Has Healthy Eating Become Toxic?

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5 Tips For Redefining Healthy Eating

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

When did healthy eating get so complicated? Healthy eating used to mean eating a balanced diet across food groups: breads, cereals, pasta and grains; vegetables and fruits; milk, cheese, eggs, and yoghurt; meat, chicken, and fish; and fats, oils and sweets.

Remember when healthy eating looked like this?

Remember when healthy eating looked like this?

In recent years ‘healthy eating’ has had a drastic make-over. According to the new healthy eating movement, carbohydrates should be avoided at all cost and we should eat carbohydrate substitutes like cauliflower rice and zucchini pasta instead. Fruit’s bad as well because it has too much sugar, so definitely don’t eat fruit, and we should eat fish, but not too much in case we overdose on mercury. Red meat is too high in saturated fat so don’t eat that – ever – chicken is ok, but only if it’s organic, and dairy products are too high in fat so we should steer clear of traditional dairy and drink rice milk or almond milk instead.

Quitting sugar and healthy eating might seem positive, but the problem with diets, no matter how healthy they might seem, is that they encourage a strict and overly controlled approach to nutrition. Food choices stop being intuitive and rigid rules take over, and your relationship with food becomes unhealthy.

So what should healthy eating look like? That’s up to you, but here are some guidelines to get you thinking.

Tip #1: Eat A Balanced Diet

Avoid strict food rules and eat a balanced diet instead. Eat carbohydrates – yes carbohydrates – vegetables, fruit, dairy and protein, and give yourself permission to eat sometimes foods like biscuits and cake a few times each week as well. While it’s not healthy to eat foods like this at every meal, if the rest of your diet is pretty healthy, it’s not unhealthy to have a sweet snack every now and then.

Tip #2: Don’t Count Calories

Counting calories might help you to feel more in control of your diet, but it will also make you think about food ALL THE TIME. Not only that, but lower calorie foods aren’t necessarily the healthier option. Stop counting calories and focus on eating a balanced diet instead.

Tip #3: Listen to Your Body

There will be days when you’re hungrier than usual, and days when you’re less hungry. Sometimes these fluctuations are emotion driven and sometimes they’re due to changes in the energy needs of your body. When your hunger is physical, don’t try to control it. Physical hunger means your body needs fuel and nourishment, so listen up and eat. If you’re unsure if your hunger is physical or emotional, think about when you last ate and try to notice where you feel hunger in your body. If it’s been more than 3 hours since you last ate, or if your hunger sensations are originating from your stomach region (as opposed to your mouth, throat, or chest), odds are your body needs a fuel top up.

Tip #4: Don’t See Food as Good or Bad

Labelling food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ encourages a rule driven approach to eating that will ultimately make you feel bad. Eating only ‘healthy’ foods might make you feel good initially, but when you waver and eat something ‘unhealthy’ – which by the way, may or may not actually be unhealthy depending on your definition of healthy eating – one of two things happens. You resolve to be even more strict, starting tomorrow, when it comes to healthy eating, which increases the odds of you falling into the same trap tomorrow, or you get stuck in a downward spiral of over-eating and feel bad about yourself as a result. Seeing food in black and white terms is never helpful. Let go of your old food philosophy and adopt a more flexible approach to eating instead.

Tip #5: Pay Attention to What Food Does for Your Body

Don’t forget to pay attention to the function of the food you eat. Food isn’t the enemy, it’s fuel for you body and it’s what gives you the energy you need to enjoy your life. Carbohydrates don’t make you fat, they give your body the fuel it needs to function. Foods high in protein give your body the materials it needs to grow and repair itself, and fruit and vegetables don’t just offer energy, they give your body vitamins and minerals for healthy muscles and a healthy immune system. Switch your food focus and grow a healthier relationship with food as a result.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


 

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