Eating well is a journey not a destination

What I have learned so far in my journey with food and nutrition is that we all have a different relationship with food. With all the information circulating on social media today, good healthy nutrition is often seen as an objective, that once achieved will bring long-lasting health benefits. There is a certain truth to this, however, I like to look at nutrition as being part of our lives and it will evolve and change over time depending on our individual needs. So, this week I will be discussing the benefits of first looking in (how our bodies react to different foods) before looking out (information found in the news, media etc), however by combining these two factors with other lifestyle issues we can very often improve not just how we eat but how we feel.

There are so many things that we can learn from our bodies if we take the time to listen and observe. To start with are you aware of any foods that make you feel tired and bloated, and are there other foods that make you feel, energetic, happy, and comfortable? During your busy days, you often disregard and push through the discomfort as it might seem trivial and unimportant, you grow used to this feeling and learn to live with it, yet your body is telling you that something is wrong. This is when it is important to look inwards and pay attention to what is bothering you.

However, this is also when we often look for outside solutions first. Social media is constantly reminding us of the amazing benefits of following a specific diet such as the ketogenic or the paleo, which for some can work very well, whereas for others it may be difficult and sometimes confusing to follow. Or, we hear of a friend or relative who has tried the latest new diet and now feels amazing, so maybe it might work for us? This is when it is crucial to look at our individual needs and identify the discomfort and/or specific triggers, once we have done that, we can then look out and tailor our diet to any specific needs, Although we may have a similar lifestyle, there are many other factors, such as our gut microbiome, stress, lifestyle etc which come into play, and this can also influence our diet and how we react to food.

Imagine a grocery store where there are no prepackaged microwave meals, frozen meals, sauces, and cereals packets etc – this may sound a little scary at first but when we go back to basics, things fall into place so easily. When we cook simple meals from scratch there is no need to look at labels, or worry about additives or count calories (unless for specific health reasons) — especially as our body cannot count calories! There is a certain stress that disappears which is instead replaced with growing confidence in the kitchen and the knowledge that we are providing our bodies with good clean energy. We have an amazing option of fruits, vegetables, meats, and spices that can be combined in endless delights with a variety of grains, potatoes, nuts, seeds, and pasta and this will provide us with a simple yet healthy meal.

Just as we eat differently according to the season, with fresh, light salads in the summer and more warm and hearty soups and stews in the cold winter months, the food that we eat will also evolve throughout our lives and should as our needs differ depending on where we find ourselves, we eat differently as a student than as a family with young children, and again we get older our nutritional needs and lifestyle will change once again.

Following on are various factors which you might want to consider before embarking on a specific program or diet. When looking to improve or modify your diet it is important to make sure that it will work for you and that it becomes part of your lifestyle. A diet that mainly consists of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats, dairy products and low on refined sugars, is flexible as there are also times for you to indulge, for example at a family birthday or celebration. This means that foods are not ‘forbidden’ but enjoyed on a specific occasion.

There are also other factors to take into consideration when looking at your diet, such as the time needed to prepare the meals, if they take too long, likely, you will not prepare them and so will not follow the diet plan. The foods in your diet should also be ones that you enjoy eating and that are easily accessible at your local grocery store. Certain meal plans or programs may require you to buy various supplements, these can end up being quite expensive, so will this fit into your budget? Going back to the idea of ‘forbidden’ foods that need to be cut out of your diet, this can create nutritional imbalances further down the road, so looking more at balance rather than restriction can also be a factor to think about.

Understanding that our diets will never be ‘perfect’ just as this pasta primavera recipe can always be modified but looking more at integrating the points mentioned above will go a lot further in making sure that you follow your diet and reap the health benefits that come when we eat a diet which reflects our individual needs.

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