Nutrition can feel really, really complicated. And, well, it IS.
There is so much out there in the world of nutrition science. And if you're a nutrition nerd like me, you eat it ALL up. But if you're not-- or even if you are and you are overwhelmed by the amount of contradictory information out there (because there's a lot!) I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be as complicated as it seems.
This month in the Supermama Society, my aim is to help you to SIMPLIFY nutrition, so it feels less daunting and more approachable to take simple steps to live a healthier life, without feeling like you need to go on a cleanse or cut out entire food groups to 'find your balance'. These are my best tips to make nutrition simple.
1. Eat (more) real food. There is nothing wrong with a boxed or canned option, now and again- but mama, I'm going to be straight with you. Forget about cutting out gluten, or carbs, or any of the other fads out there that promise health: if you're eating meals from a box or using a ton of processed ingredients (boxed pasta or rice mixes, canned soups, highly processed snack foods, artificially sweetened items), you are missing the mark. I'm not usually this firm about things when it comes to nutrition. But this is one place I am. The BEST and EASIEST way you can improve your nutrition, today is to eat LESS processed foods and more real food. Our body simply does not recognize these 'fraken-foods' as quickly available fuel. And what this means for our body, is that it takes time and energy to process the chemicals in the food- which takes away from our body efficiently using the nutrients in our food, as well as often causes an inflammatory response. Inflammation is the root of ALL disease. Some inflammation is good-- like the inflammation of our muscles post-workout to grow and strengthen them, or the inflammation immediately around an injury (think the redness around a cut) to help our body fight disease. But chronic inflammation isn't going to serve your body. Processed foods have been linked to increased risk of cancer, are often loaded with excess sugar and sodium (chronic disease contributors) and you guys- food companies do this on purpose to encourage us to enjoy them. And though the idea of 'food addiction' has been largely disproven (you can't be addicted to a physiological need)-- many of these processed substances DO light up pleasure centers in our brain, creating a desire for more of that 'good feeling'.
The bottom line: less processed, more real. Learn more: Audio: Real Food
2. Learn the BASICS of what is required for a healthy plate.
If eating more real and less processed food is the first step, this is the natural second. Learn what basic nutrients our body needs, and include them on a daily basis.
The caveat: this does not need to be rigid. There are no 'perfect portions' because our bodies' needs change day to day based upon our activity level, stress, sleep, time in our cycle, and seasonally, throughout our lives. So get rid of the idea of a perfect plate and simply focus on the basics.
Look at your plate: Does it contain protein? Does it contain vegetables? Does it contain carbs? Does it contain healthy fats? If the answer is yes- you're pretty good to go. I call this the power plate. These basic nutrients your body requires to survive and thrive make up what your body needs to function optimally and feel energized and nourished on a daily basis.
Learn more: The Supermama Power Plate Worksheet
Your protein might change day to day or meal to meal (I don't know anyone who eats the same type of protein at every meal). Some meals you might require more carbs than others (for instance after a hard workout).
Sometimes, your carbs will only come from vegetables (this doesn't mean you need to cut out all carbs).
Your vegetable preferences will change. Sometimes you'll choose raw, sometimes you'll choose cooked.
Sometimes you'll be into fruit, sometimes you'll be digging bread.
These details ONLY matter in the context of what feels best in your body. There is NO expert that knows YOUR body better than you. This is why the next point is SO important.
3. Choose satisfying foods.
What does this even mean?! For someone who is new to the world of intuitive eating or nutrition without dieting, choosing satisfying foods can sound SO nebulous. I'll be going into this so much more in the near future, but here's the basic deal:
You need to eat food you actually like.
WHAT a concept!
And yes- I said need. You might not love everything you eat. You might miss the mark on one particular meal, and that's cool, my friend. But overall, you need to learn what you like to eat, and this often requires experimentation: choosing more real food options and finding which ones you love, finding protein and healthy fat options to balance if you're a 'carbs all day' kinda girl, finding ways to prepare vegetables you actually enjoy because yes, you do need them. You don't HAVE to eat kale to live a healthy life. But you do need to eat vegetables-- and find ones you love.
This also means, sometimes you'll choose a satisfying food that isn't a balanced plate. Balance is NOT static. It changes meal to meal, day to day, week to week. Honor that and honor your body by choosing what is satisfying-- you will eat less when you choose what you actually like, rather than choosing what you think you SHOULD eat (which often results in 'satisfaction search', eating everything in sight to search for what you probably should have chosen in the first place).
4. Honor your hunger.
You can focus on real food, create your power plate and choose satisfying foods all day long, but if you're not honoring hunger and fullness, you might still feel at war with food. Remember this: hunger is a biological need. You would not ignore your body's signals to use the restroom- why would you ignore your hunger? A lot of us have the idea in our heads that if we just ignore our hunger, it will go away. When does this actually work? If it does, you'll likely end up with a bad bellyache in return. Ignoring your hunger never ends well: the hungrier we get, the less chance we will make choices that serve us and eat an amount that feels good in our body. Getting in tune with the subtle signs of hunger is REALLY key here: once you are tuned into when your body needs fuel, you can respond, and when you respond promptly, your body will honor you by reducing that intense desire for food, giving you energy and allowing you to live your life without obsessing over your next meal.
Honoring your hunger comes first, and once you are able to honor your hunger, you can better honor your fullness. But more on that another day. Learn more: Download the Hunger and Fullness Scale Worksheet
5. Don't be afraid to experiment.
I feel like sometimes there is this idea in the IE world that Intuitive Eating means your body automatically knows exactly what it wants, and then you will only ever crave and eat those foods and everything will be hunky dory. This might be the case, for the foods you already know and love: but there is a WHOLE world of food and nutrition out there that, if you've never tried, you will never know what truly feels good.
It's ok to experiment.
If something is giving you digestive troubles, it's ok to modify your foods to test what feels good (do this with a trained professional) or add in helpful foods and supplements to boost your gut health. If your hormones seem out of whack, it might be time to tweak some things.
If you are constantly low energy and still 'eating intuitively' maybe it's time to take a closer look and include more of a gentle nutrition approach. The beauty of Intuitive Eating is that YOU get to choose when and what you experiment with and the results will ONLY be determined by how YOU feel. Yes, there are helpful tests that can help to diagnose and manage certain conditions and this is not to discredit those at all (I use them in my own private practice). But ultimately, the decision will be made by your body's response.
Intuitive Eating means even if you experiment with expert advice, YOU are the expert of YOUR own body.
6. Add, rather than subtract.
It's important to take note of this. Nutrition should be about adding, rather than subtracting. It should be about including more of what feels good and letting the rest fall away. You will NEVER find freedom with food if you are still stuck in the diet mindset. Learn more: Ditch the Diet Dogma Worksheet
If you are still stuck in the mindset of taking things away to improve your health (when has subtracting ever resulted in addition?), you need to focus on DITCHING the idea of dieting (which we KNOW doesn't work, long term) for health and focus on adding in the things that might feel good: recognizing what does, and moving forward. Each step you take towards a healthier life is progress in living your supermama life.
Each step you take towards a healthier life is progress in living your supermama life.
So how do you simplify living a healthier life?
1. Eat (more) real food
2. Learn the basics about nutrition
3. Find what foods are satisfying
4. Honor your hunger (and fullness)
5. Don't be afraid to experiment
6. Add, rather than subtract (and take note)
This is not an exhaustive step-by-step of all the things you need to do to create your healthiest life. There are so many nuances to things you can experiment with and how to improve your relationship with food-- and we'll get there. Don't forget to give yourself grace along the way, take these ONE step at a time (yes, just one!) and go from there.
THIS is where your journey begins.