When it comes to healthy eating, what is balance?

If you read my blog then you’ll know I’m all about balance.   While diets are becoming unfashionable (yah!), diet-like practices are still very much out there (sad face) and there are a few things I’m seeing around that are pitched as balance, when really it’s not.

We know healthy eating and  healthy lifestyles need to be balanced – otherwise they’re not really healthy.  Strenuous gym workouts without a break leads to exhaustion and injury.  Extremely strict diets can be nutritionally unbalanced and cause negative health and psychological effects and an obsession with being healthy. So when it comes to healthy eating, what is balance? How to you find the fine line between eating well and allowing treats?

Sometimes, the easiest way to look at it is from the opposite view point.  What isn’t balance?  Well here’s the things I’ve seen around social media which I wouldn’t necessarily call a healthy balance.

healthybalanceBeing super strict during the week only to binge on the weekend or during evenings

I saw a post once saying that someone had just eaten a whole block of chocolate and ice-cream and were feeling the effects of the sugar crash.  It was finished with “but it’s all about balance right? – Back to the gym tomorrow!”.  Nope. That’s not balance.   Sometimes what people see as balance is more dieting behaviour.

If your weekends involve going beyond the point of comfort with eating treats such as chippies, chocolate or biscuits yet your week days are super strict it might be time to assess your relationship with food.

If you’re fixated on being ‘good’ during the week, a treat in the weekend can be a welcome release to the constant thoughts in your head about only making the ‘right’ food choices.  I’ll often hear people with the mindset ‘what the hell, I’ve already started, I may as well keep going and just be good again on Monday’.    This isn’t balance.  It’s a diet mindset.   And it’s what I used to do every week when I had issues with food as a teenager and in my early 20’s.  I’d restrict and binge. There was no in between.  I was definitely not balanced!

In order to find a healthy balance, we do need to work on changing our thinking around food and we’ll talk more on that at the end of the post.

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The second practice which I’m not a fan of are “cheat days”

This concept isn’t new and there are a few reasons I don’t like cheat days.  And it’s not because I don’t believe in eating the foods you love.   If you follow my blog, and follow me on instagram, you’ll know that I treat myself and I’m not afraid of it.

Cheat days ignore your eating intuition and are just another rule to follow.  Once a week you can eat whatever you want. BUT only that day (or meal).  I can see the appeal – it allows you to eat the foods you love, but it puts boundaries on it as a form of control and for many, it leads to constant thoughts about what to eat on cheat day, or cheat days becoming cheat weeks…  In reality, this is dieting behaviour.   And once you find a healthy balance, you don’t need to ‘control’ your eating with rules, you can rely on your intuition.

Plus what are you cheating on?  NOTHING.  Cheating implies that there is something inherently wrong and sinful about consuming the foods you love.  And guess what, there’s not!! No one is going to send you to the headmasters office for enjoying something delicious.  Plus what happens if you’re invited to an amazing birthday celebration the day after your cheat day?  Are you going to not eat?  Chances are no, you’ll eat something your rules say you shouldn’t and feel guilty for ‘cheating’ two days in a row.

So how do you find a healthy balance?

What we need to learn is to respect our bodies by trusting and listening to them, rather than denying and depriving ourselves because it’s not the ‘correct’ day to be eating those types of food.  We need to learn to eat mindfully and not be afraid of food so we don’t have to set up certain days for treating ourselves, but instead we can trust ourselves to enjoy something when we really feel like, it in portions that satisfy us, rather than leave us feeling uncomfortable.
While it’s easy to write, it’s much harder to put into practice if you’ve had a diet mindset for a long time.  How do you start trusting yourself?  How to you eat in ‘moderation’ and find that healthy balance?  Where do you even start?   You need to learn to become an intuitive eater, and a mindful eater.  These are things that can’t be learned overnight but if you want to find balance, it’s an important thing to work at.

Some tips for getting started:

  •  Let go of the ‘good’ food ‘bad’ food mindset.  Yes some foods are healthier than others, but think of foods as ‘every day’ and ‘treat’ foods to avoid the guilt association that can go along with good/bad or clean/not clean type wording.  It’s a small change in terms of language but it can have an impact on your mindset.
  • Ask yourself “I can have it if I want it, but do I really feel like it?”.  This question is useful once you have ditched to good/bad food mindset.  Often we’ll see a treat and think yum I’ll have that.  But that pause in between with the question above can help make you pause and decide if you really feel like that treat.
  • Eat mindfully.  That is without judgement, slowly, paying full attention to what you are eating.  Studies show that mindful eating can help reduce binge eating and improve feelings of self control. If you’re interested in getting started with mindful eating, check out this video here.

I wrote an article over at Healthy Food Guide last month that also has some great tips for ditching food guilt and finding balance. You can check that out here.

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5 Responses to When it comes to healthy eating, what is balance?

  1. Jacqui May 23, 2016 at 5:03 pm #

    Mindfulness for eating…… and enjoy your food, I like that.

  2. Bec May 24, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

    I love your blog posts it makes so much sense! I used to have a bad relationship with food mostly comfort eating but have ditched that for good weight watchers taught me real good food habits and I no longer feel guilt with food! It’s totally all about balance and mindfulness! I can now have a square of chocolate and eat it slowly much nicer than a whole block that sends you on a sugar high!

  3. Nicola May 24, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    Thanks Bec! I’m glad you find them useful and how cool is it that you’ve ditched a negative relationship with food and found balance 🙂

  4. Sus Chesmar May 24, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

    I find it so hard to eat mindfully, I love to read while I’m eating or watch YouTube videos. We also always watch TV while having dinner. Hmmm, might be time to set ourselves a challenge!

    As always, great topic. Thanks Nicola.

  5. Jan Sumner November 1, 2016 at 6:11 am #

    For years now I have struggled with my unbalanced eating. I had anorexia as a teen and now my daughter has it also. It is a daily struggle as anyone who has been through it knows and not so much physical as a mental condition.

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