We have created a problem…
An obsession with clean eating and dieting, mixed with endless access to other people’s lives through social media platforms, and we create a trap of obsession and comparison which many fall into. This leads to many people finding themselves creating unrealistic and overly strict eating habits in a drive for perfection.
However, more often than not, this strict approach to food can lead to unexpected consequences, including overeating and an unhealthy relationship with food.
As a nutritionist and health coach, I have seen this backfire time and time again. Being overly strict and denying yourself the food you love just does not work in the long term. I have always believed in a balanced approach to eating, as it’s the only approach I have seen work for health and sustainable weight management.
In this blog post, we will explore why so many individuals fall into this trap of overly strict eating habits and why occasionally indulging in your cravings can actually be a healthier choice.
The Allure of Strict Eating Habits
In our overly visual culture, the desire for a healthy lifestyle and an ideal body image often drives people to adopt strict eating and exercise habits. They believe that denying themselves the foods they love will lead to better health and a slimmer physique. It also suggests they have control and discipline which many see as noble character traits. In reality, this approach to healthy eating can easily backfire.
The Breaking Point
Temptation is everywhere, whether you are in the supermarket, out for dinner, on holiday or at an event. Sometimes life makes it very hard to stick to a strict eating habit! Imagine this scenario: You’ve stuck to your strict eating regime for a few weeks but have found yourself craving a sugary snack for days. You resist, opting for healthier alternatives. You try to ‘be good’ and suppress your cravings, but they persist. You attend an event and it’s your favourite dessert, you give into temptation and eat it. Does this sound familiar? This cycle of craving, denial, and indulgence is a common experience for many.
This way of eating can also encourage an all-or-nothing mindset- you’re either trying to be ‘good’ and sticking to your strict diet or you’re being ‘bad’ and perhaps eating mindlessly or with no sense of control. You swing between thinking you’re either being a success or a failure at eating.
A balanced approach would allow you to eat that dessert, fries, pizza or meat. The problem is many people then binge and feel awful about themselves, and drop the strict regime there and then as it’s not manageable.
The Problem with Strictness
Strict eating habits may seem virtuous, but they can lead to several problems:
1. Binge Eating: Denying yourself the foods you love can create an unhealthy relationship with them. When you finally give in, you might overindulge, leading to binge eating episodes.
2. Guilt and Shame: Constantly denying yourself treats can trigger feelings of guilt and shame when you do indulge. This emotional turmoil can be more detrimental than the occasional indulgence itself.
3. Stress and Anxiety: The stress of adhering to strict eating rules can take a toll on your mental health, leading to increased anxiety and an overall negative impact on your well-being. Prolonged stress can have a worse effect on your health than the food you are avoiding!
4. Unsustainability: Strict diets are often unsustainable in the long term. They can lead to burnout and a return to old, unhealthy eating habits.
The Benefits of Balance
Instead of rigidly adhering to strict eating habits, consider adopting a more balanced approach. Making healthy choices, reducing sugars and processed foods from your diet and cooking from scratch using fresh ingredients is always a more sustainable option.
• Eat your treats in moderation. Allow yourself to enjoy your favourite treats in moderation. This prevents the build-up of cravings and reduces the likelihood of overindulgence. You may even find that because you allow yourself to have them, you don’t want them.
• Practice mindful eating by savouring each bite of your favourite treat. This can enhance your enjoyment and reduce the need for excessive consumption.
• Be flexible! Recognize that occasional indulgence is not a failure but a normal part of a healthy relationship with food. It can help you maintain a balanced and sustainable eating pattern.
While striving for a healthy diet and lifestyle is important, it’s equally crucial to strike a balance between nourishing your body and being realistic.
Strict eating habits can often lead to unintended consequences, including overeating and emotional distress.
Many people go on these diets without really addressing their eating habits and relationship with food. I would always encourage this work first – once you’ve identified and addressed any problematic eating habits like emotional eating or mindless eating, you can then find ways to eat in a more balanced way and improve your eating habits long-term.
By getting to the root cause of the problem, allowing yourself the occasional indulgence and practicing moderation, you can develop a healthier relationship with food and enjoy a more sustainable approach to nutrition. I work with women to take back their control with food, make sustainable healthy choices and feel great in their bodies. Get in touch if you want to find out how we can work together.