food fightDoes it seem that we’ve become increasingly afraid of food? With each bite of that forbidden “toxic sugar” cup of Ben and Jerry’s, that overloaded “carb filled” spaghetti dinner, and that “sodium coma” take-out Chinese, we eat more guilt and worry, than food.

Gluten, sugar, fats, carbs, meat, dairy, salt, soy, caffeine, and chocolate; is it good for you, or bad for you? It seems that conflicting news comes at us from every direction. From the food industry, medical establishment, scientists, and the media alike, confusion is the state of most people when it comes to nutrition and what to eat and what not to eat. It might not be hard to believe, but in a 2012 study, 52% of Americans polled, believed that doing their taxes was easier than figuring out how to eat healthy!

It seems that what happens is one of two things. We either swear off most foods, and live on a diet of kale and vanilla pea protein powder (and whatever else happens to be marketed as the healthy food of the day) or, we throw our hands up in the air, and say “Forget it – this is too difficult, I don’t care and I’m eating whatever I want.”

Stress alone can cause more health issues that any food or food-like item! We have more than enough stress in our modern day lives that we certainly shouldn’t have to be stressed out about food – the one thing that keeps us alive, gives us pleasure and brings people together. While it’s true that we need to educate ourselves, find a balance and what works for us, we also need to cut ourselves some slack on those occasions where we eat something just because it tastes good!

Here are a few ways we can start:

Learn to really listen to your body. Is it hungry, thirsty, needing movement, needing some self-care, maybe a hug? Eating when we are truly hungry is a good thing; when we’re not, not so much.

Read the labels – choose items with less than 5 ingredients whenever possible. If there are ingredients that you cannot pronounce, or don’t know what they are, don’t eat them until you do. Then you get to decide if you want to put in your body.

Learn to cook, even if only a few gratifying and nutritious meals. Try to eat at home often, and if that is foreign to you, start by eating one home cooked meal each day. When you cook at home, you are in control of the ingredients and the portions.

Take a few moments to give gratitude. Say a little blessing, prayer, or acknowledge where your food came from and how many people were involved in getting it to your table. This way of thinking about food can also get you to think differently about the way you eat it, too.

When you eat, eat. Turn off the TV, eat slowly, savor each bite, and chew. And then, chew a little more. Long before our food hits our stomach, this is where digestion begins.

Dine at the table. Mealtime isn’t just something that needs to be rushed through so that you can get on to your next activity. This is an activity Very few families sit down at the table together for dinner. This gives you time to bond with family or friends, slows you down so that your mind and body can catch up and signal to you when they are full, and in general, dining should be a social and important part of our day.

Don’t eat in your car. Americans eat about 20% of their meals in the car. This type of eating contributes to “mindless” eating.

If you must eat at your desk, take a real “break” and make it an official meal. Put away your work. Turn off the computer, the phone, and take this time to focus only on your food and the nourishing aspect of it.

Practice the 80/20 rule – meaning, eat healthy 80% of the time and allow yourself intermittent indulgences 20% of the time. Depriving ourselves of some of our favorite things will cause us to stress out more, and we will either end up bingeing or filling those cravings with something more harmful than the food itself.

So whether it’s your mother’s chicken potpie, or a slice of chocolate birthday cake, when you do indulge, enjoy it, appreciate it, every single delicious bite. If we can loosen up a bit while still honoring and respecting our bodies and our health, we might find that the occasional indulgence isn’t going to kill us, and in fact, might make us a whole lot happier and a little less stressed.

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