Beth Lipton is a writer and certified health coach. She is a contributing editor at Clean Plates.
When it comes to our relationship to food, the status is: It’s complicated.
Food can be nourishing, comforting, energizing, an expression of love, a way to gather loved ones together. It can also be the source of anxiety, stress, and self-hatred.
My philosophy as a healthy-foods recipe developer, food/wellness writer and health coach is that my job is to take the “ugh” out of healthy eating, to help people enjoy eating food that’s delicious and also great for them. Here are some thoughts about healthy eating that I hope will frame it in a positive light.
1. Healthy eating is not one thing.
Sure, there are some concepts that most of us agree on; e.g., vegetables are good for you. But whether “healthy eating” conjures up grain bowl, a steak with roasted vegetables or something else entirely, know that there isn’t one style of eating that’s best for everyone. Part of all of our journeys as wellness seekers is finding the things that work for us as individuals. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for you now may not work for you a year from now. Let go of the “rules” and get in touch with how your body feels.
2. Do it because it feels good.
My meditation teacher, Emily Fletcher, says, “We don’t practice meditation to become the best meditator in all the land. We practice meditation to be better at life.” The same is true for healthy eating. Do it because it makes you feel good, it gives you energy, it helps you kick butt at your life. Don’t do it just to tick the “I ate healthy” box. Think of it as a gift that you give yourself, not another “have to.” This makes it less of a chore and more about self-care. How you think about it matters.
3. Your instincts are good—listen to them.
Have you ever watched a small child eat? Sometimes they scarf down everything on their plate and ask for more, other times they’re done after two bites, and they never feel weird about it (until we instruct them to eat more or otherwise interfere). They instinctively eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re done. Somewhere along the way, we stop doing that; we learn to eat certain foods, at socially accepted times, in amounts that are socially dictated. As much as you can, stop doing that. Pay attention to how you feel. If you want to eat a “dinner” of salad and fish at 8 am and skip your evening meal, do it. If you want to eat light on Thanksgiving because you’re just not that hungry that day, do it. Examine your food habits and break any that you do just because it’s what you do (e.g., ordering the same breakfast on your way to work every day). Consider what you’re in the mood for, how hungry you feel (or not), and eat based on that. Let go of everyone else’s expectations and do what feels right for you.
4. It’s not about being “perfect.”
You’re not “good” if you eat healthy food and “bad” if you have a brownie. Food is not good or bad, and you are not good or bad based on what you eat. Food is just food. Some of it is optimal for your body, some isn’t. Let’s remove the value judgments. Sometimes you will eat the brownie—you’re still a kind person, a loving person, a good friend. You’re not bad. Enjoy the brownie and move on. As you embrace this idea, you may find that the brownie will lose its power over you. This also can help you truly enjoy the foods you love, without guilt or stress. (I hate the term “guilty pleasure”; if you feel guilty, that takes away from the pleasure. No thanks.)
5. Other aspects of your health affect how you eat.
Have you ever gotten a crappy night’s sleep and wanted to take a nosedive into a bowl of mac and cheese the next day? Lack of sleep affects your appetite, and your ability to make good decisions. Same thing with stress, relationships, exercise. All of these things are connected. We all need to nourish ourselves with things both on and off the plate. When you think of your health, remember that there’s a lot more to it than just whether you ate your vegetables and went to the gym.
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