Inside Scoop: Everywhere we look, we’re bombarded with two single options, the polar opposites of each other: excessive indulgence vs. ascetic reductionism. If you’re stuck in the all or nothing approach to nutrition and fitness, here’s exactly how to find the balance.
This post was submitted by Caitlin Evans, bookworm and medical student interested in health, nutrition, and wellness related topics.
Have you noticed how the approach to lifestyle choices is steadily shifting towards being painted in mutually exclusive extremes? Everywhere we look, we’re bombarded with two single options, the polar opposites of each other: excessive indulgence vs. ascetic reductionism.
Either you’re addicted to and fully fueled by sugar, or you don’t let it touch your plate. You’re a fitness freak or a couch potato. A zero-waste household or a part of consumerist society, single-handedly causing climate change. There no longer seems to be space for balance and learning and growth. Nowadays, it’s all or nothing.
But the truth is, this type of mindset isn’t helping you achieve a healthy lifestyle. Especially when it’s making you feel anxious about the foods you eat or if it’s causing you to overexert yourself by exercising too much.
THE OBSESSION WITH HEALTHY EATING AND FITNESS
Orthorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that was defined only relatively recently. The term was coined in 1998, and it denotes an obsession with healthful or clean eating. Its main symptoms are largely related to compulsively checking ingredients, anxiety related to ‘unhealthy’ foods, cutting out macronutrient groups from one’s diet, and being unable to eat meals that are not considered ‘safe’ or ‘clean.’
The thing about Orthorexia is that it’s largely fuelled by social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube. These sources of visual content tend to steer towards depicting ideal situations, in which influencers present a heavily filtered reality. What we often don’t understand is that being an influencer (and posting those perfect images) is a job. And one that’s only rising in popularity. According to some of the latest predictions, health and fitness accounts placed 4th on the list of the 11 most profitable Instagram niches.
So what does this imply for those looking up to influencers, blindly following their advice and putting enormous efforts into leading a ‘perfect’ life?
It’s quite simple.
We are increasingly trying to achieve something that’s not only impossible, but perhaps not even in our best interest. So how can we move away from the all or nothing approach to our health?
MOVING AWAY FROM TRYING TO BE PERFECT & THE ALL OR NOTHING APPROACH
If your objective is to keep a balanced approach to nutrition and fitness, your safest bet would be to set attainable goals and an easy-to-follow plan to achieve them. Do regular health check-ups to identify potential issues that might be causing your appetite to get the best of you. Finally, be aware of the way in which nutrition and exercise influence your wellbeing – for the better or worse.
Backed up with scientific facts, you can go on to make sound choices without sacrificing your mental health or having to feel like you’re missing out on the finer things in life.
KNOW HOW APPETITE FUNCTIONS
The leading cause of wellness-related stress usually isn’t the idea of having to eat healthily or having to exercise. Instead, it’s the strong sense of guilt that follows instances in which we fail to do what we know is good for us.
But before you start blaming yourself for failing yet again to rise to unattainable standards, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the multitude of factors that determine our cravings. Because knowing their cause can very well help us prevent them from happening in the first place.
Blood sugar levels
While low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, is often connected to diabetes, it can also occur in those individuals who are not diabetic. And it’s one of the most common causes of strong cravings (and why we tend to reach for the snack drawer at 4 pm). Hypoglycemia can be either reactive or non-reactive, and it usually presents as dizziness, extreme hunger, blurry vision, mood swings, or mental fog.
In order to prevent the negative effects hypoglycemia has on our eating habits, we need to look at ways to regulate blood sugar. And the best strategy for this is to regularly opt for balanced meal choices rich in proteins and healthy fats while limiting the intake of processed carbohydrates and sugars. Trying to stay away from the Western diet, and going instead with whole foods, is probably the best way to prevent hypoglycemia, as well as its more serious consequences.
Certain micronutrient deficiencies can cause changes in your eating regime. For example, insufficient vitamin D intake is linked to loss of appetite, and the same goes for B1, B6, B12, and vitamin A. On the other hand, not getting enough micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, or iron may cause you to overeat, oftentimes on unhealthy choices such as chocolate or sweets.
If you suspect that your body isn’t getting all the micronutrients it requires from the foods you ingest, it would be a good idea to get tested for possible deficiencies. This way, you can have better insight into what it is your body lacks and can take the right steps to provide it – either through vegetables, meats, or a multivitamin supplement.
Sometimes, it’s too easy to forget that our bodies weren’t intended for the fast-paced lifestyle we all lead. Stress, which seems to be inevitable in today’s world, has serious effects on the appetite. When experienced in short bursts, it can cause us to feel less hungry or not digest properly. But, when endured through long periods, it can cause Cortisol levels to become chronically high, which typically results in sugar and fat cravings, overeating, and can lead to obesity.
Because these types of food have a high glycemic index, the body will inevitably react with an elevated production of insulin, which then, in turn, causes new bouts of extreme hunger. Thus, it becomes an enchanted circle in which the brain perceives certain foods as stress relief, and keeps asking for more.
If you believe that your negative relationship with food may be stemming from stress-related issues, it’s important that you allow yourself enough time to exercise and engage in stress-relieving practices such as meditation. You’ll also want to try to reach for low-sugar foods that will put a stop to your cravings.
When in a healthy state, our gut is filled with millions of bacteria and fungi. These help us synthesize vitamins, digest carbohydrates and fats, ferment fiber and even remove toxic compounds.
Unfortunately, a contemporary lifestyle and diet often lead to disbalance in this area. With a higher intake of foods rich in sugar, we aren’t only influencing our insulin levels – we’re also starving the good bacteria in our gut, and helping pathogenic bacteria and fungi thrive. Exaggerated hygienic practices aren’t helping the microbiome either – harsh household cleaning chemicals, antibacterial hand soaps and frequent use of antibiotics are all detrimental to the natural balance in our body.
What scientists are only now beginning to find is that the bacteria in our gut have a significant influence on our appetite. A study done in 2014 found a connection between certain types of gastrointestinal bacteria and defined the ways in which they influence cravings, behavior, and mood. Furthermore, growing amounts of research are being done on how the gastrointestinal microbiome is causing autoimmune disorders.
Regulating gut health, however, is quite easy. Small behavioral changes such as taking a daily probiotic, eating fermented foods, or following a specialized autoimmune protocol meal plan for those that already suffer from conditions such as SIBO or IBS can greatly contribute to keeping food cravings in check while helping the gut heal and come back into natural balance.
If you’re not entirely sure whether your cravings are caused by an imbalanced gut, it is best to talk to your doctor and do a three-day stool sample panel which will show any bacterial or fungal overgrowth that needs to be addressed.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Once you know what’s causing your cravings, you can start implementing simple strategies that will help you get back on track, without putting too much pressure on yourself to succeed.
A good day should start with a filling breakfast. And what you choose to eat first thing in the morning may very well decide how your body behaves throughout the day.
But this doesn’t mean you need to begin each morning by slaving away in your kitchen. Instead, you can opt for simple breakfast options that are high in protein, rich in micro- and macronutrients, and that will, ultimately, prevent you from overeating later on.
If your digestive tract simply doesn’t do well with eating too early, or you want to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting, you can go with easy-to-pack options like chia pudding, oatmeal, or even trail mix, which you can take to work and have on your coffee break.
Having a body that is lean and strong (and looks great in a bathing suit) is the stuff of dreams. But in reality, it’s really not worth overexerting yourself for. Instead, you should try and stop looking at fitness as a way to fit the ideal of the perfect figure and start taking it as a way to ensure optimal health.
For adults, the recommended amount of moderate aerobic exercise is currently at 150 minutes per week. If you decide to do more than this, make sure you’re giving your body enough time to recover. Also, don’t forget to include some mobility exercises in your routine, as these can help avoid injury.
If one of the reasons you have a love-hate relationship with food is that you’re constantly hungry, you may want to take a closer look at your sleeping patterns. Scientific evidence suggests that lack of sleep leads to the overproduction of the hormone ghrelin, which is related to an overly active appetite.
The most efficient way to tackle this problem would be to try and improve your sleep hygiene. Start small by tracking how many hours of shuteye you manage to get every day, and try to find ways to catch between seven and nine hours of sleep every 24 hours. Eating the right foods, limiting screen time at night, or simply dimming your lights can have a tremendous positive impact on the quality of your sleep, so make sure you give these techniques a try.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the point of a balanced diet and an exercise regime isn’t to hold you hostage to impossible standards. After all, if the very process of trying to be healthy is causing you to stress, or driving you towards an eating disorder such as Orthorexia Nervosa, then it’s definitely not in your best interest to keep up with those harmful practices.
Ultimately, a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to mean giving up the things you enjoy deeply. Rather, it’s about building good habits that you are truly benefiting from, and keeping them up whenever possible. And, it’s about knowing that even if you’re doing something imperfectly, the very fact that you’re making an effort is a big step in the right direction.
Caitlin is a bookworm and a medical student. She is especially interested in health, nutrition, and wellness related topics. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing for the various awesome blog since she loves sharing her knowledge. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu, and hiking. To see what Caitlin is up to next, feel free to check out her Twitter dashboard.