"Avoid carbs! Carbs are great! Avoid sugar! Don't eat meat! Eat lots of meat! Fat is bad! Fat is best! Only eat organic! Skip butter! Add butter to your coffee! Switch butter to coconut oil! Gluten is bad! Choose only whole wheat products!"
Man. No wonder people are confused when it comes to nutrition! What was supposed to add 10 years to your life yesterday is now the root of all evil. How are you supposed to know what to eat or, more importantly, who to trust? While headlines may indicate that nutrition professionals can't seem to make up their minds, the reality is that the basics of nutrition remain unchanged.
On the surface, it may seem like having hard and fast rules about nutrition would make everything easier. The diet industry sure capitalizes on this notion, with new diet books, protocols, and "miracle cures" popping up seemingly daily. People just want to be healthy and they want to know what foods to avoid to accomplish that. I think the error here is that we assume food is the answer.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying food isn't important or doesn't play a role in health. I'm a dietitian after all! What I am saying is that health isn't quite that black and white. And neither is nutrition. Several complex factors interact to impact your overall health - genetics, environment, nutrition, socioeconomic status, stress, access to healthcare, discrimination, and physical activity, just to name a few. To boil health and disease risk down to whether or not you eat fat/gluten/sugar/meat/vegetables is a massive oversimplification.
However, this should come as good news when considering nutrition choices! No one food, meal, or day of eating has the power to make or break your health. In fact, black and white "all or nothing" thinking when it comes to food is highly likely to set you up for feeling deprived and finding yourself in the middle of a binge. It also tends to increase stress, which we know isn't helpful for your overall health.
As an alternative, learn to embrace the gray area and recognize that all foods have a place in normal eating (with the exception of allergies or certain medical conditions, of course). Some days may have more meat, less gluten, less vegetables, less fat, more sugar.....it all balances out in the long run. Another RD wrote a fantastic post on that here.
How do you start embracing the gray area? Take a look at what black and white food rules you might have and choose one to start challenging. Love bread but have been avoiding gluten because you heard it was bad? Try adding bread to a meal here and there. Switched to only using coconut oil in place of all other fats? Buy some butter or canola oil and use it instead sometimes. It's all about figuring out what foods you enjoy and finding a balance that works for you both mentally and physically.
Often, this process is easier said than done. If you struggle to break away from black and white thinking around food and want to find freedom, I'd love to work with you! Click the banner below to fill out our short application and I'll be in touch!