Your relationship to food is just that—it’s yours. The problem with the media discourse around food—from diet plans to “What I Eat in a Day” videos—is that it tunes us out of our own conversations with our bodies. At TA, everything we do is about being present, and respecting the body as the only true authority on wellness. So, we decided to break this intuitive approach to eating down to a 3-step guide you can easily apply to daily life. Our Functional Nutritionist, Olivia Peláez, MS, FMCHC, shares her insight and expert tips around building a healthy, sustainable relationship with food.
Step 1: Try New Things
One of the biggest obstacles in your path to healthy eating is experimentation. We all have that one-pot recipe that’s so ingrained, we could make it in our sleep. We revisit the same staple snacks. The thing is, our diets are meant to change, both with the seasons and with our bodies’ natural vitamin and mineral requirements. So, how do we keep it varied when we’re set in our ways?
- Eat from the rainbow. “Diversifying the colors in your diet is a guaranteed way to get a broader range of phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It is also a way to expand your palette by trying new flavors and textures,” says Peláez. “Pick one (or more!) colors from the rainbow on a cadence that works for you and choose a food with that color to try. For example, you could choose purple and try eggplant, cabbage, or even purple potatoes!”
- Explore different cuisines. “Each month, I like to choose a different cuisine and find 2-3 recipes I want to try that month,” she shares. “For example, this month, after spending the winter in Mexico, I wanted to experiment with making different Mexican food. I found a few recipes that didn’t seem too difficult to make and went shopping for ingredients that I don’t typically buy—and had so much fun doing it!”
Step 2: Shop Smarter
We all dread that feeling of opening up the refrigerator, and seeing those wide, empty spaces that remind us it’s time to go grocery shopping. To make it less time-consuming, we often chart our courses through the aisles: cereal on the left, pasta on the right, and chocolate by the cash register.
“While it may seem obvious, planning ahead can be super helpful when tackling grocery shopping. Take an hour or two on a Sunday to plan your meals for the week and grocery shop accordingly,” says Peláez. “If you’re limited on time, consider making food at the beginning of the week. One of my favorite ways to do this is making a frittata on a Sunday that I can eat for breakfast throughout the week or pair with arugula and avocado for a quick lunch.”
What about those of us who want to shop better, but don’t have the budget or time to spare? Peláez had got you covered as well: “If you’re on a budget, there are some great companies out there that allow people to buy ‘rejected’ or ‘imperfect’ fruits and vegetables at a reduced cost. You can also consider joining a co-op where you not only get in-season produce, but also support local farmers—it’s a win-win!”
Step 3: Rewire Old Circuits
The main challenge is to recognize how our social conditioning affects our emotional responses to food. Peláez explains that “emotional eating, sometimes also referred to as stress eating, is turning to food in times of psychological distress (think: depression, anxiety, or stress) as a way to manage your emotions as opposed to responding to hunger. More often than not, emotional eating involves turning to foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients.” Ice cream is the breakup go-to for a reason.
“Many of the foods we turn to in times of emotional eating are processed and high in sugar,” she says. “Research shows that these foods trigger a chemical response in our brain, thus changing our mood.”
Once you recognize that your sweet tooth or chip cravings are chemically induced, we incorporate practices that regulate your body’s natural desires into your daily routine. Peláez suggests checking in with yourself by briefly directing your focus: “Take a step back and assess where you can redirect your focus and energy. This could be as simple as getting outside for a brisk walk, doing a 10-minute journaling or meditation session, or completing a chore or task around the house. Identifying and utilizing healthy alternative strategies can help to rewire your brain and establish new habits.”
It’s important to be kind to yourself along the way. “We can’t all be perfect,” Peláez warns, “and it’s inevitable that at times you’ll cave to the cravings.” The best we can do is to make small changes to make our decisions easier in the future, so be patient with yourself. Research shows that, on average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit. Have healthy alternatives available to avoid feelings of guilt. She recommends snacks with high protein and healthy fats to help you feel full and energized throughout the day, such as:
- An apple or banana with a couple spoonfuls of almond butter
- Pitted dates drizzled in almond butter, topped with crunchy cacao nibs
- Raw veggies with hummus
- Crispy plantain chips with fresh guacamole
- Grass-fed beef jerky with organic trail mix
At the end of the day, it’s all about taking small steps to build a better relationship with food. Diet is deeply personal, so our hope is that you use these tips and insights to start a conversation with your body, and follow a path that feels right for you.