Updated: Feb 8, 2021
In my work and in my life, I have found that the way you view food can impact your life in a lot of ways. There are many conflicting opinions about what and how to eat, what’s “healthy” and what’s not, and more. I wrote this blog post for my clients, so that we can be on the same page, and for myself, so that I could finally sit down and put into words what’s been forming in my head for the last few years. Below you will find my philosophy on food and nutrition. Please note that I am not a Dietitian or Nutritionist, and these ideas are simply based on my personal experience and research. I also wrote a Nutrition Guide last year that contains more detailed information about nutrition and eating habits. I would be happy to send you a copy if you are interested.
Food is Pleasurable
Food should be fun. Food can be something to look forward to - think holiday dinners and dinner parties with friends, I even get excited about a good weeknight dinner. Food is used to celebrate special occasions, connect friends and family and can be a creative expression by the chef.
Food should taste good. Your taste buds may change and adapt over time, but you should try to experiment with a variety of foods and methods of preparing foods to find what you enjoy. For example, in my opinion most veggies taste the best when you roast them, and cottage cheese tastes the best mixed with a bit of maple syrup and pineapple chunks. If you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet the best way to stick with it is to find healthy foods that you enjoy.
Cooking can be fun. Not everyone may agree, and I have to admit that when I got married almost 3 years ago, I was a little worried about having to make supper every night for the rest of forever. However, I have found that cooking is a way for me to be creative and I love the satisfaction of making a tasty, nutritious meal with my own two hands. Some tips that I’ve noticed help me enjoy cooking more are:
1) Meal plan. Knowing what I am going to make and having the ingredients ahead of time allows me to anticipate the meal ahead without the stress of trying to figure out what to make with what I have on hand. You can read more about the benefits of meal planning and how to meal plan on my blog.
2) Try new things! There are millions of recipes out there just waiting for you to try. I’m sure you’ll like some of them. You could also make a goal to try a new ingredient every week or month to expand your horizons. I did that last year with vegetables and learned a lot.
3) Keep a running list of meals you and your family enjoy. That way when you try a new meal that you like, you won’t forget about it and can refer to the list when you meal plan.
4) Leave enough time. Nothing kills the joy of cooking like an impending deadline that you know you can’t meet. If you’re like me, I always need more time than the recipe says. I try to leave extra time so I can enjoy myself, focusing on each step without rushing. If you don’t have a lot of time in your life, look for quick and easy recipes. There are lots of those around too.
5) Keep it simple. Making meals with too many dishes and sides can be stressful. Most nights I would rather make a one pot dish and be able to give it all my attention, or delegate the meat to Kenton on the BBQ while I focus on sides.
6) Cook for people you love. It’s more fun to cook when you know someone else will enjoy it, and when the food you make creates an opportunity to gather together.
Food Habits Matter
Nutrients (or lack thereof) in the food you consume can do a lot to make or break your overall health. The food God created like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs and even animals are the best foods because they contain the nutrients that He created you to eat. Plus, they are so colourful, diverse and tasty. I am often amazed at the beauty and deliciousness of naturally occurring foods that the earth yields.
You might find it helpful to learn about the nutrients found in different foods and what they do for your body. People often know they should choose whole or natural foods because they are “healthy”, but they don’t know why. You might appreciate those healthy foods more if you knew what they were doing for you. After all, knowledge is power! To give you a concrete example, I challenge you to find out what protein and fiber are used for in your body. And if you think fiber is just to “keep you regular” and protein is just for muscles, think again! Once you start seeking out information about nutrients in natural foods and what they do for you, you’ll be amazed at all the benefits in something as simple as a piece of fruit.
There is room for balance in a healthy diet. Do your best to consume foods that are good for your health, but don’t be afraid to occasionally enjoy the things that are just meant to be enjoyed! Some of my favourite treats are chocolate, my Mother-in-law's cakes, and my Mom’s fresh cinnamon buns. Maybe you’re more of a savory person. Remember that all food provides energy. You aren't blowing your diet with a treat. Your body knows what to do with it, and it’s your habits over a long time span that really count.
Instead of building a diet that is full of restrictions, I suggest focusing on adding more nutrients. This mindset of adding, instead of taking away, is more sustainable and promotes a healthier relationship with food. Foods that are naturally occurring and less processed are a great place to start. The more you fill yourself up with nutritious foods, the less room you’ll have for the other stuff anyway.
Slowly, slowly you can make small changes that add up to a big lifestyle change, and improved health. Try taking on one small change at a time as an experiment. You might be surprised how easy it is to adapt that change compared to a whole lifestyle make-over. Once that change becomes a habit, try adding another one.
For example, in the last few years we've made decisions to eat plain Greek yogurt with maple syrup and berries instead of flavoured yogurt, to make our own granola bars instead of buying packaged ones, to eat less deli meat, and most recently to make homemade granola instead of buying cereal.
We took on all those things as experiments. Slowly and overtime we've adapted them as habits that we don’t think twice about anymore. That doesn't mean we'll never buy or eat the other things again, but we decided they would be easy enough swaps for our day to day life.
We also make room in our day to day life for treats we love, like chocolate. Because we don't obsess over food rules, we can enjoy our daily treats and other treats that come our way, and then move on with our usual eating style. Contrast that with someone who is obsessed with food rules. When they are offered a treat and can't say no, they feel guilty or think they've blown it, so they spiral out of control and eat way more than they need, thinking "I've blown it. I might as well eat all the treats I can before I re-start my diet tomorrow!"
I do not believe we should be ruled by ANYTHING, including fear or obsession with food or weight. If you feel that you are obsessed with food, food rules, your weight, dieting etc, I encourage you to talk to a professional to help you heal your relationship with food.
As for how much food to consume, you may have already caught on that counting calories is inconsistent. Not only is it incredibly hard to predict the number of calories in any given food, it's almost impossible to know how many calories your body will use during any given activity. Every body uses energy from food differently. Plus, not every day is the same, so you won't need the same number of calories every single day.
Instead you should let your body guide you on how much to eat. When you eat real food, your body has a pretty good sense of when it's had enough so listen and feel for the cues. This requires you to eat mindfully and slowly, to give yourself the time and mental space to notice when you’re starting to get full.
As a bonus, when you slow down and pay attention to how you feel when you’re eating, you may also notice which foods make you feel the best. You might find it helpful to keep a food journal noting what you ate, your hunger and fullness levels, and how you felt before, during and after meals. Writing down your feelings can help you notice patterns that may point to emotional eating triggers. Something I have noticed about myself is that when eating in a social setting, I tend to eat more mindlessly, and sometimes end up feeling fuller than I would have liked. So now I know that when I am in those settings it’s important that I still pay attention, and slow down so I don’t end up feeling uncomfortably full. Kenton also says I have “big eyes” for food I’m excited about (like when I make a new dish that I’ve been looking forward to), and I’m learning that it’s okay for me not to finish my plate if I took more than I needed (but I always save it for later because food wasted is money wasted!)
Unfortunately, when you consistently eat foods with poor nutritional value, your body has a harder time knowing when it’s had enough because even though you’ve eaten, you haven’t given your body the nutrients it wants and needs. Some processed foods are even manufactured to slip by your fullness gauge without being noticed, causing you to eat more. The more you focus on eating real, whole foods, and paying attention to your body, the easier it will get to know when you’ve had enough.
As with anything, healthy eating is all about your intentions. Weight loss is complicated, and unfortunately there are studies that show that in 95% of people, dieting does not cause sustained weight loss. In fact, yo-yo dieting or weight cycling can mess up your metabolism and be harmful for your health.
Therefore, make healthy eating about health! About longevity, about quality of life, and respecting the body God made for you. Make small changes one at a time to increase your nutrition. You might find that adapting a healthier lifestyle results in losing a few pounds, but even if you don’t lose the weight you hoped for, you’re still better off eating healthy foods. And don’t forget to enjoy your food, treats included, and live a little!
Nutrition is only part of your total well-being. Things like exercise, maintaining valuable relationships, stress management, and getting enough sleep are equally important.
I just want to finish by saying that your value is NOT determined by your appearance or even your health. Eating healthy won’t make you a better person. Losing weight won’t make you more loved. If you start a diet or a “healthy lifestyle change” hoping to gain more love, security or respect, you’ll just end up disappointed. Know that you are valued and loved because of WHO YOU ARE, not because of how you look or what you eat. You can do amazing things with your life NOW. You don’t have to wait until you lose 20lbs to experience all the loveliness of relationships, travel, rewarding work or whatever your heart desires. But also, if you’ve been waiting for the right moment to start making changes to increase your overall health, now is the time! You can do it! Remember, baby steps.
If you liked this blog post, I would encourage you to check out my other post called "A Gentler Approach to Nutrition."
If you would like to discuss any of this further, or you'd like a copy of my nutrition guide, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’d love to point you in the right direction and encourage you along the way.