By Suzanne E. Harrill
Have you ever been confused about the best way to improve your diet with all the information hitting you from the media, the latest diet books, and friends? Should you be eating more protein, less protein, more carbohydrates or limit them, eating eggs or eliminating them, or switching to a plant based diet? Is the best approach to watch calories, buy low fat products, drink diet sodas, or is it to eat what you want but reduce the quantity? It goes on and on, confusing even the best-intended person who wants to live a healthier lifestyle.
You probably have noticed that recommended diets vary from “expert” to “expert” and many times even contradict each other. Who can you trust to guide you when you desire to improve your eating habits? The answer is you. As you combine knowledge and facts with self-awareness, you must become the expert for your own body.
Where do you start? If you are new to eating consciously, begin with educating yourself about the basics of good nutrition. The internet is a good place to start. Over time you will need to develop your own personal diet, one that is right for you, that makes you feel good and maintain your ideal weight. Until then, traditional information about basic nutrition is still a good place to move you in the direction of understanding what your body needs for optimal health. Here you will gather concrete information to help you make some immediate corrections to your eating habits, like limiting excessive fat and sugar, eating more raw vegetables, cooking with polyunsaturated oils, and increasing fiber.
As one who has moved from eating with little awareness to listening to my body and eating consciously, I can give some simple tips – avoid extremes and eat a variety of foods, whether following someone else’s eating plan or your own.
It is seductive to want quick results, for example, following one of the latest “get thin quick” diets. If attracted to one of these diets in vogue, start by “interviewing the author.” Find out how old the author is (some, you will find are no longer alive and died from eating their own diet), see what the author physically looks like (some, you will find are so unhealthy looking that you would wonder why anyone would follow their lead). Find out how many days or years s/he has eaten this way and their results.
Some nontraditional information may appeal to you as well, such as food combining (eating certain foods and not eating certain foods at the same meal to aid digestion), eating only raw foods, avoiding dairy, eating several small meals in a day rather than three, fasting periodically, or being a vegetarian or vegan, to name a few. If you have a health challenge, study this also.
Once you have some basic information about nutrition and your specific health needs, it’s time to know yourself better. Gathering facts about nutrition is only a part of optimal health and understanding eating healthy. The path to optimal health requires you to eventually become the expert of your own body and know what it needs to be healthy.
To build awareness it is important to become a detective and simply observe yourself for a while. Study your eating habits: jot down what you eat and when in a food journal. Pay attention to such things as your food preferences, your favorite times to eat, and the amount you eat. Notice if and when you eat for comfort or out of boredom, starve yourself, binge, or eat sweets between meals for emotional comfort. Do you overeat or under-eat at meals, graze all day, or get up in the middle of the night for a snack when you can’t sleep? Do you eat only when you are physically hungry? Do you eat more in private or around other people?
If you want to look deeper, take note of the eating patterns of your parents and siblings. What did you learn about food from your mother and from your father growing up? Are you simply repeating their eating patterns or rebelling against them? What are some of your early memories about food and eating? Allow them to surface to get a picture of what you learned from your family about food, diet, and eating. For example, maybe you ate a big meal on Sundays and went out as a family for ice cream after dinner. This may explain why you go for ice cream when you are feeling disconnected from others. Become aware of the emotional reasons for eating because it will give you more power to change your habits. Maybe you call a friend the next time you are lonely or bored instead of reaching for the ice cream. Awareness is the first step in change.
Being overweight as a teenager was a low point for me. Little did I know it would serve me in the long run because it motivated me early to gather information about nutrition and what to eat for my body. Over the years, I have learned much about myself through my eating patterns and have continually lightened my diet. One thing I have learned about myself is not to be overly strict with limiting goodies or I will sabotage myself. It works best for me to allow some foods even if I know they are not the best choices. Add to that, it is important for me to not keep certain foods in my pantry, like potato chips, so I will not be tempted.
As you gather information about nutrition and practice self-discovery it will support proper eating habits that support your health and well-being. Remember to take everything you read about diet and nutrition with a grain of salt. You are your own expert. Take your own advice!