Foundational Eating Part 3: Variety and Moderation

Part three in my series for getting back to basics for building a solid eating recovery.

At a party recently, I got cornered by a guest who wanted to educate me on the truth about nutrition, evidently having gleaned said truth from the latest food-scare propaganda flick. This happens sometimes when people find out I’m a dietitian. “Which do you think is better for you,” he asked, no doubt sensing my skepticism, “Soy milk or cow’s milk?”

I knew this was a trap. “Well,” I started, “both have their potential benefits, so it depends on an individual’s situation and preferences.”  Dissatisfied, the guy countered with something to the effect of, “Yeah, but cancer!”  I paused, choosing my words carefully. I looked at him for a moment and said, “I think that as long as a person eats a variety of nutritious foods and eats them in moderation, there’s little danger of getting too much or too little of anything.” I offered him a bite of my cheese.

I’m not trying to be evasive, or even diplomatic, with a statement like that. I’m actually answering the question in the most thoughtful and truthful way that I can. The key to variety is to dismiss the all-or-nothing thinking about food and accept that many foods, even those with high nutritional value, can have both pros and cons. It all depends on context. In other words, any food, or any meal for that matter, taken out of the context of a person’s regular diet can be either vilified or sanctified. It’s a person’s diet over time that counts.

To see whether your personal food fears and beliefs are holding you back from the freedom of eating a healthy variety, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I regularly label foods as good or bad or see myself as good or bad when I eat those foods?
  2. Do I regularly eliminate foods from my diet based on supposition rather than fact?
  3. Am I afraid that widening my variety will lead to feeling out of control with food?
  4. Do I exaggerate the potential benefits of some foods and the perceived harm of others?

The more restrictions we place on ourselves, the more difficult it can be to get enough to eat, make food decisions, and feel good about the choices we do make.

You get to decide what’s right for you and your body. You get to say what moderation is. There will always be someone, some blog post, or some documentary ready to challenge your way of eating. But the stronger you build your foundation, the tougher it will be to knock you off it. Frame it carefully. Eat enough. Have balanced meals and snacks. Choose a wide variety of foods you like. This is foundational eating.