Confused about what to eat? Trying to eat “clean” or at least gluten-free, processed-free, sugar-free, and organic? It’s time to “dirty up” your diet. Lose the restrictions and bring back joy and freedom.
I’m all for healthy eating–I’m a dietitian after all! And having worked in hospitals and earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health, I’m pretty clear on the fact that healthy eating helps prevent disease. Eating well also helps us thrive and feel great on a day to day basis.
That said, it’s not just about healthy eating. And what is healthy eating anyway? Does it mean eating dairy-free? Avoiding all processed foods? Should you eat Paleo? Gluten-free? Vegan?
What is healthy eating?
The fact is, healthy eating can take on many forms. For some, it may indeed be a vegan diet and for others, it may need to be gluten-free or dairy-free due to an intolerance or allergy. But if there are any restrictions, the key is being clear on why you have chosen these restrictions–it should not be just to eat healthfully, because all foods n fit into a healthy diet. And if you think you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, be sure to work with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in this area before eliminating whole food groups on your own.Healthy eating can take on many forms. But if there are any restrictions, the key is being clear on why you have chosen them. Click To Tweet
Healthy eating means choosing healthful foods most of the time. (You can read more about my take on a healthful diet here.) I love to use the 80:20 ratio or the plate method as examples. If you take a step back and look at your diet over a week, it should consist of healthy choices about 80% of the time. Likewise, at most meals, about half your plate should be vegetables and fruit.
Healthy eating also means finding joy in eating. It means eating intuitively, without guilt. It means nourishing your body with foods that make you thrive, not foods that you hope will make you thin or “clean”. (Read more about intuitive eating here.)
And while research is pretty clear that we should all cut back on sugar, that doesn’t mean we have to eliminate it completely (this would be very unrealistic anyway!). The same goes for processed food. In general, anything extreme is unnecessary and unhealthy.
This means there is room in a healthy diet for the occasional candy bar, white bread BLT, or food-colored cake. There is no need to stress when going out to eat and realizing the only option is fried food. Likewise, if your child has some artificially flavored and colored treats now and then, it’s ok. It’s the overall habits that matter.
When healthy eating goes too far
When “healthy eating” becomes an obsession, it’s not healthy. The term “orthorexia” was coined in 1997 by Steven Bratman, MD. Orthorexia means an unhealthy obsession with the quality of food eaten (in comparison to anorexia, which focuses on the quantity of food eaten).
The clean eating phenomenon of recent years has likely contributed to the rise in cases of orthorexia. Fortunately, I think this trend may finally be falling by the wayside, which I’m so happy about. While I get the main point of clean eating is eating healthier foods, it implies that some foods are dirty or bad. This in turns leads to unnecessary restrictions, rules, guilt, and obsessions.
Just to be clear: food is food. Some foods have a higher nutritional value than others and some foods are less processed than others, but this doesn’t mean they should be broken into categories that label them “clean” vs. “dirty” or “good” vs. “bad”.
In other words, there really is no such thing as “clean eating”–other than making sure you wash your fruit before you eat it!
What about if you need to lose weight?
Eat to nourish your body and mind and the rest will fall in place. Ditch the diets. Diets are restrictive by nature and therefore don’t work. If you are ready to make peace with your body and food, seek the help of a Registered Dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating. Yes, it’s possible to eat without restrictions or counting calories and still be healthy! More on this in another blog post, but in the meantime, check out these inspiring intuitive eating dietitians: Cara Harbstreet, Alissa Rumsey, Kara Lydon, and Rachel Hartley.
Dirty up your diet: Lose the restrictions and just eat
So I’m here to tell you to lose the restrictions and just eat. Of course, if you have a food allergy or medical condition that requires you to eat a certain way, that is an exception. But for most of us, healthy eating can be as simple as choosing healthy foods most of the time. Trust your own intuition and eat what you want when you want. Eat fresh baguette. Add a slice of cheese if it makes you happy.Trust your own intuition and eat what you want when you want. Click To Tweet
Happy? Yes, happy! It’s part of the health equation, right? Eating should provide pleasure. Food is meant to nourish both the body and soul. So eat it with joy. Share it with friends and family. Savor. Eat mindfully. Eat intuitively.
Of course, realize, that you won’t always feel joy or pleasure when eating. Sometimes you may eat while scrolling on your phone. Other times you may eat so quickly you overeat. It’s all ok. That is life. As we say in yoga, don’t judge, just recognize it and move on. Most likely there will be a new meal again soon, a new chance to be mindful and kind to yourself. Eventually, you will find rhythm and balance to most of your eating habits.
If you are someone who is easily influenced by Instagram accounts touting “clean” eating or restrictive diets, go ahead and unfollow them. Instead, surround yourself with healthy food messages that inspire you but are also realistic. Remember there is no one right way to eat and often restrictions do more harm than good.
Be wary of nutrition advice from anyone who is not a trained nutrition professional. Realize that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist and that these days anyone can get a nutrition degree online. Instead, seek out Registered Dietitian Nutritionists with a healthy, positive approach to food.
Also, check out these great books:
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield
Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon