Do you know what healthy eating looks like? In a world that’s obsessed with weight loss and full of different opinions about nutrition, it’s easy to get a distorted view of what healthy eating looks like. Yesterday I heard someone say to a friend: “I thought you were being healthy!” when she saw them holding an ice cream sundae. But eating an ice cream doesn’t mean you’re not ‘being healthy’. Healthy eating is individual. It’s about your overall dietary pattern, not individual food and it’s actually up to you to decide what works for you.
Here are three things that are NOT a part of healthy eating:
Labelling food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’
Placing a moral value on food and labelling it as bad or good can have a negative impact on our eating patterns. When we label a food as bad, it’s natural to eat that, then everything else we think is bad to get it out of the way, so we can focus on being ‘good’ again later! When we can take the moral value away from food and use our body’s cues, including hunger, fullness and satisfaction, to guide our eating, this type of eating behaviour begins to fade away.
Instead of good and bad food, I prefer to think about food as nutrient-dense food and pleasurable or ‘fun’ food. Nutrient-dense food gives our body what it needs to thrive, and fun food is just that – fun, delicious and part of a positive experience with food. Think of enjoying an ice cream sitting outside in the sun on a hot summer’s day. The ice cream is a ‘fun’ food experience, not a bad food.
Hunger is a hormonally driven process telling us to eat. I’ve spoken with many people who fear hunger and try to ignore it. The natural reaction to ignoring hunger is to overeat. This is driven by the hormones that regulate our appetite and has nothing to do with willpower. Just as ignoring our body’s signals that tell us we need to pee would lead to us peeing our pants, the natural consequence of ignoring hunger will be overeating!! Food is needed to fuel our bodies, and if we don’t get it, our body will act to ensure we are driven to eat. After all, we need food to survive! Eating regular meals, spread throughout the day, in response to our hunger and fullness cues will help nourish our body.
Spending a lot of your time and energy thinking about food and your body
While we need to give some thought to our diet, it shouldn’t take up a large proportion of our daily time and energy. Constantly thinking about food – how much to eat, how much fat/sugar/carbs etc it has, calories, our weight and what we should or shouldn’t eat can be a sign of disordered eating. We can trust our bodies to regulate our food intake and a combination of our nutrition knowledge and eating intuition can help ensure we get a diet both balanced and enjoyable.
If you struggle with any of the above, working with an appropriately qualified nutritionist or dietitian who specialises in intuitive eating can help you change your mindset, respond to your body’s cues and find a better balance with your eating.
Nicola Jackson is a NZ-registered nutritionist with a passion for helping people to develop a healthier relationship with food. Nicola’s blog Eat Well NZ tells you why you don’t need to quit foods, follow rules, or go to the extreme to be healthy. Her blog showcases a balanced approach to eating well, with plenty of healthy recipes and other tips on nutrition, fitness and wellness. You can also find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.