When you think about dieting, you might think about restricting or counting calories and depriving yourself of foods that you enjoy eating for a defined period of time. You might even “cheat” for a day on this diet. This is part of the reason I hate the term diet and the concept of dieting. They have evolved to be associated with a short-term period of restriction, deprivation, and negativity. They’re often followed by a period of bingeing and then guilt.
Diets are viewed as short-term, because they are not sustainable. Depriving yourself of a food you love or even of an entire food group (unless it is for allergy/intolerance reasons) is not going to work long-term.
So what does the word diet really mean?
Diet (noun): food and drink regularly consumed; habitual nourishment
And that is precisely how I want you to think about your diet: as a sustainable approach to providing your body with the foods that you enjoy that also fuel your body appropriately. Think about your relationship with food.
I like to break down one’s relationship with food in two categories: choices and habits.
Your choices relate to the quality and quantity of food that you eat.
- Quality: How nutrient-dense is what you’re eating? Is it full of real-food ingredients, or is it a processed “lean” frozen packaged meal or meal replacement shake? Do you pick the quinoa spinach salad with almonds and blueberries or a baloney sandwich on white bread? They might have similar calories, but one is certainly a better quality choice. Quality goes beyond calories and macronutrients. What are you putting into your body and how is it nourishing you?
- Quantity: Think of quantity as portion size. Are you having a fairly nutritious granola with oats and nuts? Great. Are you having a huge bowl of it that actually works out to 4 servings (and suddenly only 4 grams of sugar turned into 16)? Not as great. The same goes for less healthy choices too. If you want a piece of your grandma’s pie on Thanksgiving, go for it. But try to offset the less healthy choice and just take a small piece. Enjoy it and move on.
Your habits relate to where, when, why, how, and with whom you eat.
- When and Why: Are you eating because you are genuinely hungry? Or because it’s noon so you “should”? Or because someone brought cookies to the office and they look good? Or because you’re watching a movie and you always have snacks when you watch a movie? Or are you just bored? Or thirsty? Evaluate why you are choosing to eat at that very moment, and then consider whether it still makes sense.
- How: Do you scarf down your plate of food in less than 10 minutes? If so, you might find yourself going back for more because your body hasn’t had time to realize that it is satisfied. Try to eat mindfully; chew each bite and taste all of the flavors. Really enjoy and experience what you are eating. Back to that piece of your grandma’s pie. Enjoy it slowly. Chew each bite and really taste and appreciate it. Then put the fork down and enjoy your company.
- Where and With Whom: Do you eat most meals standing over the counter without a plate while scrolling through Facebook on your phone? Or at your desk at work while still working? In traffic between meetings? Any of these are much different experiences than sitting down with a friend or your family and enjoying a meal while talking about your day. Or even eating alone while being mindful and appreciative of the food you are eating.
I made this into an organized chart for you. Because I’ll never not be a little bit of a nerd.
Working through your relationship with food and mapping out ways to improve your choices and habits is one way a nutrition consultant (like me!) can help you. We start with a food journal, recording each meal – what you eat, how much you eat, how long it took you to eat, where you were when you ate it, and how you felt both before and after you ate. Then we make a plan from there. It is an eye-opening experience — I’ve done it myself.
Let me know if this framework was helpful for thinking through your relationship with food, and if you want to chat more about it, you know where to find me!