“Is this food good or bad?” As a dietitian, I regularly hear this question! I face the challenge of how to teach an alternative way of thinking about nutrition. Recently, I tried to explain a new concept to one of my youngest clients (a nine year old female). I asked her, “What if there were no good and bad foods. What if, instead, foods were least helpful, helpful, and most helpful?” She then rephrased what I was trying to say: “Like when my mom fills the car up at the gas station?” Initially confused, I realized she saw food as fuel and was picturing the different octane levels on the pump (such as 87, 89 & 92). I applauded her creativity!
A “fuel for the body” concept groups foods into 1) maintenance 2) enhanced, or 3) improved performance. Perhaps we don’t need rules to never eat “bad” foods and can assess how they contribute to our overall goals for life performance. Do you desire to lose weight? Are you fatigued? Are certain foods coping mechanisms? If so, maybe those chips and cookies are foods that maintain weight, energy or emotions. What if you felt freedom to eat foods that enhance energy, emotions, or weight goals? For example, a small granola bar, ½ cup of 100% all natural fruit juice, or baked pita chips with hummus substitute for your afternoon or nighttime snack. Then, consider options that might improve performance towards a healthy body weight, improved energy, and mindful eating: a handful of unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc), a cup of Greek yogurt with 1 Tbsp of honey, or a green smoothie may improve your long-term nutrition goals.
A healthy mindset about our eating habits promotes food freedom! Meal planning and dining do not have to be burdensome. If this brings you some relief, look forward to more tips on mindful eating soon.