One day at dinner, my 3-year-old daughter looked at me with disdain and said, “Mom, this pizza is bad for you. That sucks.” I felt bad enough that my Friday night snack was ruined, but I felt even worse about what she was learning so early in her life.
As the founder of a health food brand, I’m often expected to vehemently reject pizza or aloo parantha and stand firmly on the side of low-carb, oil-free, healthy alternatives. While I’ve become an expert on nutrition labeling and ingredient lists, my beliefs about food, and specifically the happiness we derive from it, are based on the principles of food positivity.
I’ll start by defining what a negative relationship with food looks like. If you tend to overeat, overeat, or feel so full that you are at risk of “bursting,” then chances are your love for food has overwhelmed you and your choices are imbalanced. A negative relationship with food means that you are often subject to cravings, snacking between meals and therefore not giving your body enough time to digest or get the fuel from your food. If this sounds like you, don’t worry because it is possible to switch to a more positive relationship with food.
Food positivity is not about following a fad or diet. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Food positivity is about developing a mindful, happy relationship with food and learning how to eat well. When you have a positive relationship with food, you are in control of what you eat. You don’t have to “ban” anything because you can stop eating when your stomach is full and you won’t eat mindlessly or without portion control. As a result, you will feel healthier, have more energy and lead a fitter lifestyle.
My 3 year old telling me the pizza was “bad” reflects the oversimplified view of food used by many so-called “healthy” brands today to defame certain ingredients. Sugars, fats and carbohydrates to name a few. “Stay away from all those white people” is the advice many nutritionists are openly tossing around. But as busy professionals with full-time parenting responsibilities, such advice can seem daunting at the very least and downright depressing at the most. I think it’s important to realize that food makes us happy. We spend the best moments of our day eating our favorite dishes surrounded by our closest family and friends. And that’s okay, because you don’t have to feel guilty about eating quinoa salad while everyone else is eating a burger. All you have to do is change your relationship with food to a positive one. Here’s how.
1. Improve your food knowledge so you can make better choices.
For example, peanut butter toast will keep you fuller for much longer than regular butter toast for similar calorie counts. This reduces unhealthy snacking between breakfast and lunch and ensures a higher protein intake. Another crazy example of food savvy is that when you eat whole fruit, it contains more fiber, which helps control your insulin surge. If you juice and drink the same fruit, your insulin will rise more. So try to eat nutrient-dense, simple foods. Whole foods like whole grains and whole fruit are always better. Similarly, eat natural, real foods made with minimally processed ingredients. Also, avoid using chemical substitutes for all ingredients, least of all sugar and sweeteners.
2. Teach yourself how much to eat, but don’t forbid anything.
Eat consciously, on smaller plates, with your other hand – these are all little tricks that help to avoid overeating. The trick is to learn how your body reacts to what and how much you eat. Oftentimes, the negative pressure of forbidding yourself from eating things you love takes an immense toll on your happiness. That’s a mistake, because food isn’t the enemy. It is our food choices that make our consumption positive or negative for our health.
3. Focus on ingredients, not calories.
Don’t fall for “diet foods” like meal replacement shakes or diet foods. They can be full of artificial sweeteners or added sugar. Instead, choose non-diet whole foods like unsweetened yogurt or peanut butter with no added sugar. Don’t let the numbers decide your fitness. Calories in your meals, numbers on your scale, step count—these aren’t the best indicators of your fitness. Instead, focus on consuming the right ingredients and maintaining a naturally occurring healthy relationship with food.
4. Follow intuitive eating.
Intuitive Eating is a nutrition philosophy that rejects the traditional way of thinking about nutrition and says that you should trust your body to make these decisions. It promotes a healthy attitude towards eating by encouraging you to listen to your body’s hunger signals. Put simply, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Become more conscious of how and when you eat. Don’t skip meals or overeat. Let your natural bodily queues guide you when and how much to eat. The philosophy also suggests that you honor your hunger, exercise, and respect your body — among its other principles. In conclusion, food positivity is not a short-term hack. It takes effort and time to develop it. So if you’re looking for a long-term, positive lifestyle change, developing a positive attitude towards food is essential.
The views expressed above are the author’s own.
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