Since becoming a dietitian 8 years ago, I have seen loads of different eating behaviours, patterns and habits – some healthy, some not so healthy. And when I say this, I am not always referring to the food people are eating.
Over the last few years, with the rise of the Instagram influencer and every man and their dog becoming an online nutritionist, the spread of harmful dietary messaging has hit the general population with full force.
People are being hyper exposed (not sure if that’s an actual term but we’ll go with it!) to images of amazing, tanned, very lean bodies alongside the message that the way they came to look that way was to consume green smoothies, kale chips, protein ‘treats’, acai bowls and not much more.
Not to mention literally everyone having an opinion on what the best ‘diet’ is – it worked for them so it must work for you, right?
Now to be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of the foods listed above or that people are achieving their own personal goals. But the message being sent is that there is an ideal set of dietary behaviours and style of eating to achieve the body of your dreams or ultimate happiness (or insert any insecurity here) and I’m here to tell you, they’re wrong.
What is the perfect diet anyway?
The ‘perfect’ diet will look very different depending on who you ask, but in general, people are striving to consume a diet that includes 100% whole foods, NOTHING processed (food out of a box etc), no take away or ‘junk ‘ food (such as lollies, chocolate, cakes etc – unless they are made from ingredients that suit their preference) and will often be taking a range of dietary supplements to ‘enhance’ their diet in some way (which shouldn’t be needed by the way, if you had a so called ‘perfect’ diet).
I have some thoughts on this…
- Improving your eating behaviours to consume more whole foods and less ‘ultra’ or highly processed foods is a great thing
- The processing of foods is not always a bad thing and many foods that are considered ‘processed’ offer a lot in the way of nutrition (canned or frozen fruit and veg are all processed!)
- It is an extreme privilege to be able to eat exactly the way you want to eat. Keeping some perspective is really important when addressing your nutrition and health in general
So what are some things that are more important than the ‘perfect’ diet
Your mental health for one. I know so many people that feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted from thinking about food 24/7. They experience fear of foods, feel anxious about their choices and sometimes, isolate themselves from others because of these feelings.
I find that people also start to associate their self-worth with their dietary choices (sounds crazy from the outside I know!) but people may feel guilty or think badly of themselves if they eat something outside of their ‘perfect’ diet.
There is no moral code with eating! People may have ethical concerns when it comes to food and that’s totally OK, but you are not a bad person, regardless of how you choose to eat.
Your enjoyment of food is also something that is vitally important to you continuing with any changes that you’ve made to your diet. If you don’t enjoy (and I mean really enjoy – not just pretending you love your food because you think you should) then you are far less likely to continue eating that way in the long term.
So if you do want to improve your nutrition but you have no idea where to start or how to do it in a sustainable way, here is something that I want you to focus on…
Progress is a much better goal than perfection
Make one or two small changes at a time. Work on those until they become easy and then focus on another habit to change.
For example, you might focus on including half a plate of vegetables with your dinner every night and drinking more water each day. These are simple things that will 100% improve your health. They sound so simple but let me tell you – it’s so much harder to change a habit that anyone anticipates.
Once these habits feel like second nature, proceed onto the next, and the next.
Also, learn to include and enjoy some foods in your diet that maybe are not so nutritious but bring you JOY (because eating does that, you know!). This could be chocolate, or wine, or cheese – these are foods that may not offer so much in the way of nutrition, but offer a lot in the way of making us feel good when included as a part of a balanced diet.
Life is just too short to be perfect.
If you need help improving your nutrition or mindset around food, please get in touch today.