Can we pause for a minute and redefine what healthy eating really means?
I recently talked about National Nutrition Month (March) and how it was created.
I also talked about the irony in that since it was created, the increase in disordered eating behaviors has also increased nationwide - especially restriction based on the fear of eating foods that are deemed "unhealthy, not real, unclean, wasted calories," (aka orthorexia).
So, let's put a different spin on the term healthy altogether...
"Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you don't have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It's what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfections, is what counts."
I like to think of this definition as "big picture healthy," meaning that widening the lens of what it means to eat healthy includes not only the nutrients consumed but also how a meal or snack feels in your body. Do you feel energized after eating or feel like you want to take a nap? Neither feeling is better than the other, it just depends on what your individual needs are for that day and the activities you'd like to participate in.
Big picture healthy encourages honoring hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues. It asks you to notice the feelings and emotions that come up as a part of your lived experience and how eating behaviors are influenced by those emotions. Tribole and Resch call this body-food choice congruence.
Body-food choice congruence is a form of interoceptive awareness - meaning, noticing sensations in your body that may need attention, such as needing to use the bathroom, thirst, hunger, etc. Body-food choice congruence puts equal emphasis on eating foods that not only sound delicious to you but that you'll also feel well after.
Research as shown that by learning this awareness through mindfulness-based practices you're more likely to be able to make food choices from a place of self-care rather than self-control (i.e. using diet-based rules to guide your food choices).
Learning to redefine healthy eating with these ideas in mind can be a full lesson in self-discovery - one that likely won't be learned overnight, especially if you've been following diet-based rules to tell you what/how much to eat for many years. BUT it is possible! Give yourself time, grace, and a lot of self-compassion. Learn to define big picture healthy is a practice.
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