to be present and enjoy?
So, what does healthy mean to me? Practicing Intuitive Eating Principles. For those of you who have never heard of it, it is a philosophy that was formally introduced in 1995 by two dietitians, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. There are 10 underlying principles described in detail here (brief chart at bottom of post). In summary, the philosophy rejects the following ideas: a diet mentality, labeling foods as "good" or "bad", or measuring health purely by a number on the scale. Rather, it is about raising self-awareness and tuning into what your body needs. You are not "good" if you eat a certain way or "bad" if you eat another way. Pairing morality with food choices can be detrimental. Yes, there are some foods that are more nutrient-dense than others, but all foods can fit in a balanced diet. I fuel myself with foods that will adequately nourish me, help me perform better in my workouts, promote longevity, and that satisfy my cravings---not necessarily in that order. Each day is different. In this culture of constantly being on the go, it can be easy to forget to listen to hunger and fullness cues, to understand the difference between emotional hunger vs. physical hunger, and to make time to sit and enjoy your food free from distraction.
Now I understand that these ideas can seem obscure and go against many of the messages we are bombarded with day in and day out. Naysayers may counter this concept by saying that it gives people the permission to fill up on "junk". I wholeheartedly disagree. This way of eating emphasizes mindfulness, and gives people permission to choose to nourish their bodies without judgment and to include all types of food. And often, when judgment is removed with a focus on balancing happiness and eating for longevity, people start to make decisions in support of their long-term goals. If one chooses to consistently eat foods devoid of nutrients, then perhaps there is an underlying issue that needs to be evaluated more closely. If there's a specific health concern, then tweaks can be made. Nothing needs to be so drastic that it turns you inside out. I think we can all agree that small and steady changes, free from judgment, are often the ones that endure. There are steps to practicing intuitive eating that go along with each principle, as it may not come naturally at first. And you are not alone. That's what I love about being a dietitian, that I can utilize my nutrition knowledge and help people find that balance with suggestions to support their goals. If you have any questions or concerns, send me a message. Until then, fill your plate with all types of food, with balance in mind!
Summary of IE Principles: