Here’s how to balance the two.
Eating is one of my greatest pleasures on Earth. Going out to eat literally fills me with happiness. Even a simple dinner alone at home is a moment that I enjoy. I absolutely love to eat. And I love that I love it because eating is one of the simplest, most fundamental pleasures there is — and we get to enjoy it several times a day. There is beauty in loving the basics.
Food is the basis of life. Food is the fuel that you put into your body to get through the day and accomplish tons of things. The problem is that we have also accumulated tons of rules about the way we eat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a study on eating behavior in the United States. They found that 71% of people believe they could eat healthier. Translation: they put mental weight on their eating behaviors.
29% of people have made a conscious effort to reduce the size of the portions they eat: i.e. they have put rules on their food consumption. 50% tried to avoid sugar in their diet: i.e. they regularly deprive themselves of dessert.
And it goes on and on. While it’s healthy to be aware of what we put into our bodies, I would like to restore some of the naturalness in eating. Loving to eat and wanting to feel good in your body is not impossible to reconcile. Here’s how.
The trap of calorie counting
I’ve been there too. Perhaps you know the nutritional values of almost every food you eat. You keep track in your head, or you use an app to count. You can’t take a bite of anything without thinking about how you will do the math later.
It starts to get exhausting, but it’s fine because you feel in control. And you’re afraid to stop because you’re convinced you’re going to gain weight.
Have you ever snacked because you “still had room for it” when you weren’t so hungry, or deprived yourself when you were because you had reached your maximum target number?
That’s the problem when you put numbers on something that is the basis of being human. We disconnect ourselves from the fluctuations of our needs. And besides, how can we arbitrarily determine that each day requires, say, 1800 calories when some days are spent lying on the couch and others walking here and there?
That’s why we need to reconnect with our sensations. This is how we can reconcile our love of food with our desire to be fit and feel good about our bodies.
“It’s good to know relative calories: This food is high, this food is low, for example, especially if you eat out in restaurants often. But there are a lot of flaws with calorie counting as we know it. For some people, it works. But really, I don’t recommend it. We can get so involved in the numbers that we experience a disconnect between the food we eat and our hunger”, registered dietitian Abby Langer told HuffPost.
Sound familiar? The thing is, the amount of calories is one thing. But in the end, it’s the quality of those calories that counts.
“Two fun-size bags of M&Ms and two hard-boiled eggs both contain about 140 calories. But the eggs have protein and healthy fat that will keep you full and are packed with nutrients that will nourish your body. The M&Ms, on the other hand, are nutritionally void. Plus, they’re high in sugar, which means they’ll spike and crash your blood sugar, leaving you reaching for yet another snack soon after.” — HuffPost
Besides, it affects your insulin level, which is actually what creates fat. That’s why you also need to know the truth about carbs.
Focus on health, not weight loss
If you deprive your car of gas, it won’t go very far. Your body works the same way. You actually need food, in sufficient quantity but also of good quality. That’s why focusing on health, not weight loss, is a useful compass for navigating your daily cravings and choices.
After I finish writing this, I’m going to get pizza. Why? Because I crave it, since last night to be honest. And I won’t feel guilty about it. Because I know I eat healthy most of the time. And that’s what really matters.
Because your appearance is defined by what you do 80% of the time. Not by the 20% extras here and there.
I’ve been experimenting with intuitive eating for some time now. I try to be more aware of the way I nourish myself. For example, I follow my cravings, and when I feel like having something, like a beer, ice cream, or pizza, I stop and try to evaluate whether I really want it or not. If I really want it, I don’t look any further, I just have it and enjoy it. If I feel like I can do without, fine, I’ll do without.
I also try to eat without getting distracted. When you sleep, you do nothing but sleep. It’s the same for eating. I’ve found that I tend to overeat when I do it while watching TV. Because I’m not totally focused on how I feel. I’ve been trying to reconnect with my sensations for some time now. Knowing when I’m hungry, or just want to eat. When I’m full. It’s a long process, but the first results appear fairly quickly.
You love to eat, and that’s fine. We’re alive, better enjoy it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to gain weight. You can both enjoy food and feel good about your body. What you need are awareness and balance.
The secret is to focus on health rather than weight loss. To nourish your body well. And to really pay attention to how you feel. Because your body knows, better than you do.
Let’s stop blaming ourselves. Let’s put aside the rules, and focus instead on understanding our needs, our desires, our body. Enjoying food is such an important part of life, of connecting with others, that it would be a shame to make it a source of anxiety. In France, we have a strong food culture: we don’t know how to connect other than over a meal!
Food is profoundly positive. Let’s not forget that at all times.