The problem with the "One Size Fits All" mentality and more.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently asked Registered Dietitians (RDs) to explain what eating right means to them. So I asked my assistant, my interns, and my student volunteers to describe what it means to each of them. They shared their definitions with me—and therefore with you—at www.EatingAndLivingModerately.com.
I really think my blogs—and even simply many of the titles of my blogs—paint a very accurate picture of what eating right means to me. But just in case you may have missed my continuing message, here's a short synopsis:
One Size Does Not Fit All
I have learned that diets basically don't work! And I learned this fact more than twenty years ago. Since then, via earning my RD credentials, attempting to balance my own state of wellness, and working with clients, I have definitively learned and absolutely believe that ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL! Every individual carries a different set of genes, brings a different mindset and lives in a different environment. So although I believe all foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle, how I educate my clients (and my children) depends a great deal upon their personal situations. The concept of eating right is truly unique to each person's unique needs. We need to go back to defining diet as habitual nourishment, rather than a quick fix.
Mixed Meals with Internal Regulation
For me, eating right became much easier when I let go of perfecting my diet and made the decision to eat all foods. Yes that means carbs, proteins, and even fats! I began using internal regulation methods rather than external regulation methods such as calorie counting or using a scale to "weigh my health." Eating "imperfectly" became my perfect! For example, this means that if I eat a cupcake with my boys or share a meal with a client even though I am already full, I don't think twice about it. Rather, I enjoy the taste while I am eating and remain mindful of my overall lifestyle. Learning to eat meals mixed with all three macronutrients and snacks with two of the three was essential—and still remains my ideal means for structuring food intake throughout each day. Actually, many of the techniques I use to feed myself and my family, as well as what I teach all of my clients, are based on the knowledge I have gained as a diabetes educator. Eating in harmony with the endocrine system (insulin, blood sugar, mixed meals, rate of absorption and fullness, etc.) and empowering intelligent decision-making are integral to wellness.
Some Food From Boxes
I also know that eating right must also be realistic! Being a mom of two and having a full-time career means learning how to create — and quickly prepare — healthy meals with just a few basic ingredients. It means sometimes eating a Kale Caesar Salad with salmon, or pasta with fresh asparagus, or just pizza. It means actually making my children's meals — even if not totally from scratch. At the very least, what I prepare is much less processed than fast food or take-out. And it also means my family and I can choose to eat vegan chili for lunch with chocolate chip cookies for snack!
The 75/25 Approach
My personal eating behaviors reflect what I teach in my book HEALTHY HABITS: The Program plus Food Guide Index & Easy Recipes. Although I created this book to help parents and educators teach children how to feed and eat in healthy ways, my husband, my children and I all practice these lessons in our daily lives. As explained in HEALTHY HABITS, I employ the concept of consuming what I call "everyday" foods (nutrient dense and sustainable) the majority of the time (in general about 75%) and "sometimes" foods (low nutrient dense and less likely to be earth friendly) the remainder of the time (about 25%). And I use a "hunger/fullness scale" to help determine my portion sizes.
Eating a Variety of Real Food
As evidenced by massive, ongoing research, nutritional science is neither black nor white. We always hear what the latest study has found or is associated with; it may, in fact, be in extensive conflict with a study completed just a year previous. So I personally try to stay in the middle—what I like to refer to as the grey zone. If I'm not eating excessively of one food or nutrient, I genuinely feel this will help minimize my risk of developing a disease— such as diabetes, heart disease, or even cancer. Being in the grey zone also helps to keep me at ease mentally. The mind-body connection is an important part of eating and being healthy. The yin yang symbol of balance bearing the apple and the cupcake on the cover of HEALTHY HABITS truly summarizes my definition of health and healthy eating and therefore, eating right.
Focus on Behaviors
One more thing, eating right does not get measured on a scale located in your bathroom or doctor's office. Here's what is truly measurable and absolutely remarkable: The behaviors we engage in on a daily basis and how these actions and interactions affect us as complete, unique individuals. For me, that means being a mom, a wife, a friend, and an RD who eats, moves, rests and, of course, laughs!
Have Some Fun
So while you're trying to live a life with what you deem as eating right, be sure that flexibility, spontaneity and a "light-hearted" attitude accompany your food choices. Again, this is the grey zone rather than the extreme zone.