Food is a focal point of social gatherings. Different cultures around the world pride themselves on certain dishes, according to their own interpretations. When family dinners are synonymous with Nonna's lasagne, and catching up with friends means a beer or few, your healthy eating plan can easily go haywire.
Sometimes it is OK if willpower is left at home.
Experimenting with different tastes and textures of food can be a whole lot of fun. And while I may feel like crap after eating something bad, if I really wanted to eat it to start with, I’d be doing myself more harm than good by replacing the eating with obsessing. Remember that mental wellbeing is another vital aspect of health.
Of course, if there is a specific athletic goal set for the future, discipline becomes an important factor, and commitment sometimes means willpower. But athletes possess different motivations to most other people. Most other people do not contractually have to be at a particular weight at a certain time to compete, & earn a living, and therefore, can exercise certain liberties.
Yet through persistent health and fitness dogma, we were made to believe that only restrictive dieting methods were the way to live happy and healthy. As we painfully count every macronutrient we ingest, balance calories in vs out, spend lots of cash on supplements, and micromanage every other aspect of our daily diet, eating becomes more about mathematics than about simply feeding ourselves.
Biochemists and nutritionists, drowning in their research studies, and diet plans, have made a good diet seem like an esoteric theory reserved only for the lab rooms. However, knowing what to feed ourselves should come naturally to all of us. Yep, wow! As experts of our own diets, with some simple knowledge and practical habits, maintaining a clean diet is something we are all be capable of.
This is precisely where the idea of moderation comes into effect.
It’s a confusing word, thrown around so often that no-one truly understands what it means when they say it. ‘Every now and then’ may mean every few hours, every few days, or every few months.
What we do know however, is that the more bad food you eat, the more you crave. This trend is laden in the effects of crappy processed foods on the body. Our hormones are regulated by what we eat, and the artificial flavourings and ingredients, trans saturated fats, and high levels of sodium commonly found in processed, and often delicious foods have a number of effects on our body. These include, and aren't limited to changes in our hunger responses, perceptions, and behaviours.
Recent studies, if you dare trust them, have linked the consumption of sugar with the release of dopamine, and serotonin, two hormones commonly associated with the feeling of euphoria. This has now led to claims of food and sugar ‘addiction’, comparable to that of hard drugs. Countless books and articles now demonise sugar like the black plague, and it’s blamed as a major culprit of our obesity issues.
While this is a very oversimplified solution to a more complex national problem, I do suggest that you reflect on your own behaviours. Think back to the last time you ate so many vegetables they made you sick. That's right, there's hardly ever an urge to eat copious amounts of real food. Now think, when was the last time only a couple of lollies from a packet was enough? Or just half a teaspoon of Nutella? If you’re anything like me, this is just unrealistic nonsense. Seconds and thirds are almost a certain.
Bad food choices all too often leads to more bad food choices. Moderation becomes more and more frequent. And the priority for eating becomes short term satisfaction through taste rather than according to what your body needs. This results in a self-fulfilling prophecy that progresses through laziness, skipping workouts, getting fat, feeling fat, and so on, until finally that motivation to be healthy comes back. It's a binge and all of us have been there.
In the recent Joe Rogan Experience podcast, renowned strength and conditioning coach Steve Maxwell said that food addiction easily becomes an issue because we are constantly faced with the problem of being hungry. Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, which can be kicked, we can’t get ourselves away from food. It is ubiquitous and needed for survival.
Just as it becomes very easy to develop bad habits, with a little assistance, good ones are just as simply created, and maintained. Once these good habits are in place, there is less of a need for raw willpower, because you are able to judge for yourself what your body actually wants, as opposed to being influenced by the junk food cravings. A healthy relationship with food is what you ought to aim for. Through this, you're better able to understand moderation, and use it to your benefit.
Through effective moderation, you'll begin to obsess over cheat meals less and less, because if you absolutely, really wanted to cheat, you could. Eventually you become more in tune withy our digestive system, and you're better able to listen to the cues of your body, signalling when you're hungry and when you’re full. Furthermore, you refrain from using food as a coping mechanism for issues in other parts of your life.
Tips for improving your relationship with your food:
1. Eat till you’re satisfied, not till you are full.
2. Focus the majority of your diet on a variety of natural wholefoods
3. Minimise the consumption of processed foods.
4. Don’t obsess over minute details
5. Think of health in the longer term, rather than short term.
Enjoy healthy, nutritious food, as part of the bigger picture of life. Your diet should fuel your body andy our soul optimally, not define who you are and what you are about. Restriction and unrealistic dieting practices are stupid, and should be reserved only for textbooks.
Extreme measures will not work for you because they are unsustainable. We are humans that eat food, not machines trying to balance macros. Aim to fuel your body with the best quality food as a matter of habit, and you can allow yourself some room for fun. Healthy living isn't a race, but a lifestyle to be enjoyed.