When it comes to eating, everyone seems to have a different idea as to what is best for your health. There are so many rules around eating that have been perpetuated by diet culture that many of them have become engrained in our thinking. When thinking of something to eat, there is often an inner dialogue in our heads of things we should or shouldn’t do. For example, “don’t eat after 7pm” or, “I would eat that cookie now but I want to save it for my cheat meal on the weekend.” So is there any truth to these diet rules we’ve all heard? We are going to challenge four big diet rules and come up with new ways of thinking for each.
Diet Rule: Avoid Sugar
This is a big one. An endless number of diet and “wellness” websites will tell you sugar is evil and to avoid it at all costs. Sugar is found naturally in many foods, such as fruit and dairy. These foods also contain fiber and protein, respectively, which slows the absorption of sugar into your blood therefore not spiking your blood sugar. Let’s face it: sugar is in many things and those things taste good. That is OKAY. Give yourself permission to eat what you think tastes good and not live from a place of fear or restriction. Restricting yourself from sugar will likely leave you wanting it more.
New Pattern of Thinking: All foods fit
Diet Rule: Don’t Eat After Dinner
Who has fallen prey to this diet rule before? The claim that eating after a certain time or just before going to bed will cause you to gain weight is not necessarily true. The basis behind this diet rule is that because your metabolism (all of the processes occurring within your body to keep it alive) decreases during the night it is not as readily able to use the calories you consumed for energy so they are stored as fat. However, it is estimated that our metabolism only decreases by around 15% at night1which shows that our bodies are still using lots of energy even while we sleep. Interestingly enough, a study has shown that eating a bowl of cereal before bed regulates appetite2. The bottom line here is that our bodies can use food as fuel no matter what time of day it is!
New Pattern of Thinking: Listen to your body’s hunger cues and eat whenever you are hungry
Diet Rule: Eat Super Clean Then Have “Cheat Meals”
“Cheat meals” or “cheat days” are based on the idea that if you eat “clean” during the week you have earned a meal that is not considered “healthy”. This reinforces the idea that some foods are good while others are bad and should be avoided. Allowing yourself only to eat foods you enjoy on rare occasions and depriving yourself of them the rest of the time is not sustainable and will likely end up consuming your thoughts. Deprivation of a food and then consumption of it may even lead to overeating and ignoring fullness cues when you finally give yourself permission to eat it3.
New Pattern of Thinking: Food is not a reward, give yourself unconditional permission to eat any food at any time
Diet Rule: Count Your Calories
Many diets promote the idea of counting your calories to keep track of all the energy you are intaking. The idea behind this is to balance energy in versus energy out with the goal of being in a caloric deficit to promote weight loss. Energy needs vary greatly among individuals depending on gender, age, height, and amount of activity. Not only can the task of calorie counting lead to unhealthy thinking patterns, it also takes the enjoyment out of eating when all you are thinking about is numbers instead of taste and pleasure. Additionally, tracking calories is not an accurate measure of the nutrition of certain foods as some nutrient dense foods are also calorie dense.
New Pattern of Thinking: Eat mindfully, focusing on the taste and pleasure of eating instead of viewing food in numbers
Eating should be intuitive, not a number-crunching, anxiety provoking event. Before you eat something, examine your thought process. Do you have any concerns holding you back from enjoying certain foods? We encourage you to challenge any diet rules that have subconsciously worked their way into your thinking. It may be a struggle at first, but recognizing fear as the deciding factor of your food choices is the first step towards food freedom.
- Sharma, S., & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2010.https://doi.org/10.1155/2010/270832
- Evening ready-to-eat cereal consumption contributes to weight management. – PubMed – NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved August 26, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15310735
- Pila, Eva, Jonathan M. Mond, Scott Griffiths, Deborah Mitchison, and Stuart B. Murray (2017). A Thematic Content Analysis of #cheatmeal Images on Social Media: Characterizing an Emerging Dietary Trend. International Journal of Eating Disorders 50(6): 698–706.