It’s hard to remember this sometimes, with the seeming barrage of calorie counts and health studies and the words obesity epidemic being thrown around every 5 seconds… but food is not the enemy. But while it’s also easy to go into a hyper-utilitarian argument that food is just fuel for your body and you need to only put in the good stuff for optimum performance (gee thanks, health magazines), the fact remains — food is also DELICIOUS.
So good. And it’s things like those (says the unabashed food dork) that make life so much fun. At the same time, I know that if I ate nothing but those kinds of food all the time, I’d feel physically (and probably psychologically) awful. Which is why it’s so convenient that many foods that I know are great for me also happen to taste awesome. It’s all about being able to strike a balance between logic and joy.
It’s actually kind of awesome, the ways in which food can fuel your body. I confess, I put cheap gas in my car, because I don’t really know how my car feels when it runs on better fuel vs. the budget stuff I buy. Now, you may already suspect this, but I am not a car. What I DO know is how I personally feel when I eat lots of veggies, whole grains, fish, water, fruit, healthy fats, etc. vs. how I feel when I eat junk food on the regular. Luckily, I’m a bit of a supermarket floozy, in that I’ve been around the block (aisles?) a few times and have figured out what works best for me all-around.
Example: I love spinach. Not just the way it tastes — which is fresh, mild, and wonderful — but the fact that it’s AMAZINGLY nutrient-rich, loaded with vitamins A, C, and K, folate, iron, fiber, and other essential nutrients. But because of those things, it’s not just good for the inside of you body, but the outside too. Due to its high content of anti-aging minerals and antioxidants, spinach is frequently cited as one of the best “beauty foods” around. Plus, the fact that I can eat a big ol’ bowl of the raw leaves, blend a handful into a smoothie, or wilt some quickly with pasta makes it even more appealing. Y’all, I can wax rhapsodic on spinach for hours (don’t test me), but the point is this: finding foods you love that love you back is HUGE. (Need a good resource for nutritious foods? Read up at The World’s Healthiest Foods.)
However, knowing that I get nutritious foods into my life on a fairly regular day-to-day basis, this allows me to give myself a pass when it comes to those special treats I want. If it’s Saturday night and all I want is some PIZZA, guess what I’m gonna eat? If it’s my friend’s birthday and there’s a cake, I’m having a slice. Because I know that a) I eat smart most of the time and b) if I deprive myself, I’m just going to turn into an angry, bitter curmudgeon who no longer gets invited to those birthday parties. These things happen as a part of life, so rather than fight it, you might as well enjoy in moderation. Balance, yo. BALANCE.
Staying mindful about what you’re eating can also be super helpful, not only in terms of your enjoyment, but also in terms of how much of it you end up eating. If you’re having something that you know is a special treat food, don’t just wolf it down. Appreciate every bite, savor the flavor, chew, and swallow. Allow yourself to REALLY enjoy what you’re eating. This not only keeps you focused on “OMG, how good is this delicious morsel I’m eating?!”, but it also gives your body time to respond when it doesn’t really need anymore. So often, we eat too fast, stop when we’re full, and then go on to feel EVEN FULLER several minutes later. Your digestive system doesn’t work as fast as you can eat, so it makes sense to slow your end of things down whenever possible. (For more on mindful eating, check out this piece by Darya Pino, PhD.)
The biggest (BIGGEST!!!) rule of all? If you DO indulge and eat more than you ordinarily would, DO NOT stress out about it. Stay smart and stay mindful — come on, you know you don’t do that all the time! Give yourself a break. Just because you had that indulgence does NOT mean you might as well go all out and keep eating badly as a consolation or whatever. It also does NOT mean you should beat yourself up about it; you don’t deserve that. Instead, focus on the positive — how good it was, how much you enjoyed it, why you decided to eat it in the first place, etc. Then proceed as usual with your normal eating habits. In short, keep calm and carry on.