do you really need to be told what to eat?
In this post on wellness, I talked about how we seek out rules, answers, and solutions from every external source in our life, but rarely look within ourselves. People say to me, “just tell me what to eat,” “what do I eat for breakfast?” “tell me what to eat for every snack.” They don’t trust the knowledge and answers they already have. And, as surprising as it may sound, telling someone what to eat is not what I’m here for.
Many people believe that as a dietitian I tell people what to eat, write meal plans, and prescribe weight loss. Education, handouts, and weight loss counseling at times have their place - but this sort of dietitian roll stems from the idea that people don't know what to eat. I have a science background, but unless I turn my TV segments, seminars, and counseling sessions into science lessons, there isn’t much food fact I can teach you that you don’t already know. What I have found, is lack of knowledge is not the issue. Sure, there are nutrition myths that could stand to be busted, but even then, we follow these myths and trends because deep down we’re convinced that there is something we don’t know, something we’re missing.
Media, magazines, websites, convince us that there are things we don’t know. This is how they sell us on fad diets and wellness trends, they claim they have the secret recipe for weight loss, etc. But I will stress, we are not lacking knowledge. We know vegetables are good for us. We know fruit is good for us. We know it is better to cook at home and have a variety of foods in our life. And while there may be cool new products with proposed health benefits, one food item isn’t going to change health. Why are we making it so complicated? Why do we think that someone else or some program has answers or magical knowledge beyond the basic principles of eating well?
What is missing? Self-awareness. Self-awareness about our hunger, our fullness, our cravings, our habits, our mindless routines - that is what can help us know what to eat. When we start to look for the answers internally, instead of externally, it is surprising how much we can learn.
Unfortunately, consuming knowledge is easy (especially with social media) while self-awareness takes work. But, just because it takes effort, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. If this is a foreign idea to you, or maybe you prefer to be told what to do, whether it gives (lasting) success or not, I want to encourage you to take this leap to learn about YOU. Imagine how much easier aspects of your life would be if you could decide what to eat without agonizing over it, could feel confident you were making the right food choices, and knew what your body was asking for, and when.
Improve nutrition through increased self-awareness
Here are five ways to increase your self-awareness around nutrition and food. Do a mental check in with yourself for each prompt. Whether you use the info to make a change, or not, you are improving your self-awareness. It is these check-ins that can help you find areas to work on that are based on the unique you!
Notice how you handle hunger. How do you handle your hunger? Do you listen to your hunger and honor it? Ignore it? Try to push it away for a bit? Do you notice your hunger at all? Some ways we feel hunger are: headache, dizziness, emptiness, stomach growling, irritability, fatigue, nausea, anxiety. (Pro-tip: trying to quiet our hunger is one of the worst things we can do). Understanding your relationship to your hunger is a key piece to uncovering where your relationship with food stands.
Notice how you talk about food and yourself. Shaming yourself for eating a 'bad' food, calling yourself 'bad' for eating something, or banning foods that you deem unacceptable for one reason or another are ways you are relying on external information to tell you the ‘right’ food choices to make. As long as you hold onto these beliefs and thought processes, it will be nearly impossible to tune-into and trust your body. Work on removing the negative language and self-talk by using affirmations, positive self-talk, and reframing your negative phrases into positive ones.
Notice your motivation behind eating. Are you eating something because you feel like you should? Because you want it? Because you are stressed? Because someone told you you should? The simple process of contemplating this is an eye-opening exercise in self-awareness. We should not be making choices based on someone else or external factors.
Notice your eating schedule. How often are you eating? Do you eat at roughly the same times each day? Do you graze constantly? Do you have control over when you eat? There is so much to unpack here. A rough goal should be no more than 5 hours without food, ideally eating every 3-4 hours, and having some sort of routine.
Are you planning what you'll eat ahead of time? Do you take some time each weekend to assess the upcoming week? We should give at least a few minutes to think about the week ahead. Figure out which meals will be eaten out, which at home, what foods you have on hand to feed you, and if a grocery trip is needed. This practice can lend itself to meal and snack preparation for the week. No matter how hectic your weeks are, this practice can save you time, dollars, and stress. Planning is key!
Instead of looking to the latest headline or wellness blogger's diet trend, look within yourself. I offered 5 thinking prompts with some guidance on how to handle each one. Ultimately, this is a learning process unique to you. Come to an unexpected realization after doing these prompts? I can help make sense of it! Comment, email, or contact me with questions or to set up a session.