When we live in a culture designed to confuse us, it’s no wonder we question our understanding of healthy eating. Here’s what to focus on instead.
Many of us tend to seek out rules, answers, and solutions from every external source in our life, but rarely look within ourselves. Especially when it comes to eating, many people don’t trust the knowledge and answers they may already have.
“Just tell me what to eat.”
“What do I eat for breakfast?”
“Tell me what to eat for every snack.”
Many people believe that as a dietitian, I tell people what to eat, write meal plans, and prescribe weight loss. Education, handouts, and weight loss counseling at times have their place – but this type of advice-giving stems from the idea that people don’t know what to eat. I have a science background, but unless I turn my TV segments, seminars, and counseling sessions into science lessons, there isn’t much food fact I can teach you that you don’t already know.
What I have found is that a lack of knowledge is not the issue.
Sure, there are nutrition myths that could stand to be busted, but even then, we follow these myths and trends because deep down we’re convinced that there is something we don’t know, something we’re missing. Media, magazines, and websites convince us that there are things we don’t know. This is how they sell us on fad diets and wellness trends, claiming they have the secret recipe for weight loss and magical cures. But again, we are not lacking knowledge.
We know vegetables are good for us. We know fruit is good for us. We know it is better to cook at home and have a variety of foods in our life. And while there may be cool new products with proposed health benefits, one food item isn’t going to change health. Why are we making it so complicated? Why do we think that someone else or some program has answers or magical knowledge beyond the basic principles of eating well?
So what is missing? Self-awareness.
Self-awareness about our hunger, our fullness, our cravings, our habits, our mindless routines – that is what can help us know what to eat. When we start to look for the answers internally, instead of externally, it is surprising how much we can learn.
Unfortunately, consuming knowledge is easy, while self-awareness takes work. And that’s exactly why people will opt for the former. But just because it takes effort, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. If this is a foreign idea to you, or perhaps you prefer to be told what to do, I encourage you to take this leap to learn more about you. Imagine how much easier aspects of your life would be if you can decide what to eat without agonizing over it, feel confident you were making the right food choices, and knew what your body was asking for and when. Here are five ways to increase your self-awareness around nutrition and food.
1. Notice how you handle hunger.
How do you handle your hunger? Do you listen to your hunger and honor it? Ignore it? Try to push it away for a bit? Do you notice your hunger at all? Some ways we feel hunger are: headache, dizziness, emptiness, stomach growling, irritability, fatigue, nausea, anxiety.
Don’t ignore or quiet your hunger, and start understanding that your relationship to your hunger is a key piece to uncovering where your relationship with food stands.
2. Notice how you talk about food and yourself.
Shaming yourself for eating a ‘bad’ food, calling yourself ‘bad’ for eating something, or banning foods that you deem unacceptable for one reason or another are ways you rely on external information to tell you the ‘right’ food choices to make. As long as you hold onto these beliefs and thought processes, it will be nearly impossible to tune in and trust your body. Work on removing the negative language and self-talk by using affirmations, positive self-talk, and reframing your negative phrases into positive ones.
3. Notice your motivation behind eating.
Are you eating something because you feel like you should? Because you want it? Because you are stressed? Because someone told you you should? The simple process of contemplating this is an eye-opening exercise in self-awareness. Don’t make choices based on someone else or external factors.
4. Notice your eating pattern.
How often are you eating? Do you eat at roughly the same times each day? Do you graze constantly? Do you have control over when you eat? There is so much to unpack here. A rough goal should be no more than 5 hours without food, ideally eating every 3-4 hours, and having some sort of pattern.
5. Are you planning what you’ll eat ahead of time?
Do you take some time each weekend to assess the upcoming week? Give at least a few minutes at the beginning of each week to think about the week ahead. Figure out which meals will be eaten out, which at home, what foods you have on hand to feed you, and if a grocery trip is needed. This practice can lend itself to meal and snack preparation for the week. No matter how hectic your weeks are, this practice can save you time, dollars, and stress. Planning is key!
Do a mental check-in with yourself for each of these prompts, and it will help you find areas to work on that are based on your unique needs. And instead of looking to the latest headline or wellness blogger’s diet trend,
Look within yourself.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: BENJAMIN WONG
Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life, visit Courtney at the RealFoodCourt.