Lifestyle vs Diet

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Farm to table meal from Stowel Farm on Salt Spring Island, BC.

As a nutritionist I am focused on the food on people’s plates and all the environmental influences that affect what we eat. Some of these are going to topics of future blog post like lack of sleep, stress and emotions which are known to lead to poor food choices, and these food choices can perpetuate negative eating behaviours (distracted eating, binging, sugar cravings etc.) and if left unchecked for a long time can lead to health issues like weight gain, obesity, diabetes, CVD and Yo-yo dieting. These underlying behaviours often need to be addressed before we can see true results when it comes to setting up a healthy lifestyle.  

A main point of promoting a healthy lifestyle is making your environment work for you. This means getting rid of the “junk food” and surround yourself with good “healthy food”. But in the wise words of one of my professors “everything in moderation, including moderation”, and I couldn’t agree more. If we become so focused on only eating “healthy food” we can develop an eating disorder called Orthorexia. Orthorexia is defined as being the unhealthy obsession with healthy food. This can lead to a person isolating themselves from social interactions and becoming hyper focused on “health foods”.

When we are setting up a  healthy lifestyle, or a long-term set of habits and behaviors that promote the health of the body, mind and spirt, we are not looking to restrict your food choices to the point that you no longer enjoy the process of cooking and eating, and are craving foods that you are “not allowed” to have. Now a caveat to this is allergies, and I’m speaking from personal experience here. I am lactose intolerant and consuming dairy is no fun for anyone most of all me, but I have shifted my mindset around diary and have an arsenal of alternatives that I know taste great and make me feel great.  With the shift in my mindset around dairy I no longer crave dairy in a way that would make me reach for it.

If you have a “not allowed” food list, you are on a diet and often these are not sustainable, as we want what we can’t have. When we give into this craving often “the baby goes out with the bath water” and we not only eat something we have deemed we can not have, but we give up on the diet all together, and this is the key difference when it comes to comparing diet vs lifestyle.

With a lifestyle there is no “not allowed” list there is an “occasional” list. The mindset is that I can have a treat and not have to start all over again! Treats are best when selected with intention and eating mindfully and enjoyed fully. For example, I really enjoy ice cream so when then feeling hits and I really want ice cream I step back and think. What is it about the ice cream that I’m craving? Where would I most enjoy this ice cream and with whom? Can I make it at home and share with others? And often I decide that I will wait until I go the farmers market where I know they have a stand with good quality plant based ice cream made from local and in season ingredients or I will have some after dinner with my family or friends. Other times I enjoy it at home as a reward for a day well spent. With intention I pick a dairy free option as I know the dairy option isn’t worth going through the impact of eating it, and I enjoy eating it with mindfulness. 

A telltale sign of this is how you feel after. Do your feel guilty? If you are feeling guilty ask yourself why. If enjoying the experience of eating the treat and it is eaten with mindfulness and in moderation, then what do you have to be guilty for? Treats should be celebratory and enjoyable, if it’s not then maybe it’s time to reconsider why you consider it a treat. 

So, I challenge you to consider what you would consider a treat, and reflect on how often you eat it and how you feel after you eat it both physically and mentally?

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