Life can be complex, so it’s human nature to try and simplify it with rules and guidelines. When it comes to food, however, an all-or-nothing mentality may not be the best for our health.


Do you constantly feel confused about what to eat?  You’re not alone. And while you may feel confused about what to eat, I assure you that the confusion is not coming from the evidenced-based field of nutritional science.  

It is coming from trends, fads, sensationalized media stories, testimonials, and self-proclaimed nutrition experts.

While nutrition is a relatively new field of study, there are basic nutrition principles that have consistently been proven time and again to be valid and effective.  You’ve likely noticed a difference yourself in how you feel when the following are applied consistently:

  1. Cook more at home with fresh ingredients.
  2. Include some fruit and/or vegetables at most meals and snacks – make meals colorful!
  3. Make at least 1/2 your grains “whole” each day.
  4. Aim to eat balanced meals consisting of complex carbohydrate, protein, fat, fruit and/or vegetable.
  5. Include snacks when meal times are longer than 3-5 hours apart, based on hunger and fullness levels.

As you can tell, this is meant to be a set of principles to guide food patterns, not to scrutinize every meal, snack, food or food ingredient.  It also means to not to obsess over the nutrient content of everything that goes into your mouth. Unfortunately, our society tends to fall for the seductive, alluring message that the more restrictive you become, the better “results” you will have. And that’s when the nutrition information on food trackers, labels, and other online resources become problematic.

The all-or-nothing mentality that’s often promoted can quickly turn well-meaning nutrition information into a quest for perfect eating.

However, there’s a simpler way to gauge healthy eating without turning nutrition information into a diet. Here are a few general rules of thumb:

  1. Fresh foods tend to be more nutritious (as opposed to packaged foods or fast food)
  2. Eating more plants has consistently been shown to improve health outcomes.
  3. Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source, and if you don’t eat enough of them, you will have more cravings.
  4. Protein and fiber will keep you satisfied longer.
  5. Going too long between meals can lead to overeating.

Please note what wasn’t said:

  1. Never eat out.
  2. Eating nothing but fruits and vegetables, especially when on a cleanse or detox.
  3. Don’t eat anything processed, nothing “white”, no bread or pasta, sugar is evil.
  4. Never eat carbs or fat.
  5. You must be perfect.

Give yourself unconditional permission to eat food without the all-or-nothing mentality, and reconnect with what you need and want.  The very act of doing so puts you back in charge of your food decisions, rather than being micromanaged by a list of rules. This works most effectively when you are curious about food and your well-being, rather than judgmental or fearful.  That’s because self-care strategies and evaluating the behaviors around food is far more productive than blaming the food itself.

In fact, food patterns tend to take care of themselves when you are more aware of your thoughts and behaviors around food.

Individuals who can remain open, curious, flexible and balanced with food and exercise are often the ones who are the healthiest in mind and body. Using intuition to guide you in your eating is about taking care of you, and your unique situation for the day.  It’s meant to be empowering, and to give you permission to listen to your body, instead of someone else’s food rules that don’t necessarily apply to your situation. It’s also meant to be flexible rather than rigid, given that our bodies often have different needs from day to day. Eat with the intent to feel good, energized, effective and clear-headed,

And you will naturally find the balance between pleasure, satisfaction and nourishment.

Adapted from the original article.

Emily Fonnesbeck, RD, CD, CLT is a private practice Registered Dietitian based in Saint George, Utah. Instead of creating unnecessary restrictions, Emily focuses on helping individuals become confident and in charge of their own well-being through Intuitive Eating and Mindful Living. She is a strong believer and advocate for helping people become capable individuals who are confident in taking care of themselves.  Make a visit and read more from Emily.