This Simple Mindset Shift May Help You Achieve Your Ultimate Healthy Diet
How often have you enjoyed a delicious meal with family, a festive drink with friends, or a decadent dessert with yourself and felt immediate shame for overindulging?
Our society's obsession with perfection is very real. Whether it's "Keep off those holiday pounds!" or "Burn off the belly bloat!" we're bombarded with messages telling us we're not enough. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Lately, I've been embracing a more radical approach to eating, and with it, I feel less and less guilt around enjoying myself, at the table or elsewhere. How, you ask? Instead of agonizing over any additional pounds, I affectionately call this fluctuation my "prosperity pounds."
How do you indulge in a balanced way?
While consciously choosing to increase my intake of vitamin P (for pleasure, of course), my pants can become a little bit tighter. And rather than beating myself up for indulging while traveling (pizza in Italy when you've been eating low-carb) or catching up with old friends (over incredible grass-fed steaks when you usually avoid red meat), I reframe my slightly curvier figure as a sign of success, abundance, luxury, and well-being.
This isn't about "letting myself go," and I have no desire to be overweight. This is simply an act of love for myself. I'm committed to maintaining a healthy weight while enjoying each moment without the guilt.
Some days that commitment looks like slow walks in nature instead of a high-intensity sweat fest at the gym. I may not burn as many calories or feel quite as fit, but my body appreciates the rest. Not to mention, my mind and soul feel nourished.
There is so much freedom in enjoying exactly where we are—both geographically in the world & physically in our bodies.
When I'm traveling, I tend to indulge more, eager to experience the culture. I balance that with protein shakes and more fresh fruits and veggies when I return home.
Nutritional psychologist Marc David, M.A., says the level of enjoyment we experience in eating our food has very real biochemical consequences that directly affect our metabolism and digestion. "Half of nutrition is what you eat, but the other half is how you eat," says David, founder of The Institute for the Psychology of Eating and author of The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss.
David notes that feeling guilty for eating our favorite foods takes away from the pleasure. We all know it's not healthy to eat ice cream every day, but he believes conscious doses of pleasure put us in a state to honor our desires while nourishing our bodies in a thoughtful way.
I could choose to feel terrible about myself for eating pasta at almost every meal in Italy. Or I can lean into gratitude for the experience of working and traveling in such a magical country. There is so much freedom in enjoying exactly where we are—both geographically in the world and physically in our bodies.
I'm not suggesting you make choices that feel unhealthy. I'm just proposing we each consider that food and life are meant to be savored and enjoyed, and we don't have to choose between pleasure and wellness.
But how do you really start enjoying your food?
There is a wealth of evidence that focusing on food's sensual pleasure actually can help you find a healthful balance. And to get the most pleasure from food, I recommend slowing down while you eat rather than shoveling it in. Remove distractions like the phone and television, so you can eat mindfully.
Be sure to use all your senses to fully experience your food. Appreciate colors, textures, aromas, and presentation. Notice every flavor you are tasting while chewing thoroughly. Studies show that when people eat more slowly, they tend to take in fewer calories and feel just as satisfied. You'll also digest your food better and absorb more nutrients.
Instead of trying to avoid foods I enjoy, I find it more effective to stop labeling certain foods (and myself) as "bad." I'm relabeling "forbidden foods" as "fun foods" instead. Since making this mindset shift, I've noticed that I crave my fun foods much less, and when I do partake, I enjoy them so much more.
For me, eating a balance of nutrient-rich health foods, coupled with some fun foods, is the ultimate healthy diet. And healthy pleasure is something we can all agree on for dinner. Cheers!
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Kate Eckman is the author of The Full Spirit Workout: A Ten-Step System to Shed Your Self-Doubt, Strengthen Your Spiritual Core, and Create a Fun and Fulfilling Life. She is a broadcast journalist and TV personality who brings her expertise in communications, performance, and mindfulness to her practice as a success coach for business leaders and professional athletes. She earned a B.A. in communications from Penn State University, where she was an Academic All-American swimmer, and received her master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She graduated at the highest level from Columbia University’s executive and organizational coaching program and is a certified ICF coach (ACC) and a licensed NBI consultant. Passionate about mindfulness practices for both brain and body health, she is also a meditation teacher and course creator for Insight Timer, the world’s number one–ranked free meditation app.