We are blessed to live in a country where food is abundant, but unfortunately, we’re seeing a rise in food related illnesses- eating disorders, diabetes, obesity, heart disease- the list goes on. I don’t believe that this is so much related to an over abundance of food as it is to people having an unnatural and unhealthy relationship to food. We’ve moved away from viewing food as a tool for nourishment and staving off illness to relying on it for comfort and entertainment. Likewise, many of us are eating on the go, scarfing down a burger in our cars rather than sitting down to share meals with our loved ones.
Identify barriers to healthy eating
First of all, if you feel that your diet isn’t as good as it could be, it’s helpful to determine what is standing in the way of you and a healthy lifestyle so that you can make the appropriate changes. Barriers could include financial restrictions, living in an area that doesn’t have the greatest selection of food nearby, or time constraints. Whatever the case may be, pinpointing the issue is the first step towards finding a solution. For example, if money is the problem, perhaps you could look into accessing a local food bank or food co-op (many such places offer fresh produce for free or reduced prices). If time is the issue, perhaps you could look into preparing food ahead of time and freezing or canning it for quick reheating. Whatever the case may be, once you figure out what your barriers to healthy eating are, you are halfway along the road to a workable solution.
Seek comfort from relationships rather than food
I think that to some degree, we’ve all used food to deal with stress or find comfort, either consciously or subconsciously. Whether it’s indulging in “comfort foods”, or going to the opposite extreme and severely restricting our diets, when things aren’t going great in an area of our lives, food is often the one thing that we know we can always turn to and control. Even so called health foods can be unhealthy when used to numb emotions.
Ask yourself what you are really feeling when you’re chowing down. Focus more on drawing awareness to the emotion that is trying to come up rather than refraining from eating whatever you’re craving. Consider journaling or speaking to a close friend about what you are feeling.
I believe that the first steps towards making almost any positive change in your life is taking a look at the people you’re surrounding yourself with. Having a tribe of open-minded and open-hearted people that you can share your thoughts and feelings with freely is essential. I think that the worst kind of loneliness is being surrounded by people that you can’t be yourself around. When we feel isolated, we tend to turn to vices like food or alcohol to cope.
Make a choice today to make yourself part of a community of like minded people that you can become strongly rooted in, reach out to and share lots of yummy meals with!
An easy trick to help visualize the quality and quantity of your food intake is to think of your diet the same way you would your budget. Let’s say you have $2000 a month, and $600 goes to rent, $800 for food, $100 for your phone, $100 for cable and internet, $200 for car insurance and gas, $100 to savings and the remaining $100 for entertainment. If you overshoot that budget one month by a couple hundred bucks, it probably won’t be a huge deal. But if you’re continuously going over, now you’re accumulating a ton of debt.
The same sort of principle can apply to your diet. If you have a mostly healthy diet, eating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, you can probably afford to splurge on “treat” foods now and then. But if you’re doing it all the time, now your body is becoming deficient in the nutrients it needs, and is probably getting way more calories and sugar than it needs. Over time, if these bad habits are consistent, they will lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies or other health problems.
Find balance in your diet
Many times, people who are on very strict or limiting diets are really seeking control that they feel they lack in their lives. Many of us also have lists of “safe” or “no-go” foods, things that’s we absolutely aren’t allowed to have. Unless you have a genuine allergy, I would advise scrapping the no- go list. Allow yourself the freedom to enjoy all foods, in moderation, free of guilt.
Moderation can look different for different people. If you’re generally fit and healthy, you can probably afford to slack off a bit more often than someone who is obese, or has diabetes or other risk factors to their health.
Is this permission to go binge out on a whole bunch of unhealthy foods? No. But if you’re going to eat something that’s not nutrient dense, feeling guilty about it or using it as permission to throw your entire diet out the window isn’t going to improve matters. Enjoy your treat, then pick yourself up again without condemnation.
Aim for simplicity
Many of us over complicate our diets, either by forcing rigid meal plans on ourselves, cutting calories, or imposing other “food rules” on ourselves. I’m not advocating ditching whatever diet you’re on completely. I’m talking about getting back to the basics- whole foods, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, probiotics and lots of fresh water.
Consistency is the main thing to strive for when establishing a dietary routine. This is why most diets don’t work- they’re unsustainable long term. By choosing to eat a balanced diet, which includes some wiggle room, you are creating healthy eating habits that are sustainable.
Hunger is a feeling that builds gradually, as does satiety. When we scarf our food, or eat mindlessly in front of the computer or tv, we are not in tune with our bodies signals that it’s getting full and may overeat.
An exercise to get you eating consciously is a simple “food meditation.” Pick a time when you won’t be disturbed for at least twenty minutes. Take a snack or a small meal, maybe light a beautiful candle and play some soft music- whatever helps you to feel calm and relaxed. Sit at the table in an upright position, nice and tall. Take slow and conscious bites of your food, concentrating on the taste and texture, how it feels as you chew and swallow- every little nuance that you may not notice when you’re eating in a hurry.
It may seem like a simple exercise, but that just goes to prove that eating mindfully isn’t some big complicated thing! Thank yourself for doing the exercise and then go about the rest of your meals as normal. Notice if there is any difference
Find healthy replacements for “junk” foods that you crave
I think we’ve all experienced that feeling when we’re on a roll- eating healthy, exercising- and then, for whatever reason, we give into temptation. We eat that bag of chips or scarf a tub of ice cream, and at that moment, decide to abandon ship all together. Or those times when we give into a craving, only to feel bloated, lethargic and crummy afterwards.
Identify the foods that you tend to turn to when you’re feeling down. For me, it’s a burger and fries or tacos. For you it may be ice cream or chocolate. Whatever the case may be, finding healthier alternatives to those foods and keeping them in your house can help you opt out of the really unhealthy choices.
For example, you could choose some organic dark chololate instead of a regular candy bar, or baked yam fries instead of French fries. Likewise, a homemade burger is miles healthier than a fast food one. U can keep meat or veggie patties and whole wheat or gluten-free buns in the freezer. Just add some romaine lettuce or sprouts, a yummy dill pickle and cheese and you’re good to go!
Keep these foods on hand for when you’re in a “pickle”!