Wanting to feel good and live a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong journey for me. It’s an ongoing process of personal learning, listening to my mind and body and daily choices. In fact, at a deeper level, it’s just part of who I am.
In this context, I choose and want to eat food that is nourishing AND enjoyable. For me, there is no completely “off limits” or restricted foods. Instead, I focus on eating more of the foods that make me feel good and support my active lifestyle and work. It’s a lifestyle not a diet.
I’m not perfect by any means. I eat my fair share of food that’s not the “best choice” I could have made at the time – but rather its what I really WANTED or what was available. I don’t beat myself up about food choices and I rarely feel guilty about something I’ve eaten.
Food or “diet” is important to me. It’s a key part of the physical, mental, emotional and social experience of being human and thriving. BUT IT’S NOT A CULT. Yep, at the end of the day food is just food. It doesn’t come with an inherent moralistic code that many people and dietary approaches would have you believe.
I allow myself the freedom and flexibility to “eat whatever I like” and therefore the notion of “cheat” or “bad food” is irrelevant. Knowing I CAN eat whatever I want, doesn’t mean I DO eat whatever I want.
In fact, it generally has the opposite impact and underpins a healthy mindset around food. Why? Because I don’t spend any time, mental energy or willpower thinking about all the foods I can’t have or feeling guilty about the “bad food” I just ate. Those foods just don’t exist for me. I very rarely use words such as “dirty”, “clean”, “bad”, “naughty”, “perfect”, “right” or “wrong” in reference to the food choices of myself or anyone else.
Unfortunately, I encounter a very different mindset from many people trying to lose weight or improve their nutrition. Everyday I hear things like:
- I’ve been so bad
- I’ve cheated
- I’ve messed up
- I’ve been so naughty
- Starting tomorrow I’m only eating clean foods
And it goes beyond words – the tone and sentiment normally implies:
- I’ve been a bad human being today
- I’ve sinned
- I’ve failed
- I’m not good enough
- I don’t deserve success and happiness
Not only do many people critically judge themselves, they seem to want me (as their friend or colleague or coach) to judge and reprimand them too! But I just can’t and won’t. Yes a small part of me wants to scream at you to stop using these moralistic terms. But the bigger part of me wants to tell you that you’re a good person…that you haven’t messed up anything and that you can make significant lifestyle change without needing to 100% adhere to your ideal of what “perfect” looks like!
I know this may sound easier said than done. It does take knowledge and practice to cultivate and sustain this mindset. Sometimes I face internal or external obstacles that can challenge my physical environment or mindset. When I do I go “back to basics” and draw on the following principles for myself:
- The energy balance equation. Maintaining or losing body weight essentially comes down to eating the same or less calories as you use through living, exercise and other activities. OK, so it’s not quite this simple and the type of food you eat does impact your ability to do this (in terms of getting the right nutrients, hormone balance, appetite, building muscle etc.) however in the short term I have the flexibility to eat what I want and not gain weight if it loosely fits my energy/calorie requirements (which I don’t actually count by the way!).
- Focus on minimums. When I’m outside of my regular routine (e.g. travel, holiday, sickness, super busy social or work period, a rough night’s sleep) I just focus on the minimum stuff I know I need to feel healthy and well. For me this is drinking water, walking/moving as much as I can and eating a decent amount of vegetables and protein. These are also things that are easier for me...your easy to do minimums may be completely different!
- Add more of the “good” stuff. Yup, I don’t think about the “bad stuff” I have eaten or want to eat. Instead I think how can I add more good stuff? The side effect of this is that it doesn’t leave heaps of space for less nutritious food.
- Tune into hunger cues and trust my body. This is not just about not eating in the absence of hunger, it is also about eating when I am hungry!. I’ve learnt that when you eat more of the good stuff, exercise on a regular basis and get sufficient sleep, then hunger becomes an important signal that you body could benefit from some more food right now 🙂
- Consistency matters – focus on what you eat 80-90% of the time. A “bad day” or week is not as significant as you think. It is significant when it turns into a bad month or year. The regular foods that make up your daily choices matter more than anything else. It’s easy to focus on the takeaways you had last night rather than the 6 squares of dark chocolate you are eating everyday or the sweet chilli / tomato sauce you’re pouring over every meal.
- Know yourself – at the end of the day what works for you and makes you feel good is personal to you. I stay focused on what I’ve experienced to be true for me.
Jade Osborne | Lifestyle Coach