How to put the Joy Back into Eating

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More and more, when I’m working with clients to help them reach their nutritional health and wellness goals, I can’t help but notice they are all using such negative, harsh and self-critical words when describing their usual food choices and routine. Not only do they group their foods into off-limits and restrictive categories, but they also categorize themselves as being bad or good based on whatever they may have had to eat that day.

They struggle with feeling better and shedding excess weight that makes it hard for them to breathe and makes their joints hurt and zaps their energy. They can’t seem to reach their goals, despite all the strictness to their nutrition routine.

Everywhere you look there’s the next fad diet. Right now, the leader seems to be keto, but then, there’s also popular ones like Ideal Protein, Weight Watchers, medical weight loss, Whole 30 and Paleo; all of which can show results in rapid time. But are they a feasible lifestyle for the long-term? Not to mention, this is where we start to learn about restrictive eating, labeling foods and ourselves as good vs. bad, consuming such a small amount of food in order to produce weight loss results, meanwhile practically binging ourselves on these “forbidden” foods before beginning the next diet. With this yo-yo effect of habitual dieting, we have lowered our metabolism by consuming too few calories, making it much harder to lose weight because we are naturally burning off less each day. We all need to get out of this viscous cycle.

Food doesn’t have to be bad. We can and should enjoy it, especially since so many of our favorite events have food at the front and center! It’s in our hearts and our minds constantly because not only does it taste good but it’s also an important part of our daily lives, including providing essential fuel for our day. We need to respect our bodies and allow ourselves some grace when it comes to our food choices. So, how do we do that? How do we put the joy back into eating, while still trying to reach health and wellness goals?

Create a list of your favorite but often considered off-limits or “bad” foods. This could be anything from alcohol, sweets, fried food, carb-rich items or anything you love but often feel deprived of when on restrictive diets.

Be specific about what you enjoy. Is it red wine or a cocktail of some sort? What type of sweets? Is your favorite gummy sour candy, chocolate, a baked good or ice cream? Do you love French fries or pasta or rice?

Create a meal plan that incorporates nutritious foods. Nutrition is not about omitting food groups. It’s about getting vital nutrients each day and energy to make sure our bodies are able to function properly and adequately.

I recommend these principals to clients:
Eat breakfast within 1-2 hours of waking.
Eat roughly every 3 hours throughout the day and be flexible as other needs arise.
At each meal and snack, try to include a balance of fiber, lean protein and heart healthy fats. Fruit is a great option, no matter what any diet says, but to help balance out the natural sugars, you should pair some nuts or seeds, nut butter or plain Greek yogurt with it.

These will all help with your energy, appetite and portions throughout the day; making it more feasible to stick with your plan.

Merge the first two principles to make a realistic, yet successful plan you can enjoy. Maybe you have a glass of wine with your dinner two or three times per week. Or you might be the person that wants to go out with friends on the weekend, so you choose an item with a meal that you normally love but would feel off-limits on a diet plan.

When absolutely craving the item, you go ahead and have it. There’s no need for guilt. You’re caring for yourself, your health and your well-being by treating your body and appetite with respect. It’s not forbidden. It’s not bad, and it’s not off-limits. This will all help to diminish its appeal, so the urge to have a large portion or have it frequently will ultimately diminish.

These really are 3 simple steps – on paper. Putting them into practice each and every week is where the real struggle comes in.

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If you would like more information or are interested in how any of this could work for you, she can be reached at remiller@ochsner.org or 504.842.9551. Rebecca Miller, MPH, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian Nutritionist with Ochsner Fitness Center. She also writes a blog called Twisted Nutrition where she shares recipes to fit into your nutrition plan.

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