Creating a balanced diet and healthy relationship with food
Though it is much easier said than done, it is so important to build a healthy relationship with food. Food provides us with fuel and nutrients, but it is also so much more than just a source of energy. Food fulfills an emotional component in our lives as it allows us to celebrate, socialize, and create memories. Your relationship with food is a very important relationship in your life. Like all relationships, your relationship with food requires work and check-ins. It is okay, and actually expected, that your relationship will not be perfect. It should not be perfect.
A critical part of creating a healthy relationship with food is honoring your body’s desire to eat and feel pleasure from food. Our bodies have cravings for a reason, and it is normal to honor these cravings. However, diet culture in our society makes it difficult to do so. One of the most detrimental aspects of the dieting industry is that it has taught society to categorize foods based on rigid identifications such as: “junk food” “clean food” “forbidden foods” and “unhealthy foods.” These identifications break down food items into only two categories: good or bad. This type of language can negatively impact your relationship with food. It can especially lead to feelings of guilt when eating certain foods. Building awareness surrounding the language you use with food can make an impact on your relationship with it.
Restructuring your food vocabulary
Words not to use:
- Cheat day
- Good/bad food
Rather than using restrictive language, try to start using positive words that celebrate the pleasure that comes with eating!
Words to try using:
- Describing the food for how it tastes → crunchy, sweet, or salty
An important aspect of creating a healthy relationship with food is truly understanding it. Many people use the phrase “a balanced diet,” but this can be misleading terminology. Balance does not mean perfect, and balanced diets have room for every type of food! A balanced diet is intended to provide your body the nutrients it needs to function properly, while also allowing yourself flexibility and permission with foods that you enjoy.
A main purpose of a balanced diet is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function at its highest potential. Another purpose is that it prevents you from restricting food groups which can be harmful to both your physical and mental health. It is important to try not to fixate on nutrition by viewing it as a set of rules. Striving for a balanced diet is simply meant to show that some foods offer more nutrients than others, but that does not mean that you can not enjoy all types of food. It is ok to enjoy a food simply for pleasure!
A balanced diet includes foods from five groups, but it is not limited to these categories:
The vegetable group actually includes five subgroups: leafy greens, red or orange vegetables, starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn), legumes (beans and peas), and other vegetables like eggplant and zucchini.
Vegetables are an important source of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The most common nutrients found in vegetables are fiber, folate, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Iron. Given the high nutritional value found in vegetables, the USDA recommends eating foods from each of these subgroups every week.
Fruits can provide many nutritional benefits. There are so many to choose from and taste can vary by the season. Fruits, especially berries, offer a lot of nutritional value such as Vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Despite the common misconception, frozen fruits also pack all of the same vitamins as fresh fruit and are easier to store! If you’re worried about fruit going bad, see if you can buy frozen or canned fruit. Keeping a bowl of fruit on the counter is also a good reminder to add some fruit to your diet.
There are two subgroups within the grain section: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain a lot of fiber and protein, and the body breaks down whole grains slowly, which prevents a rapid spike in blood sugar. Whole grains also contain 3 essential parts which are the bran, germ, and endosperm. Each of these parts have different nutrients in them, and they can supply your body with vitamins like vitamin B, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants and phytochemical.
Refined grains are processed and do not contain the same amount of nutrients as whole grains, but this does not mean that you should avoid or restrict yourself from eating them. What is important is that you have a variety of foods on your plate and eat portions that are a fit for your individual needs.
Grains or carbohydrates often get such a bad reputation in diet culture. However, our body needs ~40-60% of carbohydrates daily as this is our body’s primary source of energy. Carbohydrates support many bodily functions including: helping us think clearly, helping support our bodies during physical activity and providing our body and brain with energy.
Some examples of whole grains: Quinoa, oats, brown rice, barley, wholewheat bread
Examples of refined grains: White bread, white flour
Protein is an incredibly important element to include in your diet. Protein is a really important building block for your bones, muscles, cartilage and skin. Your body uses this protein to repair any damages within its tissue, and it also provides your red blood cells with protein which allows the cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Protein also helps the body digest properly, as protein contributes to the production of enzymes.
Examples of protein sources: beef, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, beans, tofu, eggs, milk
Dairy offers the body a vital source of calcium. Dairy also provides our bodies with a great source of energy and protein.
Dairy sources : Greek yogurt, yogurt, cheese, milk
Balanced and healthy relationship with food: eating foods for fun and pleasure
A balanced diet does include certain food groups in your eating habits, and it also includes eating foods because of pleasure or social aspects. That means having a healthy and balanced relationship with food involves eating the slice of pizza with your friend on a Friday night if you want to. It involves being able to travel and enjoy all the unique foods of the culture. It also means being able to not let guilt get in the way of your eating choices. It is important to not let food labels on packages such as “lite” or “healthy” be the reason you pick food. You want to pick food because it is a fit for your body and your values.
Eating desserts and sweets, if you want to
A no-dessert mentality is based on the idea that some foods make you gain weight, and other foods will help you lose weight. This mentality is simply untrue and can cause a destructive relationship with food. While some foods do in fact have more fat and carbohydrates, these macronutrients are not necessarily a bad thing. Your body needs fats and carbohydrates to function. No one food will make you gain weight, and a balanced diet should not make you avoid foods that you love. A balanced diet and a healthy relationship with food are about enjoying the foods you desire and that feel good for your body. If you are someone that wants to end your meals with something sweet, it is about giving yourself permission to do that. Abandoning dessert, or any food that you enjoy, can also leave you feeling irritable and create strong cravings. Giving your body the freedom to eat every food is so important in creating a healthy relationship with food. You can ask yourself, “what do I want and how much do I want to eat in order to feel satisfied.”
Creating a healthy relationship with food and balanced diet: takeaway
It is important to recognize that your individual needs will look different than someone else’s, and that perfection is certainly not the goal. Working on your relationship with food can be a challenging journey to do alone. We are also aware that creating a healthy and balanced relationship with food is much more complex than we could ever capture in a short blog post. Teaming up with a dietitian and/or therapist can make your journey easier, as dietitians and therapists have the tools to help you work through the challenges you face and help you explore your individual needs. If you are struggling with your relationship with food, we are here to help you at Best Within You Therapy & Wellness. Please feel free to reach out for a complimentary consultation.
Thank you to Jacquline Zimmerman, Best Within You intern and Morgan Cherry, Best Within You registered dietitian nutritionist for this article.