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It's Not Just What You Eat, But Why and How

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vesmil via Getty Images
vesmil via Getty Images

I was at a wedding recently and the person sitting beside me was eating a very large piece of cake while simultaneously telling me about her great new gluten-free diet. She had fallen into a common dieting trap: using the rules of her nutrition regime to justify less than optimal nutritional choices. As in, she could skip the vegetables and eat all the cake she wanted because the cake fell within the parameters of her diet.

I am not criticizing that she was eating cake. I also ate cake. Enjoying everything in moderation is an important part of sustaining a healthy lifestyle. I am also not arguing that nutrition programs don't have their benefits. Adopting a healthier lifestyle can be frustrating and confusing, having a program to guide you can be helpful.

What I am trying to highlight is how most diets and nutrition regimes primarily focus on WHAT you should eat and/or HOW much you should eat. Foods gets categorized as "good" and "bad," which often fosters a negative relationship with food, and can lead people to use the rules of the system to justify less than optimal nutritional choices.

Go ahead, follow a set program, but ALSO become mindful of not just WHAT and HOW much you eat, but more importantly WHY you eat.

I call this the "WWH rule" of adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Let's use Weight Watchers as an example. Even though I like the program because it emphasizes fruits and vegetables, portion control and awareness, people often try to (sometimes unconsciously) scam it. Weight Watchers tells you to eat a certain number of points daily. Every food has an equivalent point value. Most fruits and vegetables are considered zero points to encourage users to choose fruits and vegetables over food like french fries. I think this is great, but the problem is WHAT you eat is only one piece of the health puzzle. You also have to address WHY you eat and HOW much you eat.

If you have eaten all of your points and you are full, listen to your body and stop eating. Don't eat seven mangos just because they are "free."

No matter what you are eating, it is crucial to learn to stopping eating when you are full.

Just because you are "gluten-free" doesn't mean you should eat 10 gluten-free cookies. Just because you are following Jenny Craig doesn't mean you shouldn't be concerned with the sodium and preservatives in the food. Just because a recipe has fruit in it doesn't mean you shouldn't care about what else is in the dish, or how large your portion is. If you get a smoothie from Booster Juice the frozen yogurt doesn't become inconsequential just because the smoothie contains fruit and/or an antioxidant-rich powder. A large Booster Juice is not the same a regular size juice. Portions count. There is no diet referee in the sky keeping track of if you can trick the system!

I am NOT arguing you shouldn't have a treat, just be mindful of your choice. Don't tell yourself that since you are picking off someone else's plate you are not eating the french fries. If you want

ice cream (or in my case a Fudgsicle -- I love Fudgsicles), have some, just be mindful of how much and why you are eating.

No matter what diet or delivery system you are on remember that moderation, mindfulness, fruits, vegetables and a limited amount of processed foods are the cornerstones of healthy eating. A gluten-free cookie can be made of as much crap as a regular cookie. At some point it has to come back to common sense. Think about what you are eating, don't use the rules of your nutritional regime as a way to justify eating foods in a way you know is not healthy or helpful!

Become mindful of WHAT you eat (foods high in sugar, salt etc), WHY you eat (are you bored, tired, sad, happy) and HOW much you eat (do you take seconds, do you pick of your neighbours plate). Instead of being discouraged by setbacks, take a long-term approach and use them as a learning experience. Remember, adopting a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint.

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