Getting nutrition facts and judgements confused

This is what nutrition science can tell us:

  • The average nutrient content of a particular food, and the average effect a food or nutrient has on particular health biomarkers for a group of people under experimental conditions.

This is what nutrition science can’t tell us:

  • That a food or nutrient is good or bad.
  • How you should and shouldn’t be eating.
  • That you can’t eat a particular food or nutrient if you want to.
  • That not eating a certain way means you have failed or are wrong.
  • That physical health must be your most important life value.
  • That a lower body weight is superior to a heavier body weight.

[Note: Overeating, food cravings, meal skipping, eating disorders and feelings of stress around food often start to resolve, once we stop confusing the two.]

Relearning food and nutrition

Instead of learning about the right and wrong foods to eat, let’s learn instead about the many different foods and diets each compatible with healthy living.

Instead of learning to change what we eat according to a new diet, let’s learn instead to modify what we eat according to our internal hunger.

Instead of learning to stop eating the foods we love, let’s learn instead to eat them in the amounts that provide us with long-term enjoyment and satisfaction.

Instead of learning to eat by following all of these rules and restrictions, let’s learn instead how to eat with freedom and by following our intuition.

Instead of learning that eating is a practice done primarily to lose weight, let’s learn instead that it is a practice done primarily to nourish the billions of cells that contribute to the optimal functioning of our mind and body.

Relearning food and nutrition matters.

It matters because eating within the context of diets, judgements, rules and restrictions is highly stressful. This stress is not just damaging short-term, it too has long-term impacts on our hormonal, neurological and digestive systems.

Eating in a stressful state can:

When we approach food and nutrition with a different mindset, we can help to undo these physiological effects. Research shows that eating more mindfully and with self-compassion – being aware and attentive to our eating, without judgement – promotes healthy weight management.

Indeed, our eating mindset is proposed as a better predictor of weight management than any specific combination of foods or nutrients is.

The most common question I get asked as a nutritionist is, “Is this food healthy?”

My most common answer is, “That depends, largely, on how you eat it.”

Why eating healthy isn’t as hard as you think

First, consider these 3 dinners:

  1. Cheese pizza, soft drink and chocolate.
  2. Beef lasagne.
  3. Vegetable and lentil salad with quinoa, kale and freshly grown herbs.

Next, notice these 2 observations:

1. There are some nutritional benefits to eating the beef lasagne. It contains protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc, and is more nutritious than option 1.

2. We don’t need to eat a meal like the vegetable and lentil salad every single night. Healthy eating is compatible with a wide range of foods, because one unhealthy food in small amounts doesn’t make a diet unhealthy.

This all means that good nutrition is far from black and white.

Thinking about food in terms of all or nothing only creates a cycle of aspiring to eat perfectly (unnecessarily), and beating ourselves up when we don’t.

Instead, good nutrition is best viewed as a scale, and best achieved like this:

Step. By step. By step. By step.

The goal is actually not to eat like someone very different to you.

The goal is to eat better than you did yesterday.

3 reasons why you can skip the detox diet this year

  1. There is no strong scientific evidence whatsoever to suggest detox diets remove toxins from the body. You see, because detox diets rarely define the toxins they aim to remove, or the process in which they eliminate them, their claims can rarely even be tested scientifically.
  2. The concept of detox dieting itself is flawed. Our liver, lungs, kidneys, intestines and immune system already remove harmful substances that enter our body, often within hours of their consumption.
  3. Detox diets often bring with them a number of unwanted side effects: low energy levels, nutritional deficiencies, headaches, constipation, and lost money on the unnecessary laxatives or supplements sold with the diet, are just some of the many examples. 

Yes, the promise of better health, weight loss, increased energy, glowing skin and greater confidence, in as little as a few days time, sounds too good to be true, because it is.

But whilst detox diets are a marketing exercise, and not a science, perhaps the biggest concern for me is that they make us believe that we have to do something drastic for better health.

We don’t.

Making small changes today that we can actually stick with leads to better health over time.

And when we make changes that do stick, we build the confidence and motivation that allows us to continue making more of them, long into the future.

7 beliefs that commonly lead to weight gain

  1. I should feel guilty when I eat something I shouldn’t have.
  2. Food is a good way to overcome loneliness or a bad mood.
  3. Eating healthily means I have to give up my favourite foods entirely.
  4. I simply cannot control my weight because I love to eat.
  5. It is punishment to eat certain foods like fruits and vegetables.
  6. I’ve blown my diet once I’ve eaten something bad.
  7. I need to eat the foods that I enjoy the taste of right now.

Our everyday beliefs about food impact our likelihood of gaining weight.

If eating well is a struggle, start by understanding and then changing the story that you are telling yourself.

Should you quit sugar?

As always, it’s your choice.

But whilst limiting our intake of high-sugar, nutrient-poor foods (like confectionary, soft drinks, biscuits and cakes) is obviously important for good health, there are 2 things to be aware of if you choose to quit sugar all together.

First, sugar doesn’t automatically make a food unhealthy. No one became overweight from a banana or an apple, and a small amount of added sugar to a nutritious food doesn’t suddenly make it bad. A teaspoon of sugar can help make the medicine go down.

Second, being low in sugar doesn’t automatically make a food healthy. After all, potato chips are low in sugar, and a sugar-free brownie is still a brownie.

Indeed, foods are an array of different fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and more. Their health effect is based on the combined role of each of these, not just the presence or absence of one.

Using a single nutrient can therefore play a role when comparing two otherwise similar foods, but never in judging the healthiness of a whole food or diet alone. 

This concept holds true for not just sugar, but for calories, carbohydrates, fat, fructose, glycemic index, protein, saturated fat and more.

Understand this, and you’ll understand why a lot of fad diets are indeed just fads.

Introducing you to the ultimate diet

No, it isn’t Paleo, Atkins or Lemon Detox.

Instead, the ultimate diet for you is a way of eating that you can stick with.

The truth is, there are many different ways to healthy eating. Science hasn’t discovered a superior diet type for us all.

But the substantial health benefits that arise from changing the foods we eat can only continue, of course, when the changes are adopted, long-term.

And once you find something you can stick with, the best news is this: you’re no longer on a diet at all.

The problem with dieting

Is that it very often causes overeating. The restriction, stress and deprivation associated with limiting what your body desires can leave us eating more calories and gaining more weight than before we started.

The alternative is to allow ourselves to enjoy the foods we want in moderation. To be aware of how hungry we are, how much we’ve had and what we really feel like eating.

“I can have this if I want, but do I really feel like it?”

The irony of giving ourselves the total freedom to eat what we desire is that with time we end up desiring it less.

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