The importance of being kind to yourself while committing to healthier eating
“Are you sure this is what you want?” she asked. “I’ve been with people before who made an initial pledge, and then later regretted it.” I told her I’d never been more willing to commit to anything in my life. “Okay,” she said. They call it the Jumbo Sampler Sundae: five scoops of ice cream, along with five syrups or toppings. It’s one of the irresistible dessert items at Jaxon’s Ice Cream Parlor in Dania Beach, Florida. Its irresistibility is a biological phenomenon. A 2018 article published by the Nature Partner Journal: Science of Food says that by the “1900s, this trio of salt, sugar, fat took on a new psychosensory dimension when the processed food industry discovered that these ingredients could be formulated to produce a state of satiety, pleasure, and hedonia in those who consumed them.” In other words, I’m supposed to fall in love with my vat of ice cream. That is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to commit to a healthy diet: junk food is psychological Cinderella, and her wicked stepsisters are change, discipline, and whole foods.
There is increasing pressure on people to eat well and manage their calories. We feel judged by blogs, by (Photoshopped) Instagram posts, and by cooking shows illustrating how easy it is to prepare a week’s worth of family meals on a well-scheduled Sunday afternoon. (Notice, on these programs, how the chopping, grating, and peeling is always completed before the cameras roll.)
“In our cruel food world, we have this idea of perfection,” says Laura Creek Newman, a registered dietitian at Winnipeg’s Wellness Institute. “It’s society. They think of perfection in one way, and [we] think that if [we] not doing that then, ‘I must be totally wrong.’”
Newman says that before tackling the “how,” an individual has to deal with the “why.” She says, “We have these external reasons for change; it’s something someone told us to do, or something like that … Then there are internal reasons for change, so that’s where it gets down to our core values and beliefs.”
That sentiment is echoed by Kristyn Hall, a consulting dietitian and nutritionist with the Calgary Weight Management Centre. When she talks to her clients, she realizes that it’s not purely about weight loss: “It’s their relationship with food; it’s internalized weight stigma; it’s unmanaged mental health.”
Certain foods make us feel good. My ice cream comforts me; it tells me my workday is done, and it tells other people I am shirking responsibilities for 12 minutes. In many ways, it is saying, “I love you.”
Hall says that change purely for the sake of weight loss is not enough. “For some people, it’s ‘I want to keep up with my kids.’ For some people, it’s ‘I want to be able to go hiking and have more energy during the day.’”
While motivation for change is as unique as a fingerprint, we seem to all stumble upon the same obstacle and wave it like a flag of surrender … or a dessert napkin. That hurdle is: time.
Family, job, fatigue … Netflix. These are all legitimate obstacles to tackling a major life change. Often our kids come first, or our deadlines, or our desperate need to decompress.
That’s why a permissive and minimalist view of better nutrition can be helpful. It can be as simple, and ironic, as making sure you’re eating enough.
Hall calls it hoarding calories: people restrict what they eat during the day so they can justify gorging on calories in the evening. However, by the time that meal comes around, patience gives way to intense hunger, with processed foods being the easiest targets, leading to weight gain.
Hall says people are also too strict about sticking to diets and adopt an unhealthy all-or-nothing approach. “They break a diet rule,” she says, “then it becomes, ‘Well, what the hell, I might as well eat the whole bag here.’ It’s a diet-binge cycle.”
(Remind me to check my living room for cameras.)
Both Newman and Hall agree that starting with one or two changes is less daunting. They suggest introducing one or two healthier choices per week, such as having oatmeal for a couple of breakfasts or bringing a healthier snack to work, such as carrots and hummus.
Hall emphasizes that whole foods will also help us self-regulate our urges. “When you’re eating a plant-based diet … those foods have brakes on them; it’s hard to overeat them. But when you have things like … potato chips, those foods are hard to stop eating.”
“We are what we eat,” Newman says. “When we get a wide variety of nutrition, especially vitamins or minerals or fibre … our system just works better, and that includes our mental health, too.”
I love my vat of ice cream, but I certainly don’t want to become my vat of ice cream (although it does live in Florida). I guess instead of committing to five scoops, I may just have to have a casual relationship with them and explain to them that I will be cheating on them … with hummus.
Become involved with sustainable food organizations, including the following.
|The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada||janegoodall.ca||The JGIC runs a “Roots and Shoots” program, which focuses on sustainable food. Volunteers can connect with them through the website.|
|Food Secure Canada||foodsecurecanada.org||Championing healthy and sustainable diets is a backbone of FSC. It has several levels of memberships for individuals and organizations.|
|The Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative||agrifoodsustainability.ca; firstname.lastname@example.org||This organization focuses on ensuring transparency and data in the food chain.|