The other day I was at the grocery store; I saw a quite thin girl intensely reading a nutrition label on the back of a product. She held it close to her face, scoured the label up and down, made a “yikes” face, and put it back on the shelf. What was she reading? It was a bag of carrots.
The following day a received an email asking about “a serving of almonds”. “I counted out 23, because that’s a serving, but so is 1 ounce, and when I weighed them they were only .9 ounces, what do I do?”
Another conversation with a client included, “well, I ate some birthday cake last night, only one piece, but I decided to skip breakfast this morning to make up for it, and because I felt so guilty.”
Whether you are constantly grilling nutrition labels of every food you eat, counting out individual grains of rice, or feeling strong guilt after eating a “bad” food, you may be over thinking your health, and potentially setting yourself up for more harm than good.
Some other habits that seem to come up are:
- Preoccupation and worries about eating impure or unhealthy foods and of the effect of food quality and composition on physical or emotional health or both.
- Rigid avoidance of foods believed by the patient to be “unhealthy,” which may include foods containing any fat, preservatives, food additives, animal products, or other ingredients considered by the subject to be unhealthy.
- For individuals who are not food professionals, excessive amounts of time (eg, 3 or more hours per day) spent reading about, acquiring, and preparing specific types of foods based on their perceived quality and composition.
- Intolerance to others’ food beliefs. (This is another hot button topic for another day – gluten fee, vegan lovers) 😉
Now, I’m not trying to say that reading nutrition labels, occasionally measuring foods, watching what you eat, or eating less after a big meal are bad behaviors. There are just better ways to go about them that won’t keep you feeling obsessed, stressed or guilty.
The following are a few simple tips to keep you on track, without making nutrition an obsession:
1) Don’t Obsess Over EVERY Food Label. I’ll admit it, I’m a pretty boring eater 5 days a week. I eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch and the same types of things for dinners. I probably could tell you the nutrition info from each of these meals roughly, but I don’t need to. I have looked up the common foods that I eat, and I also know that I am maintaining my weight goals – therefore I must be eating the right amount of food.
If you are intrigued by a new food, or honestly have no idea what is in the food, then yes, check it out and educate yourself. Please don’t stress over every single food that you eat though, especially fruits, vegetables and proteins.
Better Strategy: Tracking calories is a great way to take your physique to the next level, but for starting out and most peoples goals, might be too overwhelming at first. Figure out the nutrition for your top 10 foods you eat, and end there. After that, practice mindful/intuitive eating. Rather than setting calorie limits for every single piece of food and meticulously counting every almond, eat slower and listen to your body. Stop when satisfied, not when you are bursting at the seams and it’s too late.
2) Don’t label foods BAD or GOOD. Yes, some foods may not help you reach your goals very well, but the quantity you consume them in may be the real problem. Once you start labeling food bad or good, you slowly can become more obsessive with labeling foods, and then labeling ingredients, thus completely avoiding foods that may not be as bad as you make them out to be.
Example: That snickers bar is a BAD food (pretty much true – but one Snickers bar in a blue moon won’t completely wreck your body – if you are following a generally healthy eating regimen) –> that snickers bar has a lot of sugar –> sugar is bad –> carbs are sugar/sugar is a carb –> all carbs are bad –> I can’t eat that one carrot because it has 6 gram of carbs. See how this can happen? It’s not as rare as one may think. Also, when you start labeling foods bad, you think about them more, crave them more, and probably end up eating them more than you normally would once you finally “break” and “give in” to the forbidden foods – because let’s be honest, we all want to be bad sometimes.
Better Strategy: Some foods are better for you than others – that’s a fact. Focus on eating the more healthful foods that you already know are good for you and your goals, but at the same time don’t over analyze and critique foods or lump them into super broad negative categories. This will help reduce the rebellious pleasure that comes with eating the “bad” foods, and likely reduce your cravings for them.
Labeling foods as bad can also inhibit your sense of really feeling what the food does for you because you are too preoccupied with feeling guilty or naughty about eating it. Maybe eating one cookie is enough and satisfying, but if you are too busy feeling guilty about it you may never realize this natural bodily feedback and continue to eat past satiety. This is another example of becoming more mindful and intuitive with your eating. Easier said than done, but very helpful in the long run.
3) Stop feeling guilty and beating yourself up over foods, especially on special occasions. This relates to #2. If your child is having a birthday party, eat a piece of cake and move on. You probably physically don’t need a large piece, or several pieces, but allow yourself to enjoy the birthday guilt free. Learning intuitive eating can be a great help in these situations. Once you realize that you don’t eat cake and pizza every day, you can free up your mind from the stress that you are putting on yourself and enjoy the time with friends and family.
When you break it down, guilt is an emotion about morals. Unless you are stealing the food from a starving person, you really aren’t doing anything morally wrong.
Better Strategy: Rather than feeling guilty or bad about a food, take a step back and assess the situation you are in. First identify that you are feeling guilty and then change your reaction to it. You can try changing your reaction to “Ok, this is a birthday party, I don’t eat cake on the norm – so I will enjoy this one reasonable piece and move on.”
After eating a previously labeled guilty food, the next step is to get right back to your standard healthy routine. Don’t look at it as “well, my day is ruined, I might as well eat the rest of the leftover cake now” but rather, “I enjoyed that cake, and now its back to my usual dinner of ____, _____ and ____”. End of story. Remember, there are no bad FOODS*, but there can be bad HABITS.
*Pertaining to 99% of people wanting to get healthier and lose some pounds – for people looking to get super shredded or yoked, and take their physique to the top 1% there are definitely bad foods…maybe a future article?
I encourage all my clients to take a step back if they are getting to obsessive about food, counting every morsel, and shaming themselves for eating poorly. Get more in tune with your body, and listen to your natural biofeedback cues of hunger and fullness. If you have foods that you ABSOLUTELY know that you have no self-control with, maybe you should consider avoiding them all together – at least at the start of your new lifestyle changing plan. Focus on establishing a healthy relationship with all foods, and you will start to find that you can incorporate some of your tougher control foods back into your diet.
It all comes down to finding an overall healthy balance in life, with exercise, food and also your mental approach to both. Stop judging yourself and comparing yourself to others, and live your life with less stress. You may find that the weight starts coming off faster than you may think.
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Stay healthy my friends,