If you’re like many of my clients, I’m guessing you’ve done your fair share of diets. Maybe some worked for a while. Maybe some didn’t.
The truth is 98% of diets fail. And of the 2% that do work, it’s because your entire life is committed - the rules of the diet dictate social gatherings, holidays, family events, weekends, every damn day, hour, and meal of your life.
In another setting, this would be a clinically diagnosed eating disorder.
You know this. You’ve experienced this. That’s why you’re here!
Once you finally break free from the prison of dieting, it can feel incredibly liberating. It can also feel a little confusing when trying to re-learn how to feed yourself, because, unfortunately, the majority of nutrition information available in the media comes through the filter of the diet industry.
For example, maybe you’ve heard that carbs are bad or unhealthy. Perhaps you’ve heard that fat is bad for your heart, or that animal-based protein sources cause cancer.
How do you genuinely nourish your body without falling into the diet mentality trap?
Clients and I tackle this question daily.
The good news is, you don’t have to earn a nutrition degree to understand how to eat for true health without the influence of externally-dictated food rules. The starting place is simply to learn about the building blocks of what we eat without any diet culture nonsense layered on top.
Once we remove the emotions and psychology around food, it all boils down to organic chemistry and physiology.
Your body needs daily nourishment in the highest quantity from carbs, protein, and fat (the macronutrients, macro meaning the most). You also need smaller amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (the micronutrients, micro meaning the least). The micronutrients help your body process and utilize the macronutrients.
Let’s break down the macronutrients even further.
Carbohydrates provide your body with the necessary energy to live a full life. They’re made of complex molecules called saccharides. Simple carbs are made of 1 (mono-) saccharide and 2 (di-) saccharides. Complex carbs are made of 3 or more saccharides, also called oligosaccharides.
Simple carbs are more basic in their chemical makeup; they’re also easier to digest and absorb, which means you get energy from them faster. Complex carbs, on the other hand, include fiber, which digests slower, provides a steady stream of energy and helps keep your GI tract and beneficial gut bacteria happy.
Contrary to what diet culture tells you, your body needs both types of carbs. Diet culture is obsessed with demonizing some foods and putting health halos over others. Simple carbs are bad. Complex carbs are better. No carbs are best (looking at you, Keto).
But your body is wiser than that.
For example, while diet culture is demonizing added simple sugars, it’s praising complex carbs including whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. But at the end of the day, your body needs simple carbs as much as it requires the complex carbs.
If you only ate simple carbs, you might experience more highs and lows with your energy. On the other hand, if you only ate complex carbs, you might experience more bloating and gas from all the fiber. Your body wants a balance of these carbs to function well.
Protein is the one macronutrient that seems to escape the guillotine of diet culture. It’s necessary for building and repairing muscles, hair, etc. Chemically, protein is made up of amino acids.
There are nine essential amino acids, meaning that our body can’t make them and we need to get them from food. Essential amino acids come primarily from animal-based proteins like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, and a few plant-based proteins like soybeans and whole grains such as quinoa.
If you prefer more vegetarian meals, foods such as legumes and nuts or seeds lack two of the essential amino acids, while whole grains lack a different two essential amino acids. When legumes, nuts or seeds, and whole grains are eaten throughout the day, your wicked smart body will put their respective amino acids together to make complementary proteins.
With the exception of vegan diets restricting animal proteins and staunch environmental advocates pushing plant-based proteins over animal protein, protein in general, has escaped at least the influence of weight centered opinions around food.
Fats, on the other hand, were the nutritional demons of the ’80s and ’90s. I was raised as a fat-conscious kid, which affected my relationship with food and my body.
In reality, fats are simple organic compounds that are a blend of saturated, mono-unsaturated, and polyunsaturated molecules that are either fully saturated with hydrogen or not.
Saturated fats mean that their molecules are fully saturated with hydrogen, making them solid at room temperature. Foods such as butter, coconut oil, and lard are all saturated fats.
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats have one or more molecule in their compound that’s not fully saturated with hydrogen. Olive, canola, and other oils that are liquid at room temperature are primarily mono- or polyunsaturated fats. Other sources of mono- or polyunsaturated fats include cold-water fish, nuts, and nut butter like almond or cashew butter.
If one of those polyunsaturated fats is chemically altered by attaching hydrogen to the molecules who are lacking in hydrogen, the fat becomes hydrogenated. This is usually done to extend the shelf life of a packaged food that would otherwise go stale or rancid more quickly due to the fragility of the mono- or polyunsaturated fats in its ingredients.
You’ve probably heard that you need to eat less saturated fat and more mono- or polyunsaturated fats. Perhaps you’ve also fallen into the diet culture trap that eating fat will make you fat? I know I did back in the day.
Fats indeed have more energy (aka calories) per gram than carbs and protein do.
BUT, they also provide greater satisfaction and satiation to a meal. If you’re satisfied with your meal, you’re less likely to continue eating beyond fullness or binge on highly pleasurable foods later.
Case in point, in the 90s’ there was a snack food company in the US called SnackWells. All of their cookies and crackers were fat-free, so people thought they could eat whole boxes at one time without any health or weight effects.
Here’s what really happened: fat-free + no guilt + limited satisfaction = serious bingeing.
Our bodies are wise, and they like a balance of all these macronutrients. Your body knows when it’s being duped by you eating fat-free or carb-free food. No matter how loudly you convince yourself you’re eating healthy but restricting carbs or fat, I can almost guarantee you’ll find yourself binging on the very foods you’re trying to avoid. We have scientific evidence to prove this, and I bet you’ve had some personal experience at the end of any of the diets you’ve tried.
The point is this. Feeding yourself in a health-promoting way doesn’t have to be complicated.
Your body is designed to want all the nutritious foods and all the highly pleasurable, fun foods. Your body craves flexibility and neutrality with food.
With a basic understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition, and a willingness to check in with your body, you’ve already made great strides toward nourishing yourself without restrictive diet culture food rules.
If you want to learn more about how to feed yourself without food rules or restrictions, visit the contact page to schedule a Free discovery call.