With the influx of nutrition information all around us via the media, social media, advertisements, word of mouth, etc., it is easy to feel both confused and guilty for not “measuring up.” It is easy to jump on the bandwagon of the latest diet craze, hoping to reap the benefits it promises you.
Somewhere down the line, what was meant to be helpful has turned into rigid rules and regulations for many people. You are either stressing out trying to follow these rules, or rejecting them to retain your autonomy and perceived freedom.
To be honest, I even get tired of seeing nutrition information portrayed in the media/social media, and I chose nutrition as my career! I know how easily it can be turned into fear of “dying” if you don’t eat a certain way, fear that others will judge your eating decisions, or just add to your confusion about what nutrition even is.
In this post, I wanted to give you a few things to think about regarding nutrition, and hopefully help you see it in a new light.
Every BODY is different
We are all so very diverse. We metabolize nutrients/chemicals differently, we have varied health concerns, and we have a different genetic makeup than our peers that affects our specific nutrient needs. Eating has different cultural meanings tied to it depending on our upbringing. We have different degrees of socioeconomic status. We have different preferences regarding the kind of foods we like and prefer.
Because we all have such unique characteristics and needs, does it make sense for all of us to eat the same way?
You may hear about different eating patterns being THE way to eat, such as paleo, keto, vegan, gluten free, etc. But, there is simply no one right way to eat for everyone.
I believe it is problematic to promote one way of eating to the masses. Nutrition is very individualized as I have seen personally, in my work as a dietitian, and through what research shows us.
Even my husband and I have slight differences in the way we eat due to our individual needs. His body responds to and feels its best when he eats a more plant based diet, due to his history of heart disease. My body feels better when I get most of my protein from animal sources, vs plant sources, because of my history of digestive issues.
If two people eat the exact same way, eating the same types and amounts of food, their bodies will still look different and respond in different ways. We are such complex beings with different health issues, genetics, microbiomes (I am sure I will talk about this more at some point), ways of processing nutrients, etc.
So, if you see one way of eating being promoted as the best way to eat for everyone, it should send up a red flag.
Nutrition is not meant to be rigid
In addition to nutrition not being the same for everyone, it is also not meant to be rigid. We often put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to eat a certain way, then we are prone to give up when we cannot stick with it. Whatever we do should be sustainable.
Did you know stress around eating can cause you to have digestive woes? Did you know stress can also affect how you break down and digest the foods you are eating? If not, don’t let this stress you out either. Take a deep breath in :).
We were meant to enjoy eating. There is a reason our bodies release “reward” type chemicals when we eat, especially when eating foods we enjoy.
Eating keeps us alive, and our bodies send us cues and reward signals so we keep doing it.
Whenever we approach eating with “black and white” thinking, we can end up on a pendulum between extremes.
There are two extremes I see in those who feel stress around food. We like to call these extremes the “overbearing parent” and the “rebellious teen.” When it comes to deciding what to eat, you may be governed by one of these voices screaming between your ears.
The “overbearing parent” creates strict food rules because of what you may have read on the internet, or were given by a healthcare provider, or heard about in some Netflix documentary. It is a black and white approach to eating and is guilt provoking when you break a rule. It means strict adherence to rules and denying what you feel you want or what your body may be asking for (like eating when you are truly hungry). It can lead to feelings of deprivation, shame, and anxiety around eating.
What does an “overbearing parent” usually produce? You guessed it, a “rebellious teen.”
Constant pressure produces rebellion. Our natural response is rebellion when we put unrealistic expectations around our eating behaviors. It threatens our autonomy. We feel like we cannot make our own food decisions, so we rebel. We think “who cares, I cannot stick to this anyway, so I’ll eat this box of cookies!” We throw any intention of caring for our bodies out the window just to have that control back. We then feel sick, disgusted with ourselves, and may even see worsening symptoms of any health issues we are dealing with.
When a teen is rebellious, what is the natural response of the parent? They become more strict! And the cycle continues.
Neither the “overbearing parent” nor “rebellious teen” help us feel peace around food. But, there is a beautiful, pathway to peace right there in the middle of those extremes. I like to call this middle ground the “grounded adult.”
As a “grounded adult,” you understand you are able to make your own decisions. You can learn how different foods affect you, and use this information to make your decisions, but you know it is up to you. You are in the driver’s seat. You know eating well for your body is not “black and white,” but grey and muddy and different for everyone. Perfection is not required. You know the goal is taking care of yourself, whatever that means for you.
We were meant to live in freedom, not bound by rules. Use nutrition information to help you eat in a way that helps you feel your best, and helps your body function at its best, but know it was never meant to cause us so much stress. The goal of nutrition is to help us feel good so we can truly live our lives, not being bound by self-inflicted rules.
Nutrition is about balance, tuning in, and giving our body what it needs
I believe it is important to tune in to what our bodies really need. Nutrition information is great in that it can teach us how different foods may affect our bodies, but I see nutrition as a tool to help me identify what is going on when I tune in.
I know I am hungrier throughout the day if I’ve done a strenuous workout. Nutrition tells me I am hungrier because I used up more resources when exercising, and my body is asking for more.
I know if I don’t eat enough throughout the day, I run out of fuel pretty fast when doing physical activities I enjoy (like dancing). Nutrition tells me that I need adequate nutrients to keep me going. Nutrition also tells me that eating consistently throughout the day (eating regular meals/snacks) keeps me feeling energized.
The same thing applies to any health concerns we may be having.
I know if I eat certain foods right now, I have digestive distress. What I have learned regarding how certain foods affect my GI conditions tells me why.
It also applies to how we may feel later. My husband may not feel the effects of eating a more plant based diet right now, but from what he knows about his condition, and what he has been through before, he knows being mindful about preventing progression of the disease will help him continue to feel his best, minimizing any possible complications.
It is important to tune in and give our body what it needs.
We need adequate nourishment. We need variety. We need balance. We need flexibility.
To sum everything up:
Nutrition means tuning in to what our bodies need.
Nutrition means giving our body what it needs, and our bodies need nourishment.
Nutrition is about balance, and flexibility. Nutrition does not require perfection.
Nutrition is beneficial when it is sustainable.
Nutrition is about caring for ourselves. Caring for ourselves looks different for everyone.Follow me on social media: