Many of us have experienced times where we hear about the latest diet trend, food scare or superfood. Eat less of this and you’ll lose x amount of weight and reduce your risk of x disease. Eat more of this and live longer...
By reading the latest headlines and magazine articles, or simply viewing a new food recipe or blog from a well known lifestyle ‘expert’. we are encouraged to mistrust food, obsess about nutrients, count calories, fear certain substances, and even eliminate whole entire food groups.
These days, in a world where there has been a boom in something I call ‘healthism’, it has become hard for many of us to escape seeing words such as gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, soya free, and pretty much enjoyment free ...
Supermarket isles, food adds and magazine articles are sprinkles with unsupported health claims, suggesting that they have the magic secret and exclusive elixir to a happy, healthy and long-lived life...
Of course, there are certain individuals who need to avoid certain foods or be wary of certain ingredients, especially if they have a particular food allergy or follow a diet-related lifestyle for ethical or religious reasons.
However, the majority of individuals are encouraged to cut out certain food groups, whether that be gluten, sugar, dairy or fat with the use of information that is unsupported by sufficient scientific evidence.
Although cutting out certain food groups without authentic medical advice is a cause for concern on a physical level (e.g. potentially increasing the risk of nutritional inadequacy), what concerns me the most is individuals’ psychological and social wellbeing.
For example, I question how food restriction and elimination creates pools of anxiety and stress around social occasions and feelings of isolation - experiences which, regardless of what food you eat, can lead to poor health.
The apparent need for food elimination or restriction also dismisses the fact that the food we eat isn’t just about nutrition - it is also about creating memories, affirming our identity, connecting socially and strengthening our sense of culture.
After being an avid food restrictor and eliminator myself, I know all too well how it feels to have multiple food choices and freedoms snatched away. Meanwhile, social occasions and meals out with friends and family feel like an anxiety ridden chore rather than anything to look forward to or feel excited about.
Checking labels of everything, pre-analysing food menus and telling friends that you can’t eat out at certain places because they do not cater for your rigidly strict diet requirements definitely isn’t a way of living that leads to true wellness. From my personal experience, it partly contributed to years living with an eating disorder and depression. The joy had been zapped from many areas of my life, with food being one huge part.
I would have rather isolated myself from friends, family and social opportunity just so that I could ensure that I could meet my dietary requirements - even ensuring that I ate certain types of foods at certain times. Stepping outside the thin lines of the rules I had believed in and created instantly made me feel guilty, ashamed and a worthless human being.
Looking at my diet on the outside, a nutritionist or dietician might have thought that I was pretty healthy, but on the inside I felt deeply unhappy and lifeless. I knew my purpose wasn’t to be obsessed with preparing and avoiding certain foods, but finding a life outside of my ‘then’ reality seemed a complete impossibility.
Although I have now found that my past beliefs about getting out that vicious cycle were false, and I now have a very positive relationship with food, I want you to know that basing your life around having the perfect diet or cutting out food groups isn’t the key route to wellness.
Based on a wealth of research evidence, the majority of individuals DO NOT NEED to cut out certain food groups from their diet in order to obtain improved health. Yes, this means that consuming gluten sugar or dairy won’t lead to an early grave from cancer, diabetes or heart disease!
As we talk a lot about in the Nourishing Routes philosophy, a happy and healthy life is all about balance - balance with food and also balance with other fulfilling and meaningful activities in your life (a sigh of relief that you do not have to spend your life’s savings on the latest superfood powders, juicing programmes or food hampers from ‘health’ stores!).
Placing any restriction on food, unnecessarily or for reasons based on fear, control or meeting the expectations of others, can lead to feelings of guilt and shame when your rules become hard to follow or even impossible in certain situations.
Because we don’t live in a world where everyone can simply eat fruits, nuts and vegetables freely from the ground at anytime of day, dietary restriction and fearing certain foods can feels as though someone has placed red tape around your life. What you are left with, apart from an empty or unsatisfied stomach, is a lack of freedom and little room for manoeuvre and play.
Intuitive eating and compassion eating become ever more difficult, as decisions around food become based on 'shoulds', 'musts', and 'ought's rather than your gut instinct, social cues or your emotional and cultural needs.
So what can we do about all of this and the messages that tell us to restrict or cut out certain food groups?
Well firstly, it makes sense to become more critical of what health related media tell us, as well as the piles of superfoods and diet products that are placed on (far too many) of our shelves. We need to be critical of how most health claims related to cutting out certain types of food are NOT supported by sufficient of conclusive evidence - especially when there are profit making motives involved ...
Secondly, we can let go of some (or many) of the rules we have placed around food. If you haven’t cut out a certain type of food for reasons that are health, ethical or religious related, then we need to be questioning why. Are we jumping on board with the latest health trend, or trying to gain a sense of self-esteem from the food that we do or do not eat?
We can also remember that there is a much bigger picture of health to explore than what we eat, and that eating sweet, fatty or any other demonised type off food can still play a part of a happy and healthy balanced lifestyle.
On a final note, I would just like to mention just how liberating breaking away from food rules can be.
Without unecessary rules and restrictions, there is a much more enriched life that you can fully embrace, while obsessive menu checking and analysing nutritional labels becomes less useful and much more of a waste of your precious time.
The less food rules that place limitations on your life, the more time you can spend living life to the full in a way that allows you to become your most fulfilled self.
Without worrying about eating clean, or restricting certain foods, you can become free to become more of the person you were born to be - a compassionate soul with no unnecessary moral judgements placed on food or themselves ...