Are you using gentle nutrition to help you live your best life?
What makes a food “healthy?” Ever wondered what foods or styles of eating are “good” or “bad?” While there are some similarities in nutrition recommendations that are generally applicable to most people, like eating more fruits and vegetables, the reality is that the way each person “eats healthy” may be a little different from person to person.
For instance, while whole wheat toast is something that someone with celiac disease might avoid because of its gluten, for another, it’s a great way to get in whole grains, with its carbohydrates, fiber, and folic acid among other nutritional benefits. Likewise, while one person may find switching to black coffee is an easy way to limit added sugars, another may find that much less enjoyable, and might choose to limit his or her added sugars by just using less sweetener, or by decreasing sugar somewhere else during the day.
The point is – you have to find a way to use nutrition guidelines that works for you. Not only does healthy eating look different based on any medical conditions and your taste preferences, but also based on emotions, personality, and lifestyle.
Another example - one person may enjoy the challenge of following nutritional recommendations very closely, and thrive off having accountability to help reach his or her goals. This person may tell friends and family about new nutrition information, or certain “nutritional challenges” they are following. Doing so may motivate him or her to continue towards those goals in a healthy way. Meanwhile, for someone else struggling with disordered eating, hearing negative talk about certain foods in the workplace or with friends could discourage him or her from eating some of the nutritious foods that he or she is already struggling to feel “okay” about eating.
Lastly, remember that nutrition is just one part of health, and that it is not all-or-nothing (nutritional indifference vs nutritional perfection). It’s important to keep nutrition in mind, but for the sake of quality of life, learn how to strive for nutritional progress while making peace with nutritional imperfection.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine what “healthy eating” might look like for you:
1. Do you have any medical conditions? What are your nutrition priorities?
If someone has a severe peanut allergy, the first thing they check on the nutrition label is probably not going to be the saturated fat content. It’s likely the ingredients – to make sure there are no peanuts. That’s not to say people can or should only consider one aspect of nutrition when looking at food, but some issues may be more important for you.
With all the nutrition “advice” out there, some of which may not always even be accurate, it can get overwhelming. If you followed ALL the nutrition “advice” out there, you couldn’t eat anything, which isn’t good either. Think of what nutrition priorities might be most important for you, and focus on those. If you’re not sure, seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist is a great start.
2. What might some of my loved ones be struggling with regarding food?
I personally think there is something very special about sharing food and meals with the people you love – it’s like nourishing your body and your soul at the same time. Yet sometimes, eating with others can become a source of stress. Practice being present and mindful; slow down and enjoy not only the food, but the time with loved ones.
Especially in your immediate family, consider in what ways you’d like your diet to match and differ from other family members. Maybe you choose to go vegetarian alongside a spouse, or you try new foods together every night with a picky eater. On the other hand, maybe you need a different amount of food at each meal than another family member based on your age or activity level, etc.
Try also to be aware of how you talk about food with others. It can be a good thing to find a support system, but especially in larger groups of people, consider your audience. You may not know who is struggling with their own dietary restrictions, weight, disordered eating, etc.
3. Just because this works for this person, will it work for me?
One person’s nutrition goals may look very different from another’s, and one person’s way of eating may not work for another. That’s okay – we’re all different. Sometimes we can draw inspiration from others – a new snack idea, a new recipe, etc.
And while how we eat may evolve with us throughout life, consider how your nutritional choices will make you feel physically, mentally, emotionally. And if you’re not sure whether it’s something that is good for your body, or that you could enjoy and be okay with, don’t stress – eating healthy has more than one look. Meeting with a dietitian can help you strategize what ideas might work best for you.
[Spanish version here]
Amanda Cain, Medical University of South Carolina Dietetic Intern
Cheyenne is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in the Charleston, SC area.