When you think about healthy food, what adjectives come to mind? “Delicious” and “to-die-for” probably aren’t in your top five. Like many of the clients at Green Mountain at Fox Run, my women’s healthy weight loss spa in Vermont, you’re probably more likely to come up with “boring,” “tasteless” or “unsatisfying.” Definitely not words you’d use to describe something you’d actually want to eat.
This all-too-common negative thinking is one of the reasons why even the best, most-balanced healthful meals can seem unsatisfying. And, according to recent University of Chicago research, this may be especially true if it seems like someone else is controlling your choices. If you feel like you’re forced to eat healthy—whether by doctors’ orders, or simply a super-restrictive eating plan—you may still feel hungry even though you’ve technically eaten enough.
In psych-speak, that’s called a response to external controls. Someone else is in charge of your decisions, often leading to negative results. It’s also the exact opposite of the goal of mindful eating, which encourages you to develop a strong internal guidance system so you can make choices in your own best interest.
So how do you translate well-intentioned healthy eating advice into a plan that works for you, instead of against you? Try these tips.
- Forget about health and weight. Yes, that’s what I said. Put those thoughts on the back burner and instead resolve to eat in a way that makes you feel great—full of energy, ready to meet whatever comes your way. If you have no clue on how to do that, go ahead and follow basic nutrition guidelines. But do it with the attitude that you’re exploring your choices. “Choices” is a key word. No one is making you do it. You’re in charge.
- Tune into how you feel. Remember, you’re the expert when it comes to your body. What works best for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. A good example is whole wheat bread, widely recognized as a good-for-you choice. But it’s not if you are sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat. Indeed, by tuning into your body, you may begin to discover underlying physical problems that can be causing eating and weight struggles.
- Remember that rich foods can be part of healthy eating. Pleasure is good medicine! If you love it, fried chicken, or a hot fudge sundae or a pile of potato chips may be just the thing to make you feel good at times. When you’re tuned in, however, you don’t overdo because that doesn’t feel good. It’s about giving yourself permission both to enjoy all kinds of foods, and to recognize when you’ve had enough.
- Accept mistakes, learn from them and move on. Taking responsibility means you own both the good choices and the not-so-good ones. Know that as you explore the world of healthy eating, you may overdo occasionally. But if you do so without feelings of guilt, you can learn from the experience. And the next time you enjoy the food that sent you off track, you can better gauge when to stop.
Marsha Hudnall, RD, MS, CD, is a nationally known nutritionist with more than 25 years experience as a weight management specialist. She is the owner and program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a healthy weight-loss spa exclusively for women. She serves on several boards and has authored seven books on healthy weight loss.