As a dietitian, I get asked about the latest fad diets a lot. Just the other day one of my clients asked me about "the three day fast" diet while I inwardly cringed thinking that it's unfortunate the world has painted nutrition professionals in the light that we only ever eat "organic, non-GMO, soy-free, gluten-free, pasture-raised", perform juice cleanses weekly, shop at the trendiest and most expensive health food stores, push this and that supplement, and endorse the latest food frenzy that has swept the nation. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Sure, we talk a lot about eating more fruits and vegetables, and some of us are more progressive in the way that we look at general nutrition and supplement recommendations, but the vast majority of us want people to find a way to still enjoy their favorite foods while living a healthy lifestyle. Indeed, dietitians (I among them) endorse a variety of different diets and we just want to find what works for you, your body, and your specific health needs. Truly, the only way to change health behaviors is to make them a lifestyle choice. A healthy lifestyle means something different for everyone, but in general it should encompass three main components: physical health (for the body through a healthy diet and exercise), spiritual health (for the soul), and mental health, or what I call "mindfulness."
When I'm at some kind of social event and people look at me like I have three heads when I reach for the cheesy fondue dip with bread, saying "the dietitian is having that?!" in such an incredulous manner that you'd think no dietitian/nutritionist before had ever done it, it provides the perfect segue into the "everything in moderation" speech. Let me let you in on a little secret - dietitians do indulge in "junk foods" and sweets on occasion, and it's ok (we also can't stand dichotomous thinking like "good" vs. "bad" foods; hence the parenthesis). The key to being healthy is making it a lifestyle choice, meaning that you make an effort to be physically active every day, eat minimally processed foods, and pay attention to what your body needs. Sure, you'll usually see me packing salad for lunch, but you'll also see me have a slice of cake on my birthday. It's ok to indulge every once in a while. It won't ruin your diet - trust me. The timeless saying of balance, variety, and moderation can really go a long ways.
Like many people, I used to struggle with "yo-yo" dieting, or cycling through periods of crash diets only to find myself falling off the wagon because I was hungry and miserable and ended up gaining the weight right back. I will also openly admit that I used to struggle with body image issues, but these are all things that led me to become a dietitian and dedicate my career to helping others find how to be healthy in their own ways.
This is where mindfulness comes in. I don't think it gets talked about enough in my field, but believe it's paramount to mastering a healthy lifestyle. Being mindful is exactly what you probably think it means - thinking mindfully. When it comes to health, this means that we are mindful when we eat. We are mindful of how fast or slow we are eating, or if we are truly physically hungry or just "feel like eating" because we're bored, lonely or anxious. We are mindful of how food tastes, and smells; its textures and the traditions it encompasses, or the people certain meals bring together. We are mindful when we exercise. Are we exercising because we feel like we "have to" or because we want to? Are we choosing an exercise that we enjoy or one that we hate? Why are we exercising? Is it to look good for a significant other, a wedding, a beach vacay, a party of sorts? Is it to shed a few pounds for a competition or to fit into something? Is it to finally do that marathon or 5K you've been thinking about for the past 10 years? Is it to have the energy to play with your kids, your dog, or take that hike you've long dreamed of? Mindfulness means that we are tuned into our bodies, respect and honor our bodies (no body shaming here ladies and gents!), and take care of ourselves. This is a difficult thing to do in such a rushed, hectic world and we really have to take the time to give back to ourselves physically by relieving stress, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eating well, and moving our bodies, and emotionally by taking care of our relationships and doing things that we enjoy.
The vast majority of us live in the "norm" that is a very fast paced world. This might involve rushing to work, running red lights, sucking down cups of coffee to keep our eyes pried open all day, shoving down a quick meal, tossing and turning in our sleep thinking about the endless to do list, running to this meeting or that event....
Life is so chaotic that we forget to be mindful of what we truly need altogether. I have certainly fallen victim to this before. However, I've found a way to try and practice mindfulness every day. I have long been a lover of the natural environment, and one of the ways that I keep fit and hit the mental reset button is through outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, mountain biking, snowshoeing...if it involves being outside, I'm bound to try it. I also try and take a few minutes every day to reflect on what went well, and what could have gone better, and to learn from my mistakes and be thankful for what I have.
Mindfulness can be applied to many facets of life, but especially to our own health. My advice is to make mindfulness a habit. The key is to make taking care of yourself a lifestyle choice, not a temporary fix. After all, don't we owe ourselves that much?
In happy health!