Do you watch what you eat?
People often ask me if I watch what I eat. I always reply “No, not really.” I thought about this response the other day, and how it may seem to others. I’m sure to some this is interpreted as I can eat whatever I want, and never gain a pound… Well, let me tell you – that is far from the truth. I am not one of those genetically blessed people… Trust me when I say that if I eat too much, I do gain weight just like everyone else. The truth is, I have become so accustomed to eating in a healthy way that I don’t really think about it anymore. Unless I’m training for a competition or something, I don’t count calories or macros or anything. I just eat intuitively. If I’m hungry – I eat. If I’m not – I don’t. I’ve learned to balance my meals naturally with proteins, carbs, and fats to fit my activity levels so I don’t have to think about it anymore. I’ve learned to identify true hunger signals, instead of eating out of boredom or stress or emotion. So, this is why when people ask me that question, I honestly don’t feel like I “watch what I eat” at all. It took me many years to get to this point.
There is a big psychological component to food and health. It’s very well known that food is often used as a comfort mechanism to mask feelings for other problems we face in life. It is widely abused and over-consumed to “fill” other needs besides nourishment of bodily functions. It can also go to the other extreme of deprivation or starvation, as a way to control one aspect of our lives when other aspects are spiraling out of control. Neither one is healthy for our bodies or our minds. I have engaged in both extremes in my lifetime. I have been guilty of stress or emotional eating to the point where I felt physically ill from all of the crap I just ate. I’ve also been guilty of food deprivation and starvation to lose weight and/or gain some kind of “control” in one part of my life. Both extremes were terrible in every way. Even when I was studying Dietetics in my undergrad, I didn’t really “get it”. I understood the science behind macronutrients and micronutrients, etc., but I still wasn’t eating in a healthy way. Eating food should never make you feel guilty. Food is meant to be enjoyed as well as the way to nourish our physical beings. Food is a large component of social gatherings in our culture, and that is a good thing. When we eat there are many physiological processes that happen, including releasing of various hormones. Some of these same hormones are associated with other “feel good” activities, which is why food can give us a sense pleasure.
To really have a healthy relationship with food – which will lead to a true sense of wellness and health – we must first identify if we are truly hungry, or if the desire to eat is an emotional one. If it is an emotional need, or boredom, or stress, or whatever, it helps to really identify that, face it, and find a way to fulfill it in a healthy way that doesn’t involve food. Next, we must change the way we look at food. I often find myself in the company of people who view food as “bad” or “good”, and they express feelings of guilt for consuming the “bad” ones. I used to view it that way myself. It is true that certain foods are healthy and some are most definitely not, but it creates a sense of shame if we label them as “bad” and we choose to consume them anyway. I used to feel guilty for eating unhealthy foods, especially because I felt as though I should hold myself to a higher standard because of my interest in fitness and nutrition. But I realized that I am human, and I should not feel guilty or a sense of accomplishment because I did or did not eat a certain type of food. I like food. Period. That’s okay. Food obsession can overtake us. The bottom line is, we all have the choice to consume something or not. We all have the choice as to the quantity healthy or unhealthy food that we eat. Yes, it is true that if we over-consume food (healthy or not) beyond what our metabolism can handle – we will gain weight. That’s a fact. But, we can all fit any food into our diets in some capacity. I believe in balance – nothing is off limits when it comes to food for me now. I enjoy the occasional burger and fries, or pizza, or ice cream, or cocktail, or whatever. I don’t consume these things everyday. I mainly leave them for social gatherings because that’s the way it fits my lifestyle best without wrecking total havoc on my health. I used to eat those things in private, and choose healthier options in the company of others to “prove” that I was “practicing what I preach”, but I realized that I don’t need the approval of others about my diet. If I choose to eat a food that isn’t the healthiest option one the menu, it’s because I want to enjoy it, and I know I will feel satisfied and I can get back to healthier options at my next meal. I don’t feel guilty. The first thing I had to realize to get to this point is 1) the unhealthy foods I love will always be there. So I don’t have to overindulge. I can have a little bit. Feel satisfied. Move on. There is no sense of shame, or guilt, or failure because I couldn’t maintain impossibly perfect standards with nutrition. 2) One “bad” meal won’t make you unhealthy, just like one “good” meal will make you healthy. 3) If I start over-consuming unhealthy foods, and I start to feel the effects physically. I do something that makes me feel healthy – such as exercise. I find when I’m consistently exercising and taking care of myself in other ways, I naturally start to eat healthier without even thinking about it… Because healthy foods make me feel good. And finally 4) My value as a person has nothing to do with how I look, what I eat, or how others perceive me. I am valuable for many reasons, and I deserve to take care of myself. I am worth it.
Living a healthy lifestyle really does begin with a healthy mentality. It does take practice at first, but with time it will become habit.