Fact: it is nearly impossible to go a day without seeing some sort of messaging that categorizes the food we eat. Only real ingredients. Paleo friendly. Vegan. Gluten free. Dairy free.
This messaging fills our Instagram feeds. Our Facebook feeds. It even permeates the way we eat out (“do you have any dietary restrictions I should be aware of?” “do you need a gluten-free menu?”).
Whether we realize it or not, the more we’re surrounded with this messaging, the more we send subconscious signals to ourself that if we aren’t eating in a way that fits into a neat and definable box, we’re doing something wrong.
Unfortunately for so many people- regardless of good intentions- categorizing our food intake can easily lead to an unhealthy fixation with food. And I’ll be the first to admit that I get it. Because I’ve been there.
In high school and college, I used to give so much weight to the type of food I put into my body. Cheese? Bad. Giant salad? Good. Low fat over full fat, always. Only thinly sliced bread. It went on and on.
I did this despite my mom teaching my sister and me how to eat instinctively. And intuitive eating worked when I was a kid. I loved sweet apple juice, so I drank it. I loved chips, so I ate them. Always in moderation, but also without apprehension.
Unfortunately as I grew into adulthood, I became overwhelmed with cultural messaging telling me to eat a certain way. To follow certain rules, to look like this and not that, to only eat foods that are “good for you,” and to not eat the bad ones.
So I started to become obsessive.
I remember being in college and talking to my mom about my struggles with eating. “It’s like I can’t get this voice out of my head telling me to eat a certain way. It’s so loud. Is it going to be like this forever?”
“No, it won’t,” she said.
She told me that she used to think this way, too. “But as you get older, you learn to listen more to your body and what it needs. It might not go away completely, but that voice will get softer, and you just won’t care as much.”
I held on to that, hard.
When I heard that voice in my head counting out calories, I would literally distract myself with something else so I couldn’t count. I would challenge myself to eat the things I felt were bad. And the more I did the more I realized that these “bad” foods weren’t bad at all. They were just… food.
It took a while, but the more I learned to eat intuitively the less I cared about the type of food I ate. As long as I don’t eat five of them a day, eating a cookie does nothing to change the way my body looks or feels. If anything, eating a cookie makes me feel happier. Eating a cookie gives me joy. And there is something really beautiful about that.
One thing that I’ve learned in the last 5 years that has changed the way I think about food is this:
When it comes down to it, a healthy diet has less to do with the type of food you eat, and everything to do with your relationship to food.
Our bodies can be a lot stronger than our minds. Because our bodies do best when they are given what they need. They don’t fret over the choices we make. They just take in the food we feed them, and turn it into energy. So our bodies don’t give a shit when we eat gluten-free pasta over regular pasta. Or regular ice cream over vegan ice cream. They just want to be nourished.
If you feel like this post resonates with what you’re going through right now, I want to challenge you to try to cultivate a nurturing relationship between you and the food you eat. As stupid as this sounds, before each meal, thank the food you’re about to eat for nourishing you and giving you the energy you need. Before you eat foods you think of as “bad,” thank it for making your tastebuds happy. The more you can appreciate and be thankful for all foods, the less you will associate certain foods as negative.
You can absolutely eat gluten-free and vegan if that’s what truly makes your body feel good. But you can also eat from every food group and be equally as healthy.
It’s alright to eat full fat yogurt, and honestly you’ll probably be more full in 3 hours than if you ate the low-fat yogurt. It’s completely OK to eat too many fries, and if you do, don’t punish yourself for it later on.
And eating a cookie is part of a healthy diet.