As a nutritionist I spend my time telling people what to eat and what not to eat. Almost everyone is told to eat more vegetables, drink more water, eat less sugar, and choose healthy fats. With each individual I get more in depth about certain foods that should stay off their plates.
A trend that I have noticed in my clients is a very rigid view of food, with each food squarely in a “good” or “bad” corner. Certainly it is important to know a nutritious, health-supporting diet from and an inflammatory, calorie-rich/nutrient-poor one. There is a gray area when it comes to food. A potato is a great source of fiber and potassium but if you eat a whole plate of potatoes every night for dinner you may increase your inflammation and gain weight. The potato itself is neither good nor bad, how you incorporate it into your diet is the important part.
The stress that comes along with an inflexible view of food is counterproductive. We all know that a poor diet leads to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other illnesses. But stress is also a factor. When we feel chronically stressed our cortisol stays elevated and that makes it difficult to lose weight, our blood sugar stays elevated and we have trouble sleeping. Not to mention we are, in general, less happy.
We are humans. We lead busy, unpredictable, fast-paced lives. Sometimes we must chose between going hungry and eating a soy protein bar. When we go to parties we may eat something someone else made only to later find out they used margarine. And you know what? That’s ok. The soy protein bar is better for you than a fast food meal or snickers bar would have been, and your friend made that food to share with people they love.
We must find a balance between a healthy diet and the stress we place on ourselves. Prepare healthy meals ahead of time at home to take to lunch with you every day at work. If you forget it, chose the most nutritious option available to you. If that happens to be a burger and fries maybe you leave the bun off and later eat extra vegetables at dinner. Aim for perfect, and when that doesn’t happen, smile and make the best choice you can. Because when you aim for perfect and practice self-forgiveness you end up somewhere really good.