I want to ask you a question, and I want you to think about it long and hard before you continue reading this post.
Do you LOVE food?
Do you get excited for your next meal or snack? Do you love the sound and aroma of onions sauteing on the stove? Do you love the smell of popcorn and funnel cakes at the state fair? Do you love the satisfaction you get when you bring in your fresh grown veggies from the garden and turn them into a full-fledged meal?
Do you find yourself constantly stressed out about what to eat? Do you feel like everything you eat is bad for you? Do you feel guilty or worthless when you “cheat” on your diet? Are you always on a diet? Do you eat food that you don’t find pleasure or joy in simply because you think it’s “healthy?”
Most of us probably fall somewhere between these two extremes (although, I really do love food peeps, truly). However, today’s environment can make it really difficult to love and embrace food. Everywhere we go we are bombarded with health and nutrition messages. Wheat makes us fat. Gluten is the root of all evil. Meat causes cancer. Sugar gives us diabetes. Salt is bad for our heart. Dairy causes digestive problems. Vegetables are typically pretty safe to eat, unless we are talking about starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn or peas, those are all a no-go. Oh, and fruit is just sugar so avoid that too. Also, everything must be organic, and all-natural, always. Essentially organically grown local celery is the only safe thing so head out to your local farmer’s market and bon appetit folks.
I think that most of this advice is well-intentioned, and I’m not here to talk about the validity of any of these messages, but about how this information overload can make us feel. First, let me clarify that I do think nutrition is very important, but I also think it can be confusing, disheartening, and decrease our happiness when we let it take too much control of our lives. As a dietitian I feel pretty qualified to sift through nutrition information, but even I am often overwhelmed by the question “if everything is bad for me, what should I eat?”
So how can I love food when the world is telling me it’s slowly sending me to the grave. Here are 5 things you can do to improve your relationship with food and gain a love and appreciation of it, rather than a fear of it.
How to love food when the world tells you not to
- Purge emotionally-charged language from your food vocabulary– It is very popular today for blogs, newspapers, and media in general to use strong language and vocabulary. Some of these words are positive, and some are negative, but their purpose is to make you react. One phrase (or hashtag) that I can’t scroll through my instagram feed without seeing is “clean eating.” I don’t like how this phrase makes me feel. It sends me into a spiral of negative thinking. My first thought is “if what they are eating is clean and my eating habits are different, is what I am eating dirty? Other words are used to make you feel fearful. Words like toxic and chemical make us feel as though our food is going to poison or cause us immediate harm. Because I don’t like how I react to these words I have made the decision simply not to use them. They are kicked to the curb in my mentality. I am pretty hesitant to even label a food as “healthy” because healthy can mean something drastically different to different people. My suggestion is to be more descriptive about the foods you eat and focus on what’s good about them. Isn’t it more affirming to say “these carrots are vibrant, sweet, and tasty and they make me feel energized,” rather than simply calling them “#clean?” It works with treats too, instead of feeling guilty and calling your treat a “cheat” what if you said “This ice cream was creamy, delicious and refreshing. It was the perfect special treat to end my long week.” It’s definitely a bit more wordy, but better for your self-esteem and probably the self-esteem of anyone you are sharing with on social media (#foodie.)
- Recognize that there are no superfoods (or superkiller foods)- Many individuals tout special foods that claim to be a cure-all for all of your health and weight loss goals (grapefruit diet anyone?) This simply isn’t true. The important thing about your diet is how all of the foods you eat interact with each other and how they come together as habits in your life. If you eat a food that’s supposedly SUPER good for you once, it’s probably not going to make a difference in your health. Heck even if you eat a superfood 10 times it’s still probably not going to make a difference. It’s long-term habits that make the difference. The good news is that I am not aware of any food out there that will kill you immediately after ingesting it, (except the berries from the hunger games says my husband, after reading). This means we can stop feeling guilty about swaying from perfection as long as our overall diet is balanced and focused. So when your Grandma brings out her special apple pie, enjoy it and be grateful for it, then continue to make wholesome choices most of the time.
- Discover valid reasons for eating that are not related to health- If you know me, you know that I preach about this all the time, but there are truly so many reasons to enjoy food that are not related to health whatsoever. These reasons are valid and important in our lives. So when you are about to eat a food, think about why you are eating it. Maybe you are eating a piece of cake to celebrate a birthday, that’s great. Maybe you are on vacation and you are tasting something brand new to experience a new place, right on. Maybe money is tight this month so as much as you would love to buy fresh organic fruits and vegetables, you choose canned and frozen varieties that don’t break the bank, awesome! Maybe you are pregnant and sucking on a popsicle because it’s the only thing you won’t throw up, sweet! I would argue that nutrition is the most important reason for eating, so you should make healthy choices most of the time, but the rest of the time embrace and enjoy the many other fun and wonderful reasons we have to eat. Just be sure that at least 80-90% of the time health is at least one of the reasons you are eating to be sure you are maintaining a balanced diet.
- Know that your diet and self-worth are NOT related- I read an article from a friend of mine on this topic called “You Are Not What You Eat”, and it’s awesome and I couldn’t agree more. Letting what we eat define who we are is dangerous, and also straight-up not true! Eating raw, organic food does not make you Mother Teresa, and eating Oreos does not make you the devil. If we stop letting what we eat define us it will be so much easier to develop a healthy, loving relationship with food and focus on doing our best, but not feeling guilty when we fall short.
- Celebrate Progress and don’t sweat imperfection- So let’s say you are asked to bring a dessert to a party, and you *ahem* accidentally eat 6 cookies straight out of the oven because they are perfect and ooey gooey and you know they just won’t be as good the next day. Shoot. (I have, of course, never ever done that…cough cough) Then the next month when you make cookies again you eat 4 cookies straight out of the oven. Now 4 fresh-baked cookies is probably more than you wanted to eat, but you ate 2 less cookies than last time. That’s a huge success! That calls for a pat on the back, not stress and guilt over eating too many cookies. I don’t know about you, but I respond much better to positive reinforcement than negative, even from myself. We should love ourselves enough to be gentle with ourselves. If I am negative, I am more likely to give up and eat 12 cookies next time. Instead I choose to celebrate every small victory and set myself up for long-term and lasting success.
So if you are one of those people who wants to love food, but find yourself overwhelmed and stressed about eating I hope that some of these tips can help you expand your perspective and develop a real-life love of food. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t sweat the small stuff, enjoy wholesome, energizing food most of the time, but don’t penalize yourself for the times life gets in the way!
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