My diet has progressed from me having no idea what I was doing in my teens, to being overly strict in my early-twenties, to now in my mid-twenties being a little more relaxed. I now understand that being overly-obsessive with your diet can cause guilt, anxiety and affect your social life, which is just as detrimental to your health and well-being as a bad diet.
I have also learnt that being a food perfectionist is unnecessary to reach my goals. In my experience, you can have both wellness and a body you love without being obsessive with food.
Here are some of the characteristics of how I like to eat:
Which foods I eat
I follow a 90/10 approach to my diet. I like 90% of the foods I eat to be highly beneficial for my body. These foods are vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, eggs and natural fats. Occasional dairy and gluten-free grains are fine for me too, although they’re not as much a priority for optimum health as the aforementioned foods. I call all these foods ‘real food’. They also get called unprocessed food, clean food, whole-foods, or a ‘primal diet’. They are foods that remain as close to their natural state as possible. When I can afford it (and it’s convenient) I will buy the gold standard of real food: organic, local, seasonal, grass-fed and wild-caught produce. These qualities make food better for us because of what they contain; for example, as is the case in grass-fed meats, a better ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats. These types of food are also better for us because of what they don’t contain, such as added hormones and chemicals. Lastly, I aim to eat something which benefits my gut health on a daily basis, i.e. sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kombucha, yoghurt, kefir or bone broth. The food you eat has a profound effect on your quality of life, which is why I like to eat this way the majority of the time.
10% of the time, I eat food that’s not so beneficial for me. These are foods which contain sugar, soy and vegetable oils. These foods are known as processed food, junk food, fake food and ‘sometimes’ foods. A way of loosely monitoring how much of this not-so-beneficial food I’m actually eating is to think of it this way: If I eat ten meals over two days, only one of these meals should consist of these processed foods. Social engagement and pleasure are very important to health which is why I don’t exclude these foods all together. Also, depriving yourself of the foods you love all the time can cause a negative relationship with food and eating disorders. I know this from experience as I was caught on the binge-restrict cycle for a while. I have learnt, though, that you do need to be extra careful with sugar. It is extremely addictive and makes you tired, hungry, irritable, sluggish, and drives cancer development. I don’t like to include it even in my 10% foods very often.
Which foods I don’t eat
The only foods I never eat are those which contain gluten, as I’m gluten intolerant. While I was recently on holidays in France, I had a chocolate croissant. This was the first time I had intentionally consumed gluten in two years since being diagnosed. I was extremely tired, head-achy, irritable, grumpy and depressed for two days afterwards. It reminded me that it really isn’t worth it! Gluten effects everyone differently, but I personally can get very fatigued, develop eczema, a fuzzy head, headaches and a negatively effected mood.
Most of the time I like to eat five meals a day: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Eating five meals keeps my energy levels up and stops me from getting too ‘hangry’ in between, leading to cravings and poor choices.
Ideally each of my meals contains vegetables or fruit, protein and good fats. If I feel like it, I’ll have a serve of non-fruit or vegetable carbohydrates with my meal, too, e.g. rice, quinoa, bread, or oats. (I usually only have about two serves of this a day as I prefer to get my carbs from fruits and vegetables).
Over the years, I’ve really found this approach to nutrition to work for me. It is sustainable, can be carried out wherever I am, allows me to maintain my desired body composition, and is mentally healthy. This is definitely not the way I think everyone should eat. There is no ‘one size fits all’ diet or way to eat. Everyone’s food philosophy needs to be their own food philosophy. I encourage you to research and experiment until you find a way of eating which works for you!