I thought this blog post, Why Food is Beyond “Good” and “Evil”, was a breath of fresh air. It really brings to the table (pun intended) the idea of developing a healthy relationship with food instead of
Too often we vilify certain foods because they are not “good” for us. I’m not saying we should exist solely on potato chips and ice cream, but we really need to adopt a healthier relationship with food. Ultimately, food is fuel. I believe we should nourish our bodies primarily with the kinds of fuel that are best for them, so our engines don’t sputter around on crappier fare. But I really think we do ourselves a disservice when we approach asceticism in our attitudes towards food. And some people need to honestly be concerned about eating disorders.
If we berate ourselves for an rare indulgence, we do not have a healthy relationship with food. If we never even permit the occasional indulgence, we do not have a healthy relationship with food. If we allow the occasional indulgence to become far more often than occasional, we do not have a healthy relationship with food. None of these approaches are healthy, either physically or mentally. Nor are they sustainable.
What we need to do is give up the idea of indulgence completely. Everything is allowable, nothing is an “indulgence”. I try to mentally group foods more into categories such as “very rarely”, “occasionally”, and “regularly”.
Now I’m not talking about foods that actually cause us problems and really should be avoided all together. Obviously, those things belong in the “never” category. I have discovered that I am gluten intolerant. This affects roughly 15% of the population, which is far more common than I ever imagined. (Read more about gluten intolerance here.) I really need to try to avoid gluten completely if I want to be healthy. Likewise, if someone has a food allergy or sensitivity. But I’m talking here about treats that we tend to beat ourselves up about eating.
“Junk food” should not be a main staple of our diets. But one occasional cookie is not going to permanently harm us, nor should we consider the “slip” on our diet to be an excuse to give up on the attempt to eat better. In fact, I’m all for giving up dieting altogether. When we allow ourselves to have the rare treat, completely guilt free, we will be far better off than if we fall into a cycle of strict adherence punctuated by binges.
Dieting is, ultimately, self-destructive. Eating a healthy diet is far different from dieting. I eat a healthy diet. Does that mean I never have an “unhealthy” food? No. Does it mean that I never take in more calories than I burn off? No. It does mean that I have stopped counting calories, stopped bowing to the number on the scales, and stopped beating myself up for not having the willpower to say no. When you truly give yourself permission to eat anything, you’ll find that the temptation to binge wanes.
The beauty of this approach is that it is so simple. Eat when you’re hungry, instead of going by the clock. Stop eating when you’re no longer hungry, instead of cleaning your plate regardless. You don’t have to carry a food scale and a set of measuring cups with you wherever you go. And let’s not even talk about those calorie booklets. Simplify your approach to food. Be kind to yourself. Self-flagellation is not going to remove that piece of cake you just ate from your thighs. In fact, love your thighs, and the rest of your body too.
For a while, you may want to have cake for lunch. Go ahead and savor it; it’s not going to kill you. Unless you never eat anything but cake, ever again. Eventually it’ll lose its “forbidden fruit” status, and the allure will fade. You may still want to have cake occasionally, but you’ll stop feeling the desire to have ALL of the cake. You’ll also probably find that you really enjoy eating nutritious foods just as well as not-so-nutritious foods. And once everything starts to balance out, you may just discover that you really like the way you feel when you feed your engine high-nutrition fuel.