Why Gratitude Is Better than a Diet

Why Gratitude Is Better than a Diet

The rules of healthy eating are pretty well documented. To paraphrase Michael Pollan: eat a lot of plants. But what happens when the rules themselves become the enemy? “You can eat all of the salads in the world, but if you’re obsessively monitoring your food intake—if you’re stressed and anxious—your body isn’t going to function optimally,” says nutritionist Jessica Sepel.

The Australian native knows firsthand how un-optimal that functioning can be. “I battled through ten years of disordered eating, from my early teenage years to my early twenties,” she says. “My life revolved around food. It was exhausting.”

Then Sepel began studying nutrition academically—and gradually, she adopted a gentler approach. Sepel developed a relationship with food that didn’t involve stress or shame—without letting go of her commitment to eating well. Which, she might suggest, has as much to do with the joy that dinner provides as it does with the amount of vegetables on your plate.

4 Tools for Heathy Eating without Obsession

1. The most important thing you can do for breakfast has nothing to do with breakfast. When it comes to disordered eating, in my personal and professional experience, it’s never about the food. There are deeper emotional issues at play. Explore what might be the cause; chatting to a loved one or seeking the advice of an experienced therapist is a great first step. Consider your internal chatter and the thoughts you have. You’re worthy of feeling healthy, energetic, and vibrant. I’ve found that developing a self-love practice is a powerful tool for transformation. Every morning when you wake up, think of three things you’re grateful for. Look in the mirror and say kind things about your body. Even something like “I thank my legs for walking me around every day” or “I thank my heart for pumping blood every day” can help shift your mentality. When we start thanking our bodies for how hard they work, we see that it’s not just about how they look. Focus on feeling good on the inside and everything will follow.

2. Bake a batch of hazelnut brownies. Each week, I make healthy treats to keep on hand. Whether it’s hazelnut brownies, banana “nice” cream, cinnamon swirl muffins, or protein balls, there’s always something delicious in my fridge. Living a healthy life is not about doing something “perfectly.” It’s about treating our bodies and ourselves with kindness. From personal and clinical experience, I’ve found that being too strict backfires. When we deprive ourselves of food, we often end up bingeing and then feeling guilty for doing so. This causes us to be stuck in a vicious cycle. Foods aren’t good or bad—they’re just foods. Relieve the pressure. Once you do, you’ll start to relax and adopt a different approach to food.

3. Indulge—with wisdom. I use food to nourish my body. It’s the best act of self-love. A typical day on my plate contains a balance of the four essential macronutrients: protein, fiber, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Each day, I have three main meals with two smaller snacks in between. I’ve found that this reduces overeating at main meals and emotional eating after long days. I love my greens and try to fill half of my plate with greens for lunch and dinner. So I follow the 80:20 rule: 80 percent of the time, I eat nourishing whole foods. The remaining 20 percent of the time, I allow for flexibility and indulgence. I love a glass or two of wine on the weekends, dessert after dinner or a scoop of hazelnut gelato. I believe in everything in moderation while eating with joy and mindfulness.

4. Slow down. Pull up a chair. And take a beat. Indulge in your favorite foods mindfully. Ensure that you’re sitting and that your food is served on a plate, and try to eat slowly. Savor the taste and texture of your food. Know that your body is capable of digesting and metabolizing what you’re eating. Your body is strong. Trust it.

Jessica Sepel is a clinical nutritionist, a bestselling author, an international health blogger, and the voice behind JSHealth and @jshealth. She is passionate about helping people overcome fad dieting and disordered eating, having gone through her own struggles with food. Her philosophy is focused around balance, rest, and building a healthy relationship with food. She recently launched the JSHealth App, which features a nutrition clinic, hundreds of healthy recipes, a daily meal planner, health guides, body-love support, and much more.