Is Food Your Friend or Foe?
There is so much conflicting information on the internet about what constitutes a “healthy” diet. It can be overwhelming to navigate the complex world of nutrition. Given today’s fast-paced world, it can also be difficult to find time to prepare healthy foods on a regular basis. It is easier to grab processed foods on the go or skip eating altogether and just run on caffeine and snacks.
So most of us learn to eat what’s readily available. With a lot of fast food places in every corner and vending machines in many public buildings, we have learned to eat on the go. Multitasking while eating has become a normalized practice as it is often perceived as being time-efficient.
Eating has become something that many of us do while multitasking, and in addition, we are constantly bombarded with messages via social media and television that equate thinness with success and admiration.
As a result, many of us learn to restrict our food intake and engage in excessive exercise in an attempt to achieve a certain body size or meet societal expectations. Sitting down and eating has become an afterthought and something we rather avoid than embrace.
Food is much more than just fuel and calories. It has the power to transform our health and well-being. True well-being is achieved through a balanced, mindful, and intentional approach. Therefore we need to cultivate self-compassion, self-care, and self-respect with the foods we are eating to not only nourish the body but also our mind and soul.
In this article, I will share how mindful eating, rather than the specific foods we consume, can help us cultivate a greater sense of safety and enjoyment around food, while also allowing us to release any fears or anxieties we may have around eating.
How I Broke Away From Toxic Diet Culture
As a teenager, I was also constantly bombarded with messages about dieting and what constitutes the “perfect body” which was often depicted as a tall, slender model with visible abs. People admired these women, and I associated admiration with success.
I started to save “thinspo” pictures which were a collection of inspirational pictures of women who were thin. My goal was to look like them. So I started to restrict foods, specifically sweets, soda, and carbohydrates such as bread and rice. Some people might think I was health-oriented. But looking back, I had an unhealthy obsession with diet foods and a certain body image.
This went on for a while but instead of feeling successful and accomplished, I felt unhappier than I ever felt with myself. I never liked the way I looked in the mirror because there was always something to improve on in terms of my physical traits.
It was when I started to notice people who seemed genuinely content in their bodies and didn’t have an unhealthy fixation with food that had sparked my curiosity about what their secret to their contentment was.
I was never able to figure out the perfect diet that helped me stay in shape, gave me enough energy, and satiated me.What I observed from those people was that they genuinely enjoyed cooking, preparing their meals, and enjoyed savoring each bite.
I came across the term “mindful eating” and started to read articles and books on that topic. One book that shifted my perspective was “The Slow Down Diet” by Marc David. It is a book that focuses on mindfulness and mindful eating by being aware of and paying attention to hunger and fullness signals, eating without distractions, and focusing on the pleasure and satisfaction of eating.
The author encourages readers to eat slowly and savor their food, and to avoid the diet mentality and food restriction. The book also stresses the importance of physical activity and self-care practices in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
I had collected a lot of books on nutrition by that time. Most of them were about what foods to eat and which foods to avoid to lose weight. I also followed a lot of social media influencers who showed what they ate on a daily basis to stay in shape.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc David about his unconventional approach to dieting, which has helped thousands of women break free from the cycle of yo-yo dieting and overcome their obsession with food. What I learned from the interview can be summarized in 5 principles:
- Ditch the diet mentality: Avoid categorizing foods as “good” or “bad” and instead focus on nourishing your body with a balanced diet with whole foods. Use calorie counting as a tool, but it is important to recognize that it is not a measure of success or self-worth.
- Focus on the quality of food: Choose nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
- Practice mindful eating: Pay attention to your hunger and fullness levels and eat without distractions, such as TV or phone. Listen to your body: Recognize your body’s hunger and satiety signals and respond to them. Reflect on how we feel around certain foods. Reflect on our messages that have been passed down from others about food
- Allow yourself to enjoy all foods in moderation: Don’t restrict certain foods and allow yourself to have them in moderation, without guilt or shame. Most people follow a 80/20 rule in which they aim to eat healthy food choices 80% of the time and indulge 20% of the time. This helps create sustainability and flexibility.
- Prioritize physical activity: Regular physical activity can help you improve your mood and well-being. It can help us become more present in our body and thus feel safe and grounded.
In conclusion, when we focus on what is wrong with our bodies we tend to find more things to dislike about ourselves. Rather than punishing ourselves with negative self-talk or food restrictions, we can use mindful eating and an intuitive approach to break free from the harmful cycle of diet culture.
Remember, food is not the enemy, it is our ally in achieving true balance and well-being. My hope as a naturopathic doctor for my patients is that we all can approach our meals with gratitude and joy, and use them to nourish not only our physical bodies but also our minds and souls.
Schedule a complimentary call with me here, to learn how we can support your overall health.
David, M. (2009). The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss. Healing Arts Press.