When you think about HOW you eat and your dietary behaviours what comes up for you?
Do you know the ins and outs of every diet known to mankind? Spent your life reading labels, counting calories and restricting yourself to weeks of juice fasts, weird (unpalatable) soup cleanses, or eliminating entire macro nutrient groups from your plate? Have you become a master at dissecting restaurant menus… are you THAT person who requires your own docket book just to get all your specific requirements written down properly when you order?
Perhaps the above doesn’t resonate at all. Perhaps you’re a yo-yo eater - you go through waves of being your version of ‘healthy’ followed by waves of justified indulgent binge eating because ‘you deserve it’. This come with pangs of guilt and shame so you then jump back on the health wagon and go into social hibernation for a couple months.
Or are you at peace with your body and your plate? Would you say that you feel no guilt or shame when you eat something ‘naughty’ and can happily bounce back into eating and enjoying foods which make your body feel good. Do you have a strong connection to your body and know what it wants and craves? Are you your own version of ‘balanced’?
The way that we eat and our relationship with food also says a lot about our relationship with ourselves. Allow me to explain.
What I see in the health and nutrition space at the moment is one of two things - people are either SO incredibly obsessed with the latest fad - whether that be trying to maintain a state of ketosis (which let me tell you right now, is actually physiologically very, very hard to maintain and few people can actually achieve this on a day to day basis), or drinking gallons of celery juice every morning… or they are going the total opposite way. With more and more health professionals and bloggers trying to promote a “no shame” approach to food (which is great in some aspects and is a means to try and bring a state of equilibrium back into people’s routines), many people are now taking this for gospel and reverting back to a really shitty way of eating because someone said that eating a bowl of mac n cheese should provoke the same feelings as eating a bowl of buckwheat noodle salad.
You see the problem is that humans usually prefer to have someone or something to follow. They like to be led, they want to be told what to do and how to do it because they don’t want to think more than they should - if I didn’t really understand what to eat or how to eat it (and if I didn’t really actually care that much because I have kids and a job and a life and a million other things to do), then OF COURSE I am going to put my trust in someone who does this for a profession. Of course I will jump from diet to diet or go through waves of binge eating because I don’t really KNOW what to do (let alone have any real connection with what my body actually wants).
The catch is however that everyone has a different opinion - some nutritionists/dieticians/naturopaths/health coaches/doctors will tell you to follow a low carb high fat diet, others will preach veganism, some are still very strong on the paleo train. Some will tell you to biohack your body and implement 300 different ‘morning rituals’ before 7am in order to make you the ‘best version of yourself’. And this is why it’s confusing. I’m bloody confused half the time and I have studied this stuff for over 8 years!
The ‘best version of yourself’ is the version which understands yourself. That’s it. There’s your golden ticket.
And before some of you arc up and tell me that you eat a certain way because of a medical condition, autoimmune disease, or intolerance or allergy then I hear you. And that’s what we are here for. Dietary adjustments, short term elimination plans, long term avoidance of certain foods, supplementation and western medicine all have pride of place for many of us. This is the miracle of medicine in all its forms. If you have an issue which can be cured and/or managed via dietary changes then you work with a practitioner to get to the bottom of it and help you through it in a safe and sustainable way.
“Cognitive dietary restraint” is the definition of the behaviour that people display who fall into the first two categories at the start of this article. It is usually people who start with the right intention to be healthy but who then end up in quite a stressed and often dark place of anxiety riddled decisions surrounding their food, their body, and the people they surround themselves with. There are many research papers which have looked into this behaviour pattern and found that (not surprisingly) this approach to ‘health’ comes hand in hand with lower self esteem, higher stress levels, increased risk for eating disorders, higher CRP levels (inflammatory marker in blood serum), high cortisol levels, irregular menstrual cycles for women, increased blood pressure, and disrupted gut health. That’s a lot of things… all stemming from someone’s obsession with following the ‘correct’ diet. In fact, much of the time restricting or eliminating foods unnecessarily can actually be the cause of health problems which never existed in the first place! Go figure.
So hear me out. I’m not saying your healthcare practitioner is wrong, nor am I telling you not to do what you want when it comes to your body. This is your prerogative. All I am suggesting is that you spend time to actually understand your body first. The reason why this topic resonates so strongly with me is that I have somehow ended up working predominantly with people who suffer from intense body image issues, high anxiety, and serious eating disorders. I see the other side of the coin… I see the people who have gone through the dietary restrictions, the negative self talk, the yo-yo eating, the angst that comes with constantly seeking something which does not exist. And it’s not a pretty picture. These people are suffering in a big way. It affects their entire being.
Many of my consultations revolve around introducing foods BACK into someone’s diet. Encouraging them to reflect on their self worth, connecting back to their body, appreciating the thing which keeps them alive and breathing, the thing which harbours their soul. I often ask my clients if they would treat their child or sister or mother the way they treat and speak to themselves. I’ve never had someone say ‘yes’.
I don’t want everyone going backwards and indulging in crappy processed foods again. And I certainly don’t want the message of nourishing wholesome eating to be lost. I want you to find your “balance”. And yes, I also hate that word because it’s so over used but at the end of the day it IS what we should strive for... and we won’t find it until we stop looking outside and start looking within.
You are different to me - you have had a different childhood, different parenting, different values, you live in a different environment, you react to stress differently. Your body is built differently, you have different genes, your immune system is different, your palate is different. Figure this stuff out for yourself in order to give yourself peace.
When you know yourself… like truly know yourself you can then act in accordance to how you feel. We have become so incredibly disconnected from our own bodies and it’s scary.
So where am I going with all of this? I want you to be able to enjoy a croissant and a hot chocolate for breakfast if you feel like it and then be able to balance it out with a wholesome vegetable soup for lunch. I want you to not be afraid of fruit… or bread. I want you to enjoy a night out dancing and be able to laugh about all the silly things you did the next morning. I want you to understand the signs and signals your body sends you when it’s stressed, or sick, or tired, or scared… I want you to be able to say ‘no’ - whether that be ‘no’ to your usual gym session because you’re body is exhausted and you want to sleep in for an hour more, or ‘no’ to a slice of chocolate cake because you’re feeling a bit sluggish.
This stuff is not easy. I never said it was. But this is the answer to your health. Find YOUR personal equilibrium. Move with the ebbs and flows and of life and respond to it in a way which serves you and your long term happiness. It’s not just about diet either. Health is about finding this sense of balance in all aspects - relationships, love, career, exercise, mental health, and fun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again - if you don’t understand what’s going on for you then how the hell is someone else expected to help you let alone you help yourself?
You don’t have to do this alone… find a good practitioner, health coach, doctor, or even friend who brings this out in you and encourages you to do the work. If something more serious comes up, they will hopefully have the professionalism and care to refer you onto someone who can aid in that particular area. There are many ways in which we can delve into who we are … and it’s one the main reasons why I have studied not only nutritional medicine, but also reiki healing, yoga teaching, meditation, wellness coaching, and human behaviour. And heck, I’m STILL doing the work - I will be until the day I die. But you know what? I can honestly say, it’s very rare that I feel negatively towards my body, my diet, or my behaviour. And I’m proud of myself for that. And I really hope for you to be able to feel that too.