If you’re constantly ‘falling off the wagon’ and feel frustrated by your lack of ‘willpower’, then learning to ditch rules and find a healthier balance can make a big difference in sustaining healthy lifestyle patterns. Using external rules to guide your eating can be incredibly draining and take up a lot of mental energy. Here’s how you can start to find a more balanced approach.
External food rules include counting calories, points or ‘macros’, only eating at certain times or only allowing certain portions, regardless of how you feel. But how can these rules know exactly what your body needs right now? What if you’re super hungry one day, but you’ve used up your ‘calorie allowance’? Should you just stay starving? Rules can set us up for failure, and don’t take into account variations of what we might need, or our own food preferences.
So how do you know how much to eat?
Instead of rules, I like to teach guidelines on tuning into your own body’s needs. That means responding to your hunger and fullness cues and choosing foods that you enjoy and that nourish your body.
Many people who have followed food rules and diets can be out of touch with these cues. And it makes sense – if you are only ever allowed to eat at certain times, you learn to ignore true hunger and if you can only eat a certain amount until the next meal, it makes sense to eat EVERYTHING because you’re not allowed to eat again, right?
Eating when you experience a gentle hunger and stopping when you are comfortable, rather than overly full, can help you eat just the right amount for you. If we ignore hunger until we’re extremely hungry, it’s natural to eat past the feeling of comfort as our hormones kick in and increase appetite. Often our desire for energy-dense foods also increases. If we eat past the point of comfortable fullness on a regular basis, we not only feel uncomfortable, but we’re giving our body more than it needs.
Mindful eating can help us explore our hunger and fullness cues in a non-judgemental way. At the start it’s easy for those food rules to jump back in our head but, with mindful eating, we can shift our focus back to what our body and our knowledge is telling us.
How do I know what to eat?
What do you feel like eating? That’s the easiest question to ask! If you’re worried you’ll only ever want to eat fast food and chocolate all day, it’s highly unlikely! If you’ve ever been on holiday and eaten out a lot, you may have experienced that feeling that you just want a home-cooked meal with lots of vegetables. It’s natural to crave variety, and if we use mindful eating to learn what makes our bodies feel good, then it’s probably not chocolate and fast food all day, every day.
Another question you can ask yourself is, ‘What will also give my body what it needs nutrient-wise?’. That might mean you really feel like a pizza and you serve it with a salad.
When you’ve been hung up on food rules it can be easy to think in black and white with food but, remember, it’s the OVERALL picture of our diet that’s important.
Giving up food rules and learning to listen to your own intuition and nutrition knowledge is a learning process that can take some time. There’s lots of books and resources that can help you along the way, or book in to see a non-diet, intuitive-eating nutritionist or dietitian that can help guide you.
Here’s to a great 2018!
Nicola Jackson is a NZ-registered nutritionist with a passion for helping people to develop a healthier relationship with food. Nicola’s blog Eat Well NZ tells you why you don’t need to quit foods, follow rules, or go to the extreme to be healthy. Her blog showcases a balanced approach to eating well, with plenty of healthy recipes and other tips on nutrition, fitness and wellness. You can also find Nicola on Facebook and Instagram.