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The Diet/Binge Cycle – How to Find Balance

Kate Freeman

Insecurities, past hurts, relationship troubles, career struggles and questions about the meaning of life don’t magically go away with healthy eating. Our life is much more than our bodies, our weight on the scales and the kinds of food we put in our mouth.

Dieting. What an awful word. It’s often associated with restriction, tasteless food, being starving all the time, misery and missing out. This is often followed by a binge or some kind of overeating session that can last from days to months. Are you stuck in a diet/binge cycle? It might look like this:

Four weeks of ‘being good’ is followed by a week of eating everything in sight. This is followed by a five day juice cleanse, which leaves you feeling guilty when you eat a food that you’re not supposed to. This is followed by a nutella on toast binge which is subsequently followed by signing up to an online program, slogging yourself in the gym and sticking to 1200 calories per day. This is followed by a birthday weekend full of parties, alcohol and sugar. You then decide to buy a clean eating cookbook and consider whether going paleo is the answer you’ve been looking for…

You get the picture. This is not living. This is dieting hell.

I recently posted a photo on my Facebook page of my Hog’s Breath avocado prime rib steak with extra béarnaise sauce. As a nutritionist, I love posting photos like the one below. I want people to know that occasionally eating a meal like this actually falls into my definition of healthy eating. For me, healthy eating is not just about nourishment, it’s about enjoyment and socialising as well.

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A few days later I was asked this:

“I just have a question about your latest post on Facebook regarding your comment about finding balance between nourishment and enjoyment of food. How do you find that balance? What’s the inner dialogue, if any, that can help with finding that balance.”

I thought about it for a few minutes and wrote back a few points. Here are my thoughts on how to find that balance.

1. Learn to be happy with your body, regardless of your weight and imperfections.

We’ve got to love ourselves. It’s not a good life if we spend it loathing our bodies. I haven’t always loved my body. There’ve been many times when I’ve hated it. I’ve slogged myself at the gym and started diets and detoxes (yep I did, many years ago) all because I hated the way I looked and I thought these things would make it better. I mean, that’s what the sales pitch claimed!

I was always stressed about food, thinking about food and insecure about my body and the way I looked. My insecurities ruined special occasions when I had to dress up, made holidays miserable when I had to wear swimmers and resulted in me feeling pretty down on myself the majority of the time.

Then I decided, no more. I’ve got one life, one body and how I look after that body is my choice. I’m gonna love it. I eat well because I love my body and I exercise because I love my body. But if my stomach isn’t flat or my bum has dimples or if my arms wobble, I don’t care anymore. I choose to love it anyway.

I also don’t get self-love perfect all the time. I’m constantly working on it, but it’s getting easier the more I persevere!

2. Be aware of your regular food habits.

I probably go out to dinner once or twice a month, so when I do, I order my favourite food. My choice is based on what I like, not on it’s nutritional value. I would argue, however, that all food nourishes you (offers you nutrients) to some extent. Some food just nourishes more than other food. So, as well as being enjoyable and a time of connection with my family, the Hog’s Breath meal did nourish me. It contained vegetables, legumes, unprocessed meat and a fairly large dose of fried carbohydrate (chips). It gave my body protein, a little fibre, vitamins and minerals. It also, however, did contain a large amount of energy and although I tried, I couldn’t finish it. I was pretty full. If I ate meals like that all the time, or ate till I felt super full every day, I’d definitely put on weight over time and I’d not feel as healthy as I could.

My regular diet is vegetable rich, low in processed food and doesn’t exceed my daily energy needs. One large meal, every now and then, is certainly not going to tip me over the edge. I eat it and enjoy it and often find that I’m less hungry the next day. I do my best to listen to my body as much as possible and this has worked very well in helping me maintain my weight over the years.

I like to live by this mantra: What you do everyday is more important than what you do every once in a while.

3. Work hard at not feeling guilty about what you eat, regardless of whether it’s healthy or not.

What you eat doesn’t determine your worth as a person. It holds no moral value. It doesn’t get you in or out of heaven. It’s just food. Overweight, obesity, chronic disease, inflammation and metabolic disorders are not the result of individual foods or nutrients. And people who demonise and single out particular foods and nutrients as the culprits of disease are actually showing their ignorance about food and nutrition, rather than their alleged expert knowledge.

Overall diet quality is the single biggest predictor of long term health. Ask yourself the question: ‘what is my diet is characterised by each and every day?’ There are dietary guidelines that give us an idea of what we should be aiming for, the most important of these being a high vegetable and fruit intake. Within those guidelines, healthy eating looks different for everyone and is based on your individual goals, activity levels, culture, upbringing and body.

You do not need to feel guilty about eating certain foods. Guilt is for actually doing bad things, not for eating a piece of cake or packet of chips.

4. Don’t elevate your expectation of what food can do for you.

I believe that it’s an important part of self care to feed ourselves healthy food and work at managing a healthy weight. Living a long, functioning life does rely on a consistent diet that promotes health; however, the expectation that a healthy diet or ‘clean eating’ will make you happy, change your life or bring some kind of extra fulfilment is just false. Yes, when you’re healthier you’ll feel better, have more energy, possibly sleep better and feel more confident. But insecurities, past hurts, relationship troubles, career struggles and questions about the meaning of life don’t magically go away with healthy eating. Our life is much more than our bodies, our weight on the scales and the kinds of food we put in our mouth.

Nutritionally, I believe that a healthy diet can achieve three things.

  1. Give you energy to perform well at life (work, sport, family)
  2. Help you manage a healthy weight and decrease your risk of developing chronic disease
  3. Offer your body nutrients like fibre, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants to keep it functioning at it’s best

Once your diet achieves these three things, you can move on with your life and do the things that really make you happy, like forgiveness, tending to relationships, being generous and exploring our glorious world!

5. Practice mindful eating

Slow down, savour every mouthful and don’t eat while you’re doing other things, like: driving, working on a computer or watching TV. American research shows that people who eat whilst doing other things weigh 17% more than those who don’t. Mindful eating helps us make choices about what foods we eat each day. It helps us choose well, stop when we’re full and eat when we’re hungry. It helps us pause, listen to our body and feed it accordingly.

At The Healthy Eating Hub we have cool little magnets that we give our clients. They say: “I can eat it if I want it, but do I really feel like it now?” Ask yourself that question every time you go to eat something. You might find that when you actually think about it you don’t really want to eat it.

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I like to think of healthy eating as choice-based nutrition rather than rules-based nutrition. Rules are for breaking. Choices are empowering.

In the end, at the risk of sounding clichéd, finding balance is a journey that we go on of slowly changing the way we think about ourselves and our food. Take your time, be easy on yourself, work on managing your stress and anxiety and you’ll get there. xx

Image of woman choosing between junk food and healthy smoothies and fruit from www.shutterstock.com

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Kate Freeman

Kate Freeman is a Registered Nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate’s healthy eating philosophy is all about whole, fresh foods, being realistic about life and creating long term healthy eating habits. She doesn’t believe in detoxes, fad diets or quick fixes. Once you’ve finished working with Kate, you’ll be empowered to feed yourself well for the rest of you life! More about the Author