Many people, usually people who don't know me all that well, assume because of my chosen field that I eat a 100% healthy diet all the time. Folks! No, definitely not. I do, however, try my best to find balance.
Balance means different things to different people. I eat a lot of vegetables. Like, a LOT of vegetables. It's not unusual for me to make a meal of an entire head of broccoli - which is super healthy, full of amazing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and the like, but it isn't a particularly balanced meal. Where's the protein? Where's the nourishing whole grains? I don't sweat it.
To me, balance doesn't necessarily mean having a perfect plate of vegetables, whole grains, and proteins at every meal. Nor does it always mean having those things in balance every day, but I do try my best to balance my week out.
I've always been a firm believer in treat days. Even back in my Weight Watchers days I would take at least one day a week (usually a weekend day) and eat anything I wanted. I think that planned indulgences help to keep me on track the rest of the time, and I think that treat days are a part of a balanced week. Although I have become a much more disciplined eater over the years, I didn't use to be the kind of person who could have just a taste of something. If a box of cookies (tub of ice cream, box of chocolates, bag of liquorice, whatever) got opened, I was going to eat the whole thing.
Here are three things that I know to be true: First, our food system has evolved a lot faster than our brains are capable of. From our hunter gatherer times, we're literally programmed to consume as much fat and sugar as we can. Our brains don't yet understand the limitless quantities of the stuff at our fingertips. Second, if you stop eating junk food you'll eventually stop craving it. Truth. And third, eating all the treats you want for a day or a weekend, or even a holiday week, is not going to deeply mess up the balance in your diet. I promise. Some weekends my diet is more cake than not cake, but I always happily go back to a big ol' plate of broccoli on Monday. And honestly, treat days are good for my mental health - probably they are for yours too.
I think that balancing your week is more manageable (and more attainable) than balancing your day. And balancing your day is more manageable (and attainable) than balancing your plate. If one meal is more broccoli and less protein and the next is more protein and less broccoli, and yet another is all grains? Your body knows how to handle that. If you eat a healthy plant based diet during the week and then go bonkers on cake on the weekend? Probably your overall energy intake is still in balance for the week. *Probably* - we can all go a bit too far from time to time.
I think a lot about what I eat, and, after having spent eight years of my life studying nutrition, I'd like to think I make pretty informed decisions about my diet. It's taken some time to settle into a routine I know really works for me, and what works for me won't work for everyone. This is how I find balance. What works for you?
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2013
This post just exemplifies why I come back here time and time again. Your attitude towards food and diet is so refreshing. Like you, I try to relax a bit more with my diet at the weekend and hope that the rest of the week will balance it out.
Thanks Kathryn, that's really kind of you to say. It's exactly what I hope people find in this space. I think those relaxed weekends are as important as the healthy weekday eating for most people.
Katie - I think this sentiment is so important. We're moving in this direction where it seems we have so much more access to information about our food and, even in far-flung places like the one in which I live, we can get organic, healthy, varied foods. However, I worry too about all these limiting diets I see getting so much attention. Even as I get tempted by prescriptive ways of eating "healthy", I have to remind myself that it's just not right for me. I, too need balance - sweets here and there and meals where I have anything I want just so that I enjoy and don't overthink. What's right for everyone is different, but I worry sometimes that balance and intuitive eating is getting pushed to the back burner in favor of diets for which there's someone telling you exactly what to eat, how, and when.
Jess, I couldn't agree more. There is so much information on diets, what we should eat, when we should eat, it's overwhelming even for someone like me who has been trained to think critically about that information. How can one possibly decide what is good to eat? I think back to basics is a good approach, and striving for a balanced week with lots of veggies and other real food. Depravation diets always fail, so people need to find the kind of balance in their life that leaves them feeling satisfied rather than deprived. For me, planned treat days accomplishes this.
PREACH on balancing the week-- it's infinitely more manageable than balancing the day. I find that when I try to balance by the day, I totally beat myself up because I micromanage the meals. I end up feeling guilty, and about pretty ridiculous things in the scheme of it all-- too many greens on that plate, not enough wheat berries-- and I'm more likely to pooh-pooh it all by the end of the day and go nuts on cake or something. Plus, I have a love affair with kale. I can't ever get enough. It's my broccoli.
I think I've told you before about my three rules ... One, I have to eat enough veggies and fruits in a day; two, I have to drink enough water ever day, and; three, I have to walk everywhere I can (as opposed to driving). (These rules also helped me drop 65 pounds of college weight gain, but more importantly they've changed my lifestyle.) If I do these things, I've found that I'm exercising and eating generally well-rounded meals. So I allow myself one cookie. I love that cookie. But when I follow my three rules, I very, very rarely go more than the one cookie, and I'm usually not tempted to, either.
Wow, 65lbs?! That is quite something! I think you're spot on with your three rules. I tend to do much of the same (except we sold our car when we moved to Stockholm, so the driving thing isn't an issue). I think if you really focus on eating a lot of veggies and fruits, it simplifies things. You end up eating healthy, and eating less because you're filling up on nutritious fiber rich foods. And I'm with you on the micromanaging. Balancing the week makes it easier to eat well and enjoy what you're eating without stressing about it.