Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.
Picture this: you’ve just spent your Sunday afternoon in the kitchen prepping all of your healthy food for the week. Think: homemade muesli for breakfast. Chicken, broccoli and brown rice for lunch. And for dinner, you’ve roasted up a big batch of veggies to pair with either fish, eggs or steak. Your week of healthy eating is set and you’re more motivated than ever to nail it.
You make it through the first three days of the week just fine. But then Thursday rolls around, it’s your colleague’s birthday and you *really* want to join in on the fun and have a slice of birthday cake. ‘Don’t do it… don’t do it…’, you hear yourself saying on repeat. But eventually your willpower caves in, you think ‘stuff it!’ and go hell for leather on multiple slices of birthday cake followed by a combination of wine, take-away Thai and chocolate over the next few days. After all, you blew it, right? So, you’ll just start again next Monday morning…
Sound familiar? Well then you, my friend, are caught up in the never-ending dieting cycle. You see, diets don’t work (that sounds contradictory coming from a dietitian, I know). But here’s why: they’re restrictive, which leaves you feeling deprived and more tempted than ever to reach for ‘bad’ foods. Then, when you cave in, you feel guilty and go back to restricting yourself. And then the cycle repeats itself again… and again… and again.
And that’s exactly what I want you to stop doing. Instead of focusing on perfecting a short-term quick fix, I want you to focus on building up sustainable changes that are going to stick with you in the long haul.
So, to get you started, here’s my top tips on ditching the ‘all of nothing mentality’, for good.
1. Say goodbye to food labels
Spinach = good, ice cream = bad. Right? Well no, actually. It’s all just food. And all foods fit.
Of course, some foods offer more nutrition than others. I’m not disputing that, by any means. But labelling food as ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ induces feelings of guilt whenever you eat that food, which is not part of a healthy relationship with food.
So, consider this your permission to eat all foods (in balance and moderation, of course).
2. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating helps you feel comfortable with saying ‘yes’ when you really feel like that Tim Tam, and ‘no’ when you don’t.
But how do you actually eat mindfully? The first step is to tune into your hunger and satiety cues. So, before you eat, ask yourself this: Are you bored? Stressed? Eating out of habit? Or can you actually feel hunger pangs?
If you’re doing a lot of ‘non-hungry’ eating, it might be time to put in place strategies to help avoid it. Maybe: heading outside for five minutes of fresh air when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or having healthy snacks on hand so that you don’t dive into the biscuit jar ‘just because’.
The next step is to work on being present at each eating occasion. So, put your phone away, turn off your computer screen and focus on every mouthful – rather than shovelling food into your mouth from your desk drawer without a second thought.
3. Focus on core food groups
Instead of telling yourself what not to eat, focus on all of the nourishing foods that will help your body work it’s best and make you feel good.
I like to encourage my clients to think about building their healthy day on a plate from the core food groups. That’s fruit, vegetables, grains, lean protein and dairy or alternatives. This helps to take away the focus on everything they tell themselves they ‘can’t’ have, like chips, chocolate and ice cream.
Remember, at the end of the day, what’s important is progress – not perfection. So, give yourself a pat on the back for making small, realistic changes that work for you. Trust me, they will add up over time!