A client of mine who's been struggling with her weight recently asked me how she can achieve a healthy body and optimize her health without “dieting” or “restricting.” She has been trying to understand the difference between these concepts for much of her life, and I believe she’s not alone in her confusion! In my work as a nutrition counselor, I come across this all this all the time. Our society’s diet-obsessed culture and conflicting media messages about nutrition can be really confusing. Eggs are good for you one day, and bad the next. Low-fat is definitely the way to go one day, no wait, low-calorie, or low-carb the next. Don’t eat above your daily Weight Watchers points allotment, or else you’ll gain weight. Gosh, how discouraging this can be!
So really, how does one find a sustainable approach to eating well and maintaining a healthy body, without going crazy, being obsessive, and depriving one’s self of their essential nutrient needs? How can one healthfully set boundaries around their intake of less nutrient dense foods while still being flexible, honoring their tastes, and meeting their body’s nutritional requirements?
I believe the answer comes down to blending our natural, intuitive cues with our cerebral knowledge about nutrition.
Here are a few definitions to make these concepts more clear:
Dieting: consistently following a set of (oftentimes unscientifically based) rigid food rules or guidelines while ignoring your body’s intuitive cues and/or food preferences.
Overindulging: consistently eating beyond your body’s fullness cues for non-physical reasons, and/or consistently choosing foods that contribute limited nutrition value.
Healthy eating: consistently blending basic nutrition principles (cerebral knowledge) with your body’s intuitive hunger-fullness cues and taste preferences (internal knowledge).
Notice I use the term *consistently* in all 3 definitions. This is because it is totally normal and natural to under- or over-eat from time to time! Intake can vary in quality and quantity in the face of strong emotions, unplanned events, lack of time, special occasions, etc.
It’s also important not to overlook the fact that there are all kinds of environmental factors out there that can detract from the reliability of our internal cues, and interfere with our ability to eat mindfully and trust our bodies’ natural intuitive cues. Some examples include expanding portion sizes at restaurants, artificial sweeteners and food additives, eating on the go, technology distractions, and social pressures — to name a few).
BUT, if you can learn to become more aware of these influences, you will have the power to offset them, and get back to listening to your body’s natural cues. A good nutritionist can help you work towards this.
Sounds simple, I know. And it really is. Not saying it’s easy though. We gradually learn to disconnect form our body's internal regulation system, so re-establishing that connection can take time as well. It comes down to practice, patience, and trust.
It IS possible to pay mind to good nutrition principles, while still honoring your body. I’ve seen it happen, and experienced it for myself. When you can start connecting your head with your stomach…. This is where the magic of real nutrition happens!
*Disclaimer: this message is targeted for a generally healthy individual. If you have a specific medical condition, you may need to follow more specified dietary rules to optimize your health.