Finding Health in the BalanceJan 31, 2022 09:31AM ● By Tamara Luck
Each new year brings a slew of health-related resolutions that fall flat by mid-January.
Let's explore why well-intended resolutions tend to fizzle out after barely a month.
First, most have similar health goals—to lose weight tone up muscles and have more energy. Oftentimes, reaching those goals only seem achievable by using harsh restrictions that don’t support whole-body wellness. After a period of restrictive diets and intense workout plans, it is inevitable to swing to the opposite side and “fall off the wagon”. This does not have to do with a lack of willpower. Rather, going to extremes to reach goals creates an unsustainable lifestyle. Unfortunately, long-lasting health does not lie on either end of extremes. While medically supervised therapeutic diets have an important role in healing, long-term success is found in the middle, undefined zone.
The popularity of dieting is fed by an industry the thrives by selling these extremes. Some individuals crave the structure that diets and resolutions provide. Moreover, the pervasive diet culture and abundance of crappy food have detached people from their bodies. For example, it is taught early on that to be an “appropriate” weight, one should consume the calorie requirements for a small child (1,200-1,300 calories). If following these recommendations, one will likely feel hungry, retain weight and lose energy and focus. This is a frustrating dieting cycle where following the directions leaves one feeling worse, especially in the long run. These resolutions override the body’s natural cues and create frustration with one’s own body.
Truthfully, when it comes to health, the middle ground seems scariest of all. At least dieting and then throwing all caution to the wind still has some sense of structure. But unless one can take a leap of faith, one will never experience the freedom of soaring to better health.
Here are three practices to start to be mindful of when working towards a balanced resolution that avoids restrictive extremes. The first, and perhaps most difficult practice, is to work on getting familiar with the body’s hunger and fullness cues. After overriding the body’s signals, it may take some time to listen and re-learn the signs. For example, hunger may not feel like a rumbling stomach; sometimes hunger feels like dizziness, mood swings, trouble focusing, headaches or nausea. Others may be so stressed throughout the day, none of these signs are apparent until sitting down for dinner and suddenly feeling ravenous and insatiable the whole night. When noticing these physical and mental symptoms, there is no judgment involved. They are simply messages from the body signaling its needs. It takes practice to decipher these messages.
Next, prioritize eating three balanced meals throughout the day. Each meal should include carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber. This combination of food should feel nourishing and satiating without feeling uncomfortable. Despite new trends of intermittent fasting, when re-establishing eating foundations, it’s best to include three filling meals to rebalance blood sugar, strengthen trust in the body and understand the body’s signals.
Lastly, when building nutritious meals, aim for incorporating as many whole foods as possible. Highly processed foods can make it harder for the body to identify its needs. Processed foods are much less nutrient dense, despite being very calorie dense. They leave the body confused and wanting more nutrition.
The right nutritional balance will vary from person to person. However, these basic principles will lead to greater food freedom and breaking the cycle of unhealthy resolutions made in the name of health. Commit this year to exploring the middle ground without food and diet labels to find true health and healing.
Tamara Luck, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham, MA. She is currently accepting new patients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness. Schedule a free, 15-minute virtual introductory nutritional consulting call NaturalCompounder.com/Tamara.