Simplifying Nutrition

All I hear about these days is keto, intermittent fasting, and all the other current trends. While it’s interesting to read about new nutrition research from a professional standpoint, it gets really frustrating when health care professionals and influencers on social media start to promote restrictive styles of eating to all their patients or followers.

We don’t need restrictive, complex ways of eating.

Most people just need to simplify nutrition down to the basics.

We’re all vulnerable to advertising and messages about health, especially products that have big claims, before and after pictures, or success stories. It can be easy to fall into the magic thinking that ‘carbs are evil,’ or that this one supplement or super food will be the answer to changing your life.

Often, people do end up feeling better when following these new styles of eating, especially initially. Maybe someone goes from not eating breakfast to drinking a special breakfast smoothie. It’s easy to attribute having more energy to the super food powder in the smoothie, but they probably feel better from simply eating breakfast.

The foundation of nutrition can be quite simple.

A colleague of mine talks about the ABCs of nutrition:

  • Adequate

  • Balance

  • Consistency

These three ideas won’t sell diet books, but they are pretty effective basics.

At my job, I help clients recover from eating disorders through an “All Foods Fit” philosophy. While recovery is hard work, it’s amazing how much better they can feel from eating enough, having all the food groups, and eating regularly throughout the day. They’re eating a variety of food, including sugar, carbs, and fats, every single day and improving their physical and mental health along the way. Of course, food is an essential part of their recovery to nourish their bodies and brains, but so is therapy and developing recovery tools.

Thanks to diet culture, often people think they’re overeating when they may be undereating. Most people don’t question their body when they’re thirsty - they just get something to drink. Yet, diet culture has made people question their hunger and appetite. Diet culture tells us to count calories instead of trust our bodies cues, drink water instead of eating, and so much more. This can often turn to a cycle of restricting, binging, and shame.

Eating enough has to be the foundation. There’s no diet or supplement that will ever work better than eating enough. This may be extremely difficult, especially if you’re recovering from disordered eating or an eating disorder, so be patient with yourself and seek professional support.

Everyone’s body is different, but disordered eating behaviors have real physical and mental health symptoms, regardless of body size. Many people are surprised by how much food and nutrition their body actually needs each day, even without doing much physical activity or exercise. If you find yourself binge eating, restriction still may be a part of your pattern. Many people undereat during the day and end up starving and binge eat in the evening.

Along with adequate nutrition, consistency and balance is key. Many people are eating adequately but have sporadic eating patterns or have cut out food groups and lack balance. Again, everyone is different, but most people feel best eating regularly throughout the day and having a variety of food groups at meals.

I know if I have a salad for a meal, I’ll add a carbohydrate source in it or on the side like a grain in the salad or slice of bread on the side. Same with pasta - I’ll throw in some veggies, a protein, and always cheese on top for some fats (and deliciousness!). With this, I don’t have a checklist that I follow at every meal, and there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ balanced eating. There are times I don’t have a carb or protein at a meal, and I’m okay. I’ll may just be hungry sooner or not as satisfied at that meal.

For me, balance also looks like eating a variety of foods. Mixing up the types of food you eat gets you a variety of nutrients, and most people don’t need to micromanage their intake of vitamins or minerals. If you know you’re deficient in a particular nutrient, you can always focus on eating foods with that nutrient or supplementing as appropriate. Your body is flexible and adaptable - it’s not going to break down and stop working if you have a day or week without eating any vegetables.

If you’re reading this, you likely have tons of nutrition beliefs you’ve picked up from years of just existing in our diet culture. I’m a big fan of decluttering my life like donating old clothes or things I don’t use. A clean house can feel energizing and I end up feeling mentally clear as well. Imagine if you could declutter your mind of all these useless, complex food beliefs and simplify your eating.

Luckily, intuitive eating is a skill that can be re-learned to help you ditch the diet mentality and listen to your body. Simplifying nutrition can not only help you re-connect with your body, but it helps make food only one part of your life. The reason I love doing this work is it helps people live more fully in their relationships, work, hobbies and passions.

What would life be like if you weren’t obsessing over every bite of food?

Lauren Fowler