Every New Year, you’ll notice a flurry of headlines that dominate the media about how to achieve the healthiest, most ideal version of yourself -often taking the form of the picture-perfect, green juice-drinking, fitness unicorn who always ‘eats clean’. Image via
Overwhelming much? I think so.
We’re bombarded with so many messages about the ‘right way’ to eat but a lot of advice encourages drastic changes. Diet tips frequently focus on weight loss and might consist of recommendations such as swearing off sugar for life, cutting out certain food groups, detoxing, juice cleanses, teatoxes, or insert name of diet here. These strategies strongly incline towards a mindset of deprivation and willpower is a highly valued (if not required) skill. Fight your appetite, conquer cravings. The language around willpower describes a battle -a battle between food and your body.
When food turns into an opponent in a battle, the ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset neglects our need for food beyond physical factors. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, not restrictive or guilt-ridden.
Instead of dieting, consider re-evaluating your approach to eating and your mindset about food:
AIM FOR BALANCE, NOT PERFECTION
Ditch the all-or-nothing approach. There is no such thing as perfect healthy eating. Trying to ‘eat clean’ or eat healthy 100% of the time will prove to be very difficult and takes the pleasure away from food. Focus on what you can add to your diet instead of what you should restrict. Don’t feel obliged to conform to a specific diet or follow dietary restrictions unless you believe that you’ll truly benefit from them.
EAT MORE PLANTS.
The simplest thing you can start doing? Eat more fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The case for eating more plants is strong, including the benefits of fibre for our digestive health, their ability to keep us full for longer, as well as the bounty of vitamins and minerals that plants provide us.
FOCUS ON FOOD, NOT NUMBERS
Move your focus away from specific nutrient requirements, weight goals, and calories. Keeping track of how many calories you are consuming or the amount of vitamin C in a food, will make your life more complicated than necessary (unless you have a health condition that requires this). Instead of obsessing over numbers, focus on eating real, whole foods. Is half your plate vegetables? Have you included some whole grains and protein in your meal? Do you feel more energized? These are the questions you can ask yourself instead of measuring your progress using hard and fast numbers.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Tune into your body’s hunger cues and allow them to guide you. If you are hungry or craving something, think about why you want to eat. Is it because you are bored? Are you upset and trying to fill a void? Do your best to pinpoint the reason for your ‘hunger’, whether it is physical or emotional, and figure out the best way to address it (hint: it might not always be food). That being said, if you are truly hungry, be sure to refuel rather than deprive yourself, to avoid the cycle of binging and restricting.
Cook your meals at home in order to eat a real food, plant-based diet and avoid highly processed foods that tend to be higher in fat and sugar. Make an effort to pack your lunch for work or school by planning ahead and setting aside some time during the week for meal prep. Minimalist Baker and Crunch Radish, to name a few, are my favourite sources for healthy, plant-centered recipes.
TAKE IT SLOW.
Make small, sustainable changes. Too often, we implement major diet changes that are unrealistic and difficult to keep up with. Find ways to make simple, small changes to your diet, whether it’s making a salad to eat with your lunch or replacing your store-bought granola bar with veggies and hummus for a snack.
Know that it’s okay if you mess up or ‘fall off the bandwagon’ -it’s all part of the process. What’s more important is that you brush off the guilt and move on. Change is hard, so be patient and don’t compare yourself to others (including that ‘clean eating’ social media star). Taking small steps may feel slow, but the changes you make will end up being more effective (and rewarding!) in the long run.
And finally, let these words of food wisdom from Michael Pollan, be your guide:
“EAT FOOD. NOT TOO MUCH. MOSTLY PLANTS.”