We are completely inundated with diet and nutrition information daily. Popular media, influencers, social media, Netflix documentaries, the list goes on…we are made to believe that we need to eat food X to live longer, or that we NEED to start this diet to look like celebrity F because that is what will make us happier. The part that really gets me fired up about this is that they often use fear to try and sell you some product, book or program but they care VERY little about you, your health and your wellbeing. The focus is on what will make money, what will show results quickly (not results that will last) and perpetuating this false belief we all need to look a certain way to be happy, healthy and loved. This is what we often refer to as diet culture, the belief that we need to fit a cookie cutter body shape and that if we do not, we must ‘diet’. It is difficult to know what is credible information, and we start to doubt ourselves and what we know to be true. This whole culture has created a massive increase in eating disorders and metabolic dysfunction. What I am here to tell you is that you DO NOT NEED to diet, you can eat with freedom and flexibility and still be perfectly healthy but much happier.
You may be thinking, “there is no way I can eat what I want and still be healthy…” or “this sounds great, but I know I can’t do that because I will gain weight or lose control”.
These feelings are perfectly normal, especially with the information that is being ingrained in us at such a young age. This is exactly why food and nutrition are so closely tied to our emotions; it is important to understand this is okay. I want you to understand that one meal, one day, even one week will not make you ‘unhealthy’; it is what we do consistently over time. Research has shown time and time again that diets do not work in the long term. The concern with any diet is that restriction or the internal narrative of “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” have this food, can lead to this overwhelming feeling of deprivation which can then lead to out of control cravings and/or bingeing followed by overwhelming guilt, shame, and feelings of failure (10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, 2019). The 10 Principles to Intuitive Eating (https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/) takes a major shift from what we were ingrained to believe, towards learning to trust your body again. These principles help us to find the balance between thinking about our health but also enjoying the food we eat with pleasure rather than guilt.
How can we begin to apply these principles in an active lifestyle? Do they even work for athletes?
We absolutely can apply these principles in an active lifestyle! One of the principles is “Honor your health”. What we eat can affect our performance but it is not the only thing. There is still room for freedom and flexibility in training season, it may just take a bit of a more intentional approach.
Taking a step back from everything, a big first step is to understand what your big goal or dream is. What is it that you are working towards? Many times, we think it is weight loss that we are wanting but that is a deficit driven goal meaning that it is EXTREMELY difficult to stay motivated and inspired (Watch An User’s Guide to Cheating Death, Episode 3 to get a deeper look at diets). We can also challenge ourselves to really dive into why we want to ‘lose weight’. Some common reasons I have heard in practice include: improved person, more speed, energy at the end of the day, being able to stay active into retirement, and so on.
Next, we learn and build on the basics of nutrition. Two major focuses are:
- Building balance in a meal-include a source of protein (about ¼ of the plate), add in fiber and energy (often the grain or starch), finish with colour (aim for 2-3 colours of fruit and/or vegetables). Not every meal is going to fit this perfectly and that is OK! This is a baseline goal. The portions will also be dependent on what your day looks like and how much activity you have to fit in.
- Aim to eat every 3-4 hours throughout the day, whether it is a meal or a snack. The goal is to be able to listen to our hunger cues but with our busy lifestyles, these cues can get ignored or pushed aside. Making sure you have a plan to eat every 3-4 hours helps bring you back to mindfulness and awareness of what your body is telling you or sometime YELLING at you.
Simplify. Throw out the diet books, unfollow the influencer selling a diet or program, walk away when colleagues or friends start ranting about diets and start taking care of you and your body. Finding freedom and confidence with food is possible and will help you to experience to fullness of good health, high performance and happiness.
Want to learn more and join a community of others striving for a similar goal-finding freedom in food and experience the fullness of good health, more energy and better workouts? Check out my online program, Eat, Live, Train.