By: Ashley Cotta, RDN, LDN
Though disordered eating habits are extremely common, we can create new, healthy habits, one step at a time. Here are seven ways to do so!
*Please note that this article is not intended to diagnose an eating disorder. Instead, it is to empower you by bringing awareness to unhealthy behaviors so that you can make the changes necessary to become happier, healthier and to find harmony with food.
1. Balance your meals
You have likely heard the term “balance,” but perhaps you have uncertainty as to what it means in relation to food. Let me break down a balanced meal for you in the simplest way possible. Each meal should be comprised of at least these 3 food groups:
1) Fruit/Non-Starchy Vegetable
Fresh & frozen are best!
~Include at least a half cup~
Fruit includes berries, cherries, bananas, oranges, apples, grapes, mango, etc.
Non-Starchy Vegetables include kale, beets, bell peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms and so many more!
2) Starchy Vegetable/Whole Grain
~Include at least a half cup on your plate~
Many individuals struggle with the difference between non-starchy and starchy veggies, so I’m here to help!
Starchy Vegetables include potatoes, corn, peas, winter squash and plantains.
Any other veggie can be considered ‘non-starchy.’
Whole Grains include oats, brown rice, quinoa, millet, farro, barley, amaranth and many others!
3) Protein Source
Nearly everything you eat contains protein. However, in order to be considered a protein source in the protein food group, it has to have at least 7g of protein. A serving of protein may look like:
3 oz animal protein (red meat, poultry, fish)
½ cup legumes (beans, lentils, split peas)
3 oz tofu/tempeh
*Note: A fat source is a key component of balanced meals, as well (a mostly unsaturated source being optimal). However, this food group commonly overlaps with another food group, i.e., hummus & peanut butter are both protein & fat sources.
When all these food groups are present on your plate, you consume a wider variety of micronutrients, assuring your meal will provide you with all necessary nutritional components.
2. Establish consistency
Our bodies thrive with consistency because it makes us feel safe. What does consistency look like? Eating around the same time every day or eating something every 3-4 hours. Why? These eating styles are predictable, and that predictability builds trust within the body, which prevents the body from going into survival [binge] mode at the end of the day.
3. Pay attention to your hunger cues
A lack of awareness of hunger cues is self-neglect. Instead, start to tune into your body throughout the day—even during times you do not usually feel hungry. You may not realize you’re feeling hungry because you simply are not listening to what your body is trying to tell you. This may take some time if you are not tuned into your body. The more you make an effort to listen, the clearer the messages will be.
4. Ditch the calorie counting, practice intuition
Calorie counting (whether that be intake or output) is one of those unhelpful habits that falls into the black-or-white / all-or-nothing category. Our bodies have different needs day-to-day. It is unhelpful to dictate our energy intake by a specific daily numeric goal. Instead, practicing intuitive eating will guide you to true harmony, balance and optimal nourishment. You can start practicing intuitive eating by listening to those hunger cues. This will help you identify when and how much to eat. Next, you want to start following your cravings to help you decipher what to eat to fulfill your body’s needs.
5. Let your feelings guide you
Many of us have been taught that certain foods are “good” and certain foods are “bad” based on diet culture standards. Typically, diet culture defines low calorie foods as “good” and high calorie foods as “bad.” Let’s stop that bullsh*t right now. Instead, define what's good and bad for you by asking yourself, ‘which foods make me feel good?’ & ‘which foods make me feel bad?’ This is the best way to use intuition. Your feel good-foods are the ones you should eat most of the time. Your feel-bad foods are the ones you shouldn't eat as often. The goal is for these ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ to come from within instead of from an internet search. Google doesn’t know your body like you do [or are learning to]!
6. Identify non-negotiables & be realistic
When creating a weekly plan with clients, I often raise the question, “is this a goal / change you could continue, lifelong?” If the answer is no, this habit is not sustainable long-term because it is unrealistic to maintain over time. This often happens because non-negotiables are not being considered. When we take note of our non-negotiables (our favorite foods that we are unwilling to eliminate), we can more clearly define goals that suit our lifestyles and preferences.
7. Find your gray area
All-or-nothing thinking tends to be desirable because it makes decisions more clear-cut. Many individuals are drawn to diets because diets tend to be straightforward in what “should” and “shouldn’t” be consumed. However, dieting will not be sustainable, long-term, because it is restrictive. I like to think of a healthy relationship with food as more of an art than a science…the art of creating your shade of gray.
Finding your shade of gray means incorporating both wholesome foods and your favorite [non-negotiable] foods that may be deemed “unhealthy.” When you consume your favorite foods, daily, no cheat days are necessary because you are not restricting, you are allowing. With allowance comes trust, harmony and a stronger sense of intuition.
Finding gray area may look like:
Breakfast- oatmeal with a banana, some dark chocolate & peanut butter
Snack- cucumbers, crackers & hummus
Lunch- Salad with greens, bell peppers, carrots, beets, chickpeas, quinoa, sunflower seeds with your favorite dressing and a side of chips
Snack- Yogurt & berries with a brownie crumbled on top
Dinner- Black bean burger on a whole grain bun, a side of roasted zucchini and summer squash and a handful of fries
After reading these 7 ways to combat disordered eating, decide which you resonated with most & start there! Begin with awareness, progress to small changes and you will eventually experience harmony with food.