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Making New Ways of Eating Less Stressful

As a nutrition counselor, I've noticed clients place so much emphasis on achieving perfect nutrition that it becomes stressful for them. How could this be? My experience has taught me that as human beings, we're not perfect and never will be. No one, not even a nutrition counselor, eats perfectly all the time.

Here are some tips to keep a perspective on good eating:

  • Learn which foods are really causing the problem: Many times, it's not the occasional dessert that is causing our symptoms, but the "healthy foods" that we're eating repetitively and become allergic or intolerant to. Some of the top "reactive foods" include salmon, Greek yogurt, and turkey. Knowing this may cause less stress if you decide to splurge on dessert now and then.

  • Nutrition as part of a balanced lifestyle: Balance is what we strive for in terms of our health. We are multidimensional beings, and need to balance the need to eat well with the need to exercise, practice prayer and mindfulness, deal with stress, and nurture meaningful relationships.

  • Dealing with stress and emotions will help you make better food choices: If we think, "I'll never be able to eat well, this is so much work," how will that feeling manifest in our body? The thought causes the hypothalamus, a part of our brain, to release a hormone that makes the adrenal glands release cortisol, a stress hormone. Since cortisol impacts blood sugar regulation, carbohydrate metabolism, and regulation of fluids and sodium, it's not hard to see how stress can play a role in the foods we choose every day. In times of stress, we get comfort from foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, and fats.

  • Major life changes: If we're going through a significant life change, like a new job or home, or an elderly parent moving in, it's not a good time to have high expectations regarding our nutrition.

  • Don't compare your diet to others around you: We all process foods differently due to age, sex, ability to digest, and our levels of good gut bacteria.

As you enter this journey of self-care, be relaxed and accepting of yourself, accepting your imperfections as a sign that, yes, you are human! So-called failures are an opportunity for growth.

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