So many of us live in fear of changes to our bodies; especially changes that we perceive as negative such as weight gain, changing body shape, and declining health which may lead to chronic illness or disease. This fear leads us to try and control our bodies through diet and exercise. We may think that if we just follow a diet exactly, we’ll lose weight and be healthy. And this isn’t really our fault, we’ve been led to believe that eating the perfect diet is the key to optimal health. But the truth is, there is no perfect diet, no one-size-fits-all. The perfect diet doesn’t exist because are lives are constantly changing and as a result, our nutritional needs change as well.
Consider these following factors as they may affect our nutritional needs:
How you eat now is extremely different from what you ate when you were a baby. Newborns reply solely on breast milk or formula to thrive and grow. Then, as children grow, they require different nutrients and so new foods are introduced. Nutritional needs change through adulthood as well. Therefore, we can’t have one perfect diet because we have different nutritional needs over time.
Some individuals work at a desk all day while others do manual labour. Some people train for competitive sports on a daily basis while others prefer more leisurely activities. Based on these differences, your lifestyle will depict your nutritional needs. It’s silly to compare what you eat to someone who has a completely different lifestyle than you, yet haven’t you ever caught yourself doing just that?
Have you ever noticed you prefer certain foods at different times of the year? Maybe you prefer more salads and fresh fruit in the summer time while in the winter, you tend to choose more heartier meals. This is actually completely normal! Environmental temperatures affect our body temperatures which may influence our preference for hot or cold foods, amount of liquids, portions, etc.
How and what we eat is an ongoing process of learning and discovery. With age, lifestyle and season, our nutritional needs will change. Instead of fearing change, we should embrace it! We need to learn to let go of the perfect diet. If you struggle with emotional eating, this can be pivotal in improving your relationship with food. Instead of focusing on following a “perfect diet”, here’s how to change your relationship with food for the better:
1. Be adventurous
Instead of worrying about the nutritional value of every food you eat, be adventurous and try new foods just for the experience. You’re bound to discover a few new foods that you enjoy. You know what they say, variety is the spice of life!
2. Eat mindfully
Enjoy your food by eating mindfully! Pay attention to all your senses when you eat to have an amazing food experience. Food is supposed to be a pleasurable thing – as long as it’s done in a healthy way. While overeating and binge eating is driven by emotions, stress and feels out of control, mindful eating is slow, takes place in the present moment and brings awareness to our body. Instead of trying to follow a perfect diet, make sure to eat your favourite meals or foods – just as long as you eat mindfully! Savour each bite and have a great food experience.
3. Listen to your hunger cues
Our society is obsessed with numbers so you may feel like you need to focus on numbers when it comes to food. Ditch the scale and calorie counting and instead, rely on your internal hunger cues. This means, paying attention to hunger pangs and also how you feel when you eat. Are you still hungry? Help yourself to another serving! Feeling full? Save the rest for later. Remember to eat slowly and mindfully to give your body time to send the signals to your brain when you’re satisfied. This helps to prevent overeating.
4. Honour your food preferences
One of the major flaws with fad diets and meal plans is that they don’t take into account individual preferences. While some people love carrots, other people hate them! Honour your food preferences and choose foods you like and make you feel good. Just remember that feeling good means your body is full of energy and you feel alert after eating instead of feeling sluggish and tired.
While you may have convinced yourself that following a perfect diet is the key to optimal health and happiness, the take away is that the perfect diet doesn’t exist! Instead of focusing on following a perfect diet, consider what your individual needs are. Check out my previous blog on Mindful Eating to learn how to listen to your hunger cues and eat mindfully.