Dietitian Daniel Thomson shares some advice for navigating your path to health.
The long and winding road of behaviour change differs for everyone. Many people embark on a mission to improve their health in some way, with the end goal being optimal blood cholesterol or stable blood glucose levels or optimal gut function, to name a few destinations. You’ll notice I’ve made no mention of the ‘w’ word here – weight will ultimately do what it wants to do and is mostly genetically determined.
After their consultation with an Accredited Practising Dietitian, people depart with a swag of nutrition tips and advice and the best of intentions. But as the burden of our busy lives weighs us down, some of these may drop off along the way. We embark on a wellbeing journey clear of mind, but it’s easy to become blinded by the fog that drifts in during certain social situations. Some find this fog impassible and retreat. Others calmly negotiate these social celebrations with mindfulness and self compassion.
“Dieting relies on willpower and, like a muscle, willpower can get tired and fail us.”
The ideal premise for those on the journey is not to feel like they are ‘dieting’ – ‘dieting’ relies on willpower and, like a muscle, willpower can get tired and fail us. If you adopt a ‘moderation’ mindset, you can feel like you are truly experiencing your nutrition journey, while still ending up where you want to be.
Along the way, you can discover new foods and new likes, perhaps developing a liking for wholesome raw vegetables, or even learning a new way to enjoy ‘sometimes foods’ by eating mindfully. For most people, the moderation path to your nutritional goals can detour off track every so often. And this is totally fine – often the best scenery lies in the small pockets of scrub beyond the main road. For this dietitian, these short detours are the dark chocolate squares on a Friday evening, or the cheese and nibbles platter on a Saturday afternoon, or the rest days from planned physical activity.
For a small minority of people, a more rigid path may take enjoyment away from food and could lead towards the slippery slope of disordered eating. It is greatly concerning to see disordered eating patterns develop following the advent of a cult-like eating behaviour, and I think we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in practice today. Disordered eating may start out with a strong ambition to eat only foods which one feels are ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ (as labelled by the individual) but can quickly develop into more malicious eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
Conversely, for some people, the wilderness grabs them and takes them deep into the scrub. This is often the mindless eating path, and can end in unfavourable health and psychological outcomes, including binge eating disorders and conditions such as insulin resistance and hypertension. This risk is why your dietitian will book repeat visits, to help you stay on track to meeting your nutritional goals.
Generally, the more time spent in the eating wilderness or mindless-eating territory, the greater the risk of suboptimal health outcomes. An Accredited Practising Dietitian and/or clinical psychologist may assist in minimising these patterns, and guide you closer to your own winding moderation path to wellbeing.