Healthy Eating Feels Like a Diet

By June 6, 2012

I am having a problem with the fact that if I try to eat nutritiously most of the time, and allow occasional “fun foods,” this feels like another diet to me. It feels like the “Eat Healthy Diet,” and it makes me want to prolong my occasional eating of non-nutritious food, thus giving me more of that last supper mentality. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. – LM

Dear LM,

The struggle you are describing is very common among people who have frequently dieted or have been “restrained eaters” for a long time. Even though you may be making positive strides towards more healthful eating, you are still stuck in the “all or nothing” or “on the diet, off the diet” mindset.

There may be several reasons why you are feeling constrained in your eating. First, how much variety are you actually getting in your food selections? Are you using the word “nutritious” to describe only a limited number of foods? When you are “eating healthy,” are you forcing yourself to eat a bunch of foods that you really don’t like? Step back and look at the big picture. Rather than being required to follow a set of rules, as dictated by a diet, you are now in charge of your choices. A multitude of foods that support good health are available for you to select from, versus the restrictive list on any given diet. Be adventurous in trying new foods, expanding your selections, and preparing them in different ways. Only include foods that you truly enjoy. Over time, eating well will become a way of life for you, and it won’t feel so foreign.

“Fun foods” are also to be a part of your healthy eating lifestyle, but it sounds like you are still categorizing them as bad or forbidden. There are different approaches and philosophies regarding how often and how much of fun foods to incorporate, but ultimately, you make the decision. I generally recommend that people start out by planning ahead, and including their favorite fun foods (especially sweets) as part of a meal as opposed to a snack (therefore reducing susceptibility to a binge). Some people like to have a modest amount every day, while others decide to enjoy treat foods less often (See “Eating Treat Foods Without Guilt”). The point is to be sure you are hungry for these foods when you do decide to enjoy them. But if your definition of “occasional” means having these foods too infrequently, you are probably still feeling deprived, which would explain why you tend to binge when you “finally” get to eat them. The goal is to determine the amounts and frequency that works best for you, in order to neutralize the power of those foods over you. As you gain more confidence, you’ll find you can be more flexible and spontaneous.

The healthful eating recommendations we make here on the website are just guidelines, to help you make informed choices. They are by no means a set of rules and restrictions. Eating is for vitality, health, and enjoyment—and it’s all about finding balance.

My best to you,