If you google how to eat a healthy diet, you will get billions of hits - from bestselling books to podcasts to popular diets to trendy apps.
There is such an overwhelming abundance of information about the “healthy diet”. For people who are beginners, this can be intimidating, and for those who are avid self-researchers, this can be exhausting.
From my 10 years of experience working in the health and wellness industry, I have seen a lot of diet trends come and go - low fat, high fat, vegan, carnivore - there are 3 foundational habits that have stayed constant. These are 3 habits that I still revisit again and again for my personal nutrition and in my client coaching work because they are 3 science-proven nutrition tips that contribute to the maintenance of healthy dietary habits.
I am excited to share them with you in this article, in the hopes that you also get curious about these topics for yourself and it leads to your optimal health as a result.
Support your Gut Health
First of all, if you want to keep a healthy diet, you have got to support your gut health! By now, we know that there is an entire nervous system in your gut called the Enteric Nervous System. It’s in communication with the brain and other vital organs and systems in the body all day, and it has a direct impact on your cravings and ability to use nutrients to survive and thrive.
Additionally, research from recent years, like a study from 2017, highlights the massive role that bacteria in the gut can play with appetite regulation, cravings management, and overall mental health. (1) Dysbiosis and inflammation in the digestive system have not only caused digestive disorders, but also mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. (1) So indirectly, the state of your gut health can influence your food choices and eating habits, as well.
You can find gut-healthy enzymes, probiotics, and micronutrients in fermented foods, like R’s KOSO. Adding a teaspoon of it to your daily routine is easy to keep up and makes for a realistic habit.
Approach it as a Lifestyle
Secondly, if you’re looking to start and maintain a healthy diet, you have to treat it as a lifestyle change from multiple angles. This is why I practice Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques with my nutrition coaching practice.
Our human brains are hardwired to protect our sense of self and what’s familiar. So, changing what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat can trigger physiological and psychological protective mechanisms to preserve what is safe and predictable.
Many of us forget that when we’re going through lifestyle changes, it’s better to do it in small steps and slowly instead of all at once and quickly. Our bodies need gentle nudges in the right direction, one habit at a time because this cultivates consistency. Big, bold changes in nutrition often lead to a swing too far in the opposite direction. As such, up to 66% of those who lose weight from dieting will gain all of that weight back. (2)
For example, if you want to stop drinking 2L of pop every night. Instead of cutting it out cold turkey, think of smaller, more manageable steps that you can take so you can more easily take this step every day. Perhaps that means pouring it in a glass instead of drinking it out of the bottle, having a smaller portion, or finding a more natural sweet beverage. The point is to start with smaller changes and then keep accumulating these small changes over time. Consistency over intensity!
Manage your Stress Levels
Your food choices and long-term health are intimately linked to your body’s ability to handle stress. Humans have evolved to have a stress response because it helps us in dangerous situations to get ready to fight or flight. In the past, this was very useful once every few weeks when our ancestors were hunting their prey or escaping predators.
However, our modern world is constantly triggering stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to be pumped out of our adrenal glands in response to everyday things, like car alarms going off, having to answer 1000 work emails, rushing from one engagement to another. Without healthy outlets and coping mechanisms, our brains can perceive the overload of distress as a need for more energy stored as body fat to anticipate survival measures.
It’s pretty unrealistic to ever expect our lives to have zero stress because we live in a stress-filled environment. However, I think many of us can better prioritize our stress management strategies, especially those not involving food.
My current favorite ways to relax and unwind are going to therapy biweekly, taking weekly hot Epsom salt baths, and going for daily walks after work. If you want to avoid letting stress dictate your body’s metabolism and food cravings, try to figure out a daily, weekly, and biweekly self-care routine that actually helps you process and release the stress in your life, rather than serve as solely an escape or distraction.
There is plenty of time left in 2022 to work on these 3 components of maintaining a healthy diet! My wish is for you to feel fulfilled and nurtured in the pursuit of your optimal healthy lifestyle.
Let's get started！
Keren Chen | CBT Nutritionist
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