When it comes to food, the concept of healthy eating has a host of definitions.
Some camps suggest avoiding particular foods entirely, such as sugar or desserts, and indeed there is research to indicate that high-sugar or high-fat foods can fuel addictive behaviors if indulged in regularly (see Is Food Addiction Real?).
Another school of thought promotes eating all foods in moderation, with the rationale that foods put on the blacklist might trigger binges, a la the “forbidden fruit” phenomenon. Instead, this line of reasoning goes, one should be able to eat all foods in moderation, in a balanced manner.
So, what’s the answer?
The answer is, it depends. No two people are alike. A number of factors need to be taken into account, including your personal history with problematic eating behaviors, your personality in general, your metabolic makeup, and any medical conditions you might have. Some people find it difficult to stop eating bread and other foods that are high in carbohydrates, while other people have more difficulty with fatty items such as peanut butter or cheese. This can be due to your physical constitution in addition to emotional reasons, such as having a strong attraction to a particular food based on past positive experiences involving that item.
It may be more productive to consider your general goals for your health and well-being, and then consider what eating habits will best support your goals. For example, let’s say that you have a long history of indulging in several bowls of ice cream in the evening, and your physician has suggested that you lose 20 pounds or so in order to better manage your blood sugar levels, which have been a little high as of late.
What would be easiest for you? To try and eat that ice cream in moderation just a few nights a week, attempt to ignore its presence in your freezer, or stop buying ice cream altogether, at least until you’ve reached your target weight and learned additional methods to help regulate your blood sugar?
How do you feel in the morning after you’ve eaten ice cream? Do you feel groggier than usual? Has your desire to eat more ice cream increased? Or are you pleased that you were able to enjoy this treat and you’re able to let it go for awhile, without obsessing about it?
Your answers will help clarify whether you fall into the “abstinence” or “moderation” category. Also, be aware that according to life circumstances, such as stress, altered metabolism, or developing a different relationship with food through therapy, increased mindfulness, or self-help approaches, the category you fall into may change.
It’s generally best to make a decision and stick to it for awhile, to give it a fair trial and yourself enough time to get used to a new routine. What seems unfamiliar and therefore often difficult at first will generally become easier in time. For instance, you can choose to give up cookies for a month. See how that goes. Or you could try eating at most one cookie a day for awhile. Either way, you’ll learn more about yourself and can either renew your decision or make a different decision.
The bottom line is:
- What does a happy and healthy life look like for you?
- How can you support that with your behaviors?
- What’s the next simple step you can take to make your goal a reality?
Small steps taken regularly can take you far.