Tired of Diets? Eating Guidelines for the Real World

April 5, 2024Blog

I‘m sure you’ve had lots of rules about eating forced on you over your lifetime. Every diet is a set of rules. I got sick of them … how about you?

What has worked for me is guidelines. They are looser than rules, but they help give some direction, which we could all use. These 7 guidelines paired with connecting to my spiritual practice made all the difference for me.

Eating Guideline 1: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

Eat food — yay, you get to eat! But when we say food, we’re talking real food, not ultra processed crap. If the ingredient list is long or filled with words you don’t know, it doesn’t fall under the category of food.

Not too much — This part gets tricky. Pay attention and stop before you get full. (More on this in guideline 2).

Mostly plants — If you are already eating a whole food and (mostly) plant-based diet, you’re set, but for many people, this is a big shift. It’s worth it though. Plants have fiber, which helps you feel satiated. Also plants are loaded with micronutrients and antioxidants that do wonders for your body. It’s good for you, and for the planet too.

One of the challenges for me when I started eating more vegetables was the time it takes to prepare them. It took some time to figure it out. If you want some examples, check out my playlist of Fast Meals. I have lots of advice on batch cooking, hacks, and shortcuts that will cut down on your time in the kitchen.

Action Steps

  • Steer clear of “fake” food. Start looking at the ingredients list. Would your great-grandmother recognize it as food? Can you pronounce it? If the answer’s no, it’s probably not food.
  • Get more fruits and veggies in your house. If you’re short on time, choose those that have been pre cut and/or pre washed or opt for frozen. When they’re prepped and ready for the pan you’re more likely to use them. Check out my playlist of Fast Meals for hacks to cut down on your time in the kitchen.
  • Read In Defense of Food. I borrowed this first guideline from the book’s author Michael Pollan. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth a read.

Eating Guideline 2: Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’ve had enough

It sounds simple, but understanding when you are hungry or full can be tricky if you have a lot of emotional baggage around food and eating.

It might seem obvious that knowing when to stop is important, but knowing when you are actually hungry and allowing yourself to eat can also be hard.

The only way to figure it out is trial and error. Simply pactice eating when you are hungry and stopping when you’re full. You’ll mess up sometimes, but if you pay attention and keep trying, you’ll learn from those mistakes.

Action Steps

  • Ask yourself: Am I hungry? Diet culture has caused many of us to be out of touch with our bodies — so much so that we sometime don’t realize we’re hungry. The next time you want to eat outside of a meal time ask what’s prompting you, cues in your environment or physical sensations? What does hunger feel like to you? A grumbling stomach, pressure in your chest, feeling a little light headed?
  • Ask yourself: Do I want something else right now? You might be bored, or sad, or stressed. But avoid telling yourself you’re just bored or just stressed. Those feelings are pointing to something that needs your care and attention. Food will only ever be a temporary distraction.
  • Practice stopping. A lot of us were trained to “join the clean plate club.” That doesn’t serve us (or our kids) well. We have stretch receptors in our stomach that can be easily overridden if we’re not paying attention. Slow down. Pause and assess if you feel full. Again, it may take a while to understand what this feels like.

Eating Guideline 3: Eat with intention and attention

Intention — purposefully eating — and attention — noticing what you are eating — are vital components of any eating you do. Intention grounds your attention.

It’s easy to sit down to the table with a healthy meal and eat it with attention and intention, but what happens when you’re worrying and can’t sleep at night or you just want to relax in front of the TV in the evening?

Autopilot is our default mode, but you want to get out of autopilot eating. I know it isn’t easy. If you check out the blog post I just shared, you’ll see me inhaling a basket of chips and falling for the “just one more” trap.

Eating with intention and attention may at first be simply paying attention without judging yourself when you park next to the chips at a party or take another spoonful of ice cream in the wee hours. When you practice eating with intention and attention, you eventually shift your thinking about food — and this one can help you follow some of the other guidelines.

Action Steps

  • Start practicing eating with intention and attention at your next meal.
  • Notice when you’re on autopilot. Once you’re aware that you’ve been on autopilot, you’re aware. Don’t beat yourself up for slipping, it’s human nature and even the most advanced meditations masters still do it.

Eating Guideline 4: Eat foods that love you back

We all have foods that we love — but how many of those foods love you back?

Another way of asking that question is this: Do the foods you love and eat make you feel good?

Get honest with yourself. You might need to pause and pay attention. How do you feel after eating that bowl of ice cream … whatever it is you put on your list of foods you love? If you get a little glow or zing of love or joy or warmth, does it last? Or is it just a blip?

Action Steps

  • When you eat, ask yourself: Does this food love me back? Ask with openness and curiosity, without judgment.
  • If you find a food that loves you back, try to work that food into your meals or snacks a little more.

Eating Guideline 5: Own your food choices

Don’t give your power away by letting somebody else make your food choices for you. Those choices might not really make sense for you. I gave up cheese, but some people have healthy eating habits that make them feel good with cheese in it.

You get to decide what to eat, how much, and when, for yourself.

To make long-term changes, you have to make and own the food choices that work for you. This is one of the reasons I don’t give out diets to my wellness and weight loss clients. Instead, I give you suggestions, point you to science and data that can help you make decisions that work for you.

Then you pay attention to what you eat … and what you can’t stop eating. You pay attention to what feels good and what doesn’t feel so hot. (This goes back to guideline 4.)

Action Step

  • Make your choices, whether they love you or they don’t, and own them.

Eating Guideline 6: Get real about your food addiction

“Betcha can’t eat just one” was a marketing slogan for Lays potato chips. It sure was true for me. I’d always start with the intention of having only a small handful. But once I started, putting on the brakes was next to impossible.

Can you eat just one cookie? Do you do that thing where you eat a tiny sliver of brownie out of the pan and then walk by and have another, and then need to go back into the kitchen and why not one more?

If you have trouble moderating a certain food, there’s a good chance you are addicted to it.

Now your brain will tell you that you can eat it in moderation … you just need more will power. And conventional diet mentality will tell you the same thing, you should eat small amounts so you won’t crave it.

Some things we aren’t meant to moderate. And everybody’s experience is a little different, so I won’t tell you to give up chips or cheese because that’s my Achilles Heel. Your job is to figure out what you can’t moderate.

Action Steps

  • Pay attention and notice what foods you just can’t stop eating. Again, no judgment, just noticing.
  • Ask yourself: What if I gave up (fill in your addiction food here)? Notice how you react to that idea. Do you get anxious? angry? clammy? resistant? Your reaction tells you something too.

Eating Guideline 7: Don’t vilify carbs

We’ve learned to fear carbs, but we actually need them for them energy. That said, you can choose carbs that make you feel like crap or carbs that love you back.

Take the jelly bean and the pinto bean.

One is all simple carbohydrates. The other is high in carbohydrates, but also high in fiber and protein (in addition to vitamins and minerals).

Pinto beans and other legumes have a lot to offer for health and weight loss. Protein and fiber both help you feel full and can help with blood sugar regulation. And remember — pinto beans contain carbs.

Fruits and vegetables also contain carbs in varying amounts. They also generally contain fiber, and again vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

Action Steps

These guidelines aren’t going to help you drop 20 lbs before summer or that wedding you got invited to. They can help you shift your mindset and change your relationship with food.

My suggestion, pick one to start with. Try it on, see what comes up for you. See what happens if you come back to it again and again. Remember many of these are going to require some trial and error to know how the guideline works for you. Be compassionate with yourself as you learn a new way of eating.

If you want some extra support around making your food decisions from somebody who’s been there and who has helped others figure out their individual food choices, working with me could make a difference. You can schedule a time to talk here so we can see if it’s a good fit.

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