Today’s health industry has many confusing and conflicting opinions. It can be overwhelming. Does coffee prevent cancer or does it cause cancer? Is breakfast the most important meal of the day or should you skip it and try intermittent fasting? Most approaches (aka diets) are rule-based and very restrictive. Not to mention that some of them are based on highly marketable lies.
The problem is that diets don’t work. More and more evidence is surfacing to show that diets are not an effective way to lose weight or change habits over the long term. One of the reasons that diets don’t work is because all of the restrictions and rules create a scarcity mindset that cause people to fixate on the foods they can’t have. Eventually they break the rules, often go on a binge and then give up, only to try a new diet a while later. The bad news is that chronic dieting and weight cycling are not only ineffective at long term behaviour changes, but also detrimental to your health. So what is the solution?
Let’s be clear, the solution is not another diet. The following pieces of advice are not rules to be followed and broken. The idea is that we have to change our mindset around food and dieting in order to build positive habits for our health. Disclaimer: I am not a Registered Dietician. These are just things I have been learning through my own research.
The first mindset shift is to realize that foods are not “good” or “bad.” Food has no moral value. Rather you should think of them as “nutritious” or “less nutritious.” Learn about the benefits of nutritious foods. Learn which foods are high in antioxidants, protein, fibre, vitamins etc, and what these nutrients do for your health rather than focusing on the “consequences” of eating “bad foods.”
The second mindset shift is your motivation for eating nutritiously. Eat out of respect for your body. Eat nutritious foods because they make you feel good, they give you energy and a clear mind and because they help your body to function optimally. If you try to eat healthy foods for the sole purpose of losing weight you are missing the point and likely setting yourself up for failure. In the same way, you should exercise because it gives you energy, lowers the risk of many diseases, relieves stress and helps you do the things you want to do. Do your best to treat your body well because it deserves it.
The last mindset shift is to listen to your body and give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Chronic dieting can mess with your natural hunger and fullness cues, and restriction often causes fixation on the foods you “aren’t allowed” to eat which causes people to feel out of control around those foods. Eventually most people will break the rules, binge on what they really want and then feel immense guilt and shame. Eating large volumes of highly palatable foods (fast foods and desserts) can also alter your ability to listen to your own fullness cues. Once you learn to listen to your body and ask yourself “what do I really want?” you will find that your body actually does not want pizza and brownies every night. It is also important to recognize when you are using food as emotional comfort and develop better coping strategies. If you give yourself unconditional permission to eat anything at any time the fascination and fixation on the “forbidden foods” lessens as you realize it will always be available to you. This gives you the freedom to make an unbiased decision about what you really want. Sometimes you might really want a brownie. And that’s okay! This is where the satisfaction factor comes in. It is better to eat the thing you really want, instead of trying to fill that desire with other things, and then eventually giving in and eating the thing you really wanted in the first place. At this point you’ve likely overeaten and will feel more guilt about eating what you want than if you would have just ate it right away.
Remember that your health is made up of a pattern of habits over a long period of time. It is not an all or nothing approach. You can have kale salads AND ice cream cones. If you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, listen to what your body is telling you it needs and remove the guilt from eating, you will end up making more positive choices for your health than if you continue trying to follow different sets of rules and restrictions.
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