Despite all of the evidence stacked against dieting, it is still promoted in so many different manifestations. Diets, meal plans, and food rules are so alluring because they are often sold with a promise of happiness, acceptance, control, and success. In reality, nutritious, health-promoting dietary patterns look different for all people, but they all possess the same basic principle: eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods and listen to your body.
Before being sucked into the next dietary trend, take a step back to listen to your body’s innate wisdom.
I know life gets crazy sometimes. Among hectic work schedules, social obligations, maintaining relationships, and engaging in self-care, you might be looking for something to make you feel grounded. That something might be controlling your food, especially if you’re constantly receiving messages that following a specific meal plan will bring you success, happiness, acceptance, and love. Maybe you’re wondering if you eat right amount of food. Maybe you’re wondering if you eat the right types of foods. Maybe thinking about food excites you, or maybe it overwhelms you. Whatever the feelings, here are some things I would like you to keep in mind before you search for answers.
First and foremost, please don’t feel guilty about anything you eat. I find food really tasty and truly enjoy the experience of eating. The yummy tastes and the fun social experiences that often accompany eating increase the dopamine floating around in my system. That feels really good. Thank you for that.
After letting go of guilt, please remember to avoid depriving me. I know it can be tempting to withhold calories, carbohydrates, protein, or fat from me when you are constantly hearing messages about the “right” way to eat; these messages might make you feel like you’re doing it “wrong.” Please don’t listen to those messages. I need all of those dietary components to keep working. I need carbohydrates for energy and to build and maintain muscles. I need protein to keep my muscles and organs intact, to produce hormones and neurotransmitters, and to keep my immune system strong. I need fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, produce hormones, and to maintain healthy hair, skin, and nails. If you don’t provide me these nutrients, I won’t feel very good. I will compensate by slowing down metabolic processes, breaking down muscle protein to create glucose for energy, and will try to store more fat to prepare for possible starvation. If I end up becoming lighter, I will probably gain back the weight I lost since dieting does not work for 95% of people.
Please don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.” I don’t see them that way. I simply metabolize them and use them to function. Labeling foods this way will only take away from your well being by causing you psychological distress. Choose to eat all foods in moderation, but know that you can eat as much as you need to feel satisfied. Even if you eat beyond fullness sometimes, I will be okay.
Remember that it’s pretty simple to provide me the nutrients I need to function. You may receive many messages about how to feed me properly, but it’s really quite straightforward:
- Each time you feed me a meal, make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. These foods are filled with vitamins and minerals that I need to continue working properly. I typically need five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to get the right amount of nutrients. Try to choose a variety of colored fruits and vegetables. These give me a wide range of nutrients and also keep my taste buds excited.
- Make sure one-fourth of your plate consists of carbohydrates, such as grains (wheat, oats, barley, rice, quinoa) and starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, squash). Try to make at least half of the grains whole grains; these provide me more nutrients and fiber. If you try to restrict this food group, my brain will not like it since it is this organ’s main energy source. I will probably respond to this restriction by encouraging you to compensate later.
- Make the other quarter of your plate protein. I like it when you eat some protein with each snack as well. Eating protein foods (nuts, meat, fish, dairy) throughout the day helps me feel full and maintain stable blood sugar. This ensures all of my cells get a steady amount of energy throughout the day, which helps me stabilize your mood.
- Remember to eat heart-healthy fats with each meal. These fats include fish, nuts, seeds, avocadoes, canola oil, and olive oil. Feeding me these unsaturated fats allows me to feel full, can help increase the “good” cholesterol in my blood, and helps me to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). Additionally, including fat allows me to feel satisfied so that I won’t encourage you to consume excessive amounts of food later in the day.
- Keep me hydrated by drinking water. Water helps me to feel energized, calm, and prevents headaches. If you are bored with plain water, try adding some fresh fruit or herbs to entice yourself to drink more.
In addition to a nutritionally balanced diet, I also feel really good when you connect with me through movement several times a week. I’ve noticed that this works best when you choose something you enjoy, whether it be running, walking, yoga, hiking, swimming, kick boxing, dancing, lifting weights, or anything else. It makes me feel best when you base your choice on what you enjoy, rather than doing it out of obligation. The movement helps to boost my energy levels and my mood.
Last but certainly not least, remember to listen to my signals to guide you in engaging in self-care. Sometimes I will be tired and will need to rest. Sometimes I will feel a bit under the weather and will need a break. Sometimes I will feel over-stimulated by social obligations and will need alone time. Don’t be ashamed to listen to my signals and provide me with these remedies; I will be able to take better care of you as a result.
Through it all, remember that I am your friend. I am your vessel to go out into the world and do the things you love with the people you love. Please take care of me so that I can take care of you.