When I started on my nutrition journey I was excited to learn all of the fancy science stuff. I figured in order to know how to eat well you needed to know all of the minute details of food, what nutrients are important, and how the body works. Although I did learn all of those things at school, I think some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have nothing to do with my education. In fact, some of the most important lessons I’ve learned are ones I picked up along the way and the same ones that I want others to learn too. So here are the 3 nutrition lessons I wish I learned earlier.
1. What you eat is more important than how much.
I wish I’d never heard of calories or serving sizes. I hate them. The reason I dislike them so much is because they are SO confusing. As a kid, I would just eat. I would eat because I was hungry, and when I wasn’t hungry I wouldn’t eat. It wasn’t until high school (or some time around then) that I discovered calories. Although I don’t remember the exact moment, I’m sure it was in some health magazine article about what celebrities eat in a day. “Egg whites for breakfast, salad for lunch, a handful of almonds for a snack and salmon for dinner = 1,200 calories and you can look like Jennifer Aniston too!”. WTF. Look, I love Jennifer Aniston, but why do I care how many calories she eats per day!?!
The goal of eating is to seek nutrients, not avoid calories. Therefore, the quality of the food you eat far outweighs how many calories it contains. Eating a baked potato is not the same as eating chips, although they both come from potatoes. Not only does real food contain more nutrients, but it is more satiating and therefore you don’t need to eat as much. Although both chips and baked potatoes are made from potatoes, you could probably eat an entire bag of potato chips (and then some), however, after one or two baked potatoes, you would probably be good to go. That’s because real food is nourishing and satisfying, so in the end, you end up eating less of it and, therefore, fewer calories anyway. So instead of counting your calories, put your calculator away, and focus on eating whole foods instead.
2. Your body is the best coach you’ll ever have.
I have read endless health magazines, followed numerous health “gurus” and read hundreds of nutrition books. Did I learn from all of this information? Absolutely. Did I get all of the answers I needed? No. That’s because the truth is that no matter how many people you talk to or how many nutrition experts you listen to, you already have the very best coach you will ever get – your own body. There is literally nobody else out there that knows more about what is going on with you than your own body, so you need to learn to listen.
I know people joke and say things like “Well, my body is telling me it wants donuts!”, and although that’s cute and funny, it’s not what it’s telling you. You’re either not actually listening or still haven’t quite figured out how to listen. The concept of “listening to your body” might seem weird or sound like hippy witchcraft, but it’s not as complicated as it seems. Listening to your body is not listening for a loud voice from the heavens, but rather it is paying attention to little cues that your body gives you on a daily basis. For instance; you feel tired, you’re not sleeping well, you are grumpier than usual, your joints are aching, you bloat after every meal, you don’t have regular bowel movements, your skin is bad, you get sick every month, etc… Honestly, there are SO many ways that your body talks to you, you just need to pay attention. These ‘things’ don’t just happen to your body to happen, they happen for an actual reason, and if you can pay attention you have the opportunity to address them and feel better.
3. Indulgence is an important part of health.
There is no perfect diet. I wish someone had explained this to me years ago. You are never going to eat 100% perfectly all of the time for the rest of your life – that is not realistic. And it’s also not fun. Chocolate, ice cream, wine and wedding cake are some of my favourite things and it is ok for me to enjoy them. In fact, I should enjoy them, and when I do, I need to understand that I am not a bad person, I didn’t do anything wrong, I am just living my life. I spent years beating myself up every time I ate a treat, telling myself I was bad or feeling like I had done something wrong. I would convince myself I needed to go to the gym after a night of eating and drinking because I needed to “work it off” or pay for my sins. What a bunch of wasted time.
Do I now eat chocolate, ice cream, wine and wedding cake every day? No, absolutely not, but when I do, I just do, because it’s ok. I don’t tell myself I can’t have it, because I can, I’m a grown-ass adult and I can do what I want. I just don’t need to eat it all of the time because I savour it when I do. Instead, I focus on eating whole foods because I listen to my body, and when I want a treat I have it, and that doesn’t make me a bad person, it simply makes me human.