If you are celebrating Valentine’s day this weekend, perhaps you’ve chosen to treat yourself to some of your favourite foods, like an Indian or Italian takeaway meal. Maybe you’ve opted for Chinese food as a nod to Chinese New Year.
Perhaps, like us, you chose to have a nice juicy steak, with skinny fries and bread and butter. Of course, there’s got to be dessert. How does an Irish Cream sponge cake sound? Mmm, delicious!
You know, you’ve got to treat yourself now and again don’t you?
Yet so many of us restrict what foods we eat due to the amount of information that is out there on reasons why we should or shouldn’t be eating something. It increases your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and reduces your energy, sodium levels, and immunity. That’s before we even start on dieting messages. Every New Year, without doubt, your weekend newspaper will be filled with articles on weight loss tips, TV programmes focus on dieting and where your food comes from, and some doctor will be telling you which of your foods will lead to heart disease, cancer and all manner of intestinal problems.
Take that steak, for example. We are warned that eating red meat is bad for us, even causing bowel or colorectal cancer. Fancy a Full English breakfast? Beware the processed meat, that can cause cancer, too.
There are health warnings for sugar, white bread, milk, alcohol, eggs, in fact, you name it, there will be a health warning somewhere.
Then someone turns around and says that all these things can also be good for you. One week they say don’t drink alcohol everyday, the next they are saying a glass of red is just what the doctor ordered.
It really makes for a love-hate relationship with food doesn’t it? It leads us to “justify” why it’s okay to have that “bad” thing:
~ I did 10,000 steps today so I can have a takeaway.
~ I’ve eaten salad all week so I can have chips today.
~ It’s my birthday today / this week / this month so I can have cake.
~ Jupiter is in my star sign so I need to eat this huge bag of sweets.
Okay, so I’ve never said that last one but I’ve said some version of the others, and the point is we make excuses for eating foods that are deemed unhealthy.
Although the primary aim is to fuel our bodies, I think we should enjoy eating our food and not feel guilty about what we are eating all the time.
That’s why I’m sharing my tips on how to start enjoying food again. I’m not a nutritionist or expert in dietetics so this is just my own experience and approach to food choice that I believe has helped to keep me in fairly decent health.
This is the first of three posts I am doing on getting rid of the excess baggage we have around our health and fitness.
How To Fall In Love With Food Again
Never Take a Headline at Face Value
Journalists use exaggerated language to draw you in and often don’t give the full story. For example, stories about monosodium glutamate (MSG) often say it can cause headaches, cramps and fatigue, but if you read the studies, the amounts being consumed were at least twice as high as what would be contained in the food we eat.
Whenever you see a headline that warns of increased cancer risk from eating a particular food, always do more research. Studies report that there is a 20% increased cancer risk from eating processed meat, yet that still only amounts to a small overall risk, around 7%. In 2015, Cancer Research UK attributed 28% of bowel cancer cases to a lack of fibre in the diet, that is more the twice the number of cases that were attributed to eating processed and red meat, at 13%. This would indicate that your time would be better spent trying to get more fibre in your diet rather than cutting out processed and red meat, which is only a problem if you eat more than 500g of meat a week. That’s the equivalent of approximately 17 rashers of bacon, 20 slices of ham, 6 quarter-pound burgers or 3 8oz steaks.
Which brings me to the next point.
Everything in moderation
Did you hear the story about the boy who turned orange after eating too many carrots? Yes, really! It happens to be a medical condition and is quite common in children but can happen at any age if you decide that carrots are good for you and you should eat them at every meal. As little as three large carrots a day could have an impact.
You see, even “good” foods can have a negative impact if you place too heavy a focus on them. An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but four a day could have you begging to see the doctor for a decent laxative.
What you really need is everything in moderation or, as they say, a balanced diet.
This means that you get protein, carbs and fat in at every meal and have some variety in your diet even if you predominately eat the same things on a cycle. Some of the advice out there is worth noting so look around sites such as the NHS and Healthline.
Don’t think about foods in terms of which will or won’t help you lose weight. focus on how they feel and what impact they have on you at a macro level. All foods can be enjoyed when you know your balance.
Listen to your body
Ever eaten something and suffered from stomach pains, indigestion or just plain fatigue? That could be an indicator that the food you have eaten isn’t for you. I used to love chip shop fish and chips but rarely eat it anymore because I just feel horrible afterwards. Similarly, I know not to eat too much chocolate or toffees as I get headaches and sick feeling.
A more extreme example is of a work colleague who did a (nutritionist led) detox and found out that gluten was a no-go area for her. After cutting it out, she even dropped a shoe size – the bloating in her body reached her feet! Turns out she had coeliac disease (an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the gut).
Now, not all of us have a medical problem like this so the current fad of cutting out gluten is just that. In fact, don’t go cutting gluten out just for the sake of it as if you do have coeliac disease it would be much harder to diagnose and you may have to go back to eating gluten for a while to avoid a false positive. However, keeping a diary of how you feel after eating food can help you to pinpoint which ones don’t agree with you and then maybe you could have a discussion with your GP as to whether you should have any allergy tests.
Although I don’t like “diets” in general, you may find that this type of monitoring will help you to lose weight, if that is one of the reasons you often deny yourself certain foods, because when you are focussed on how you feel, you may end up with more energy, or less lethargy, leading to increased activity. That’s certainly what I have noticed. You may continue to deny yourself those same foods, but now it will be from an informed view-point rather than from an idea that you “shouldn’t” have something.
Stop Making Excuses
If you like a certain food, enjoy it, but be honest with yourself as to why you are eating it. If you are making an excuse then hunger probably isn’t the reason you are eating it. As we discussed last week, we are in control of our actions and we shouldn’t use other people or situations to drive oour food choices.
Don’t justify your food choices, build them into your balanced diet and fall in love with food again.
Have you fallen out of love with food? Which foods do you make excuses for eating? What foods have you given up because you think you should? Tell us in the comments below.
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Until next time, remember, if the excess baggage is weighing you down, you can always leave it in lost luggage.