So every night, shortly before bed, I will eat about 5-6 dark chocolate covered almonds that I have stashed away in the fridge.

I know…it may sound a little crazy, but it’s actually not and we will get into that in a bit!

I like to end the day with a little something sweet.  But, I don’t like to go to bed with a full stomach, so I have found that savoring these few little pieces of chocolatey goodness while watching or reading something does just the trick.

Back when I was in college, this type of indulgence would have been impossible for me to handle.  I would have done one of the following: 1. Eat all of the chocolate covered almonds and then spent the rest of the night feeling guilty for doing so.  2. Try to avoid thinking about eating any sort of chocolate covered anything whatsoever. 3.) Opt for something that was a lighter or sugar free version of what I really wanted. 4.)  Rush to the gym the next morning to burn off my indulgence from the night before.

Fast forward to today and those few chocolate covered almonds are just enough to keep me satisfied and not really wanting more.

This IS moderation.

And this example isn’t the only one I have to share of me practicing moderation with my food.  These days, I can have a few slices of pizza, a burger, a slice of cake, or a few scoops of ice cream without feeling wrought with guilt, feeling like I need to stuff myself, or being worried sick that I just ruined any or all of my efforts in the gym.

When I was younger, I used to stress like it was going out of style over having a gallon of ice cream in the freezer and devouring the whole thing in one sitting.  Now, I don’t think twice about bringing home that gallon of ice cream from the store, and it lasts us about a few weeks.

I used to always stress about eating out at a restaurant, grabbing fast food, or what would be on hand to eat or drink whenever I went to a friend’s house or to a party.  Nowadays, it’s not so much of an issue for me anymore!  I don’t feel the immense amount of guilt or stress about what or how to eat.

How is this all possible?  What has changed for me?  Quite frankly, it’s been less about counting calories and tracking macros (although there is value in knowing your numbers as well), and more about making a very important mindset shift around food.  Where so many of us women have gone astray is that we have become too attached to the numbers.  Nutrition is so much more than a numbers crunching game!  And while I believe it’s a good idea to have a general awareness on how many calories and serving sizes we consume every day, I also believe that it’s SO much more than that.  I believe we could do ourselves a much bigger favor by beginning to drop the labels of “good” versus “bad” when it comes to food, and stop thinking so much in terms of black and white.

There’s really no such thing as “bad” food.

Yes…I really just said that, and let me share with you why I think this way.  I think most of us have a really hard time tuning in to what innately works well for each one of us when it comes to fitness and nutrition practices.  We are constantly inundated by other sources telling us what to do, how to eat, how to work out, etc.  Some of which I believe is very good, useful, and practical information,  but we need to have a very discerning ear and eye because there’s a LOT of “empty” advice out there as well.  Everything has to be broken down into black or white, good or bad, unhealthy or healthy, strong or weak, fit or unfit.  Most of us have a really hard time thinking somewhere in between.  Most of us are led to believe that you can’t find nutritional success or achieve your health and fitness goals by living somewhere in the middle.  It has to be all or nothing.

An example of this came up the other day during one of my fitness classes.  One of the women approached me and asked for advice on how to eat while traveling through airports and on planes.  She told me that she knew most of the food at the airport is crap, and she was ready to pack herself some plain old hard boiled eggs, a bottle of water, and some sliced up veggies to tide her over until she arrived overseas.   Why?  Because these are the types of foods that she considers to be “good” for you. I absolutely praise her efforts, but there’s a huge piece of the puzzle missing here!

I asked her point blank: “Is that going to be satisfying enough for you?”  Her response: “Not really, but what else can I eat?  Most of the food that they serve at the airport and on planes is so bad for you!”

So we talked about it for a few more minutes and we came up with the idea of picking something up in the airport like maybe a big salad with some type of protein and ingredients that will help her feel satisfied (cheese, nuts, rice or quinoa, seeds, dried fruit, etc.), or a turkey sandwich with some cheese, lettuce, tomato, other veggies stuffed in there, and maybe a side of fruit or yogurt.

This conversation is a perfect example of the black and white thinking that sets up many of us women for failure and for an unhealthy relationship with food.  She was of the mindset that if it’s something that she really enjoys to eat then it must ALWAYS be bad for her (e.g. bread, cheese, nuts, dried fruit).

So let’s just dissect things a little bit here and talk more about these “bad” foods.  I don’t wander around with hundreds of food nutrition facts in my head, but let’s talk some general nutrition values about some of these ingredients:

Cheese. Cheese provides us with part of our daily calcium requirements; it contains some protein, and most of all, it helps to make a meal more satisfying (i.e. we’re less likely to overeat later on).

Bread/Quinoa. These are good sources of complex carbohydrates and energy for the body (especially the brain and nervous system), fiber, and some protein (i.e. more filling!).

Nuts. Nuts are a good source of healthy fats!

Dried Fruit. Dried fruit is a good source of fiber and antioxidants. They are also nutrient-dense and can satisfy a sweet tooth.

Now, would it be healthy to eat only the types of foods listed above all the time? No way!  Our bodies need a variety of foods and nutrients for optimal health.  We can’t just get everything we need from only one or a few different food groups.

If we ate large quantities of the food mentioned above everyday…would that be healthy?  No! Absolutely not! That’s way more food than what our bodies normally need.

If we ate just one turkey sandwich or one salad a day…would that be healthy?  No!  Our bodies need a variety of foods and a few servings of these foods every day, and this approach is simply a way of starving yourself.

Hopefully, you can see from the example above that labeling foods as “unhealthy” or “healthy”, “good”, or “bad” isn’t necessarily valid and it certainly doesn’t help us maintain a sustainable approach to nutrition.  Like with my class participant’s example above, many people will approach nutrition with the “all or nothing” mentality and miss out on a great opportunity to really nourish their bodies with food.  We have become so focused on the minute details of nutrition (e.g. to eat or not eat before a workout, eating most of our carbs during the early part of the day, not eating after a certain point in the evening, only eating starchy carbs on the days we workout, etc.) that we lose sight of what really matters: eating a variety of wholesome and nutritious foods to both fuel or bodies and fulfill that satisfaction factor.

Again, keeping in mind my airport food story from earlier, it’s not so much that there are unhealthy foods, but rather that there are unhealthy nutrition habits and practices.

Let’s talk about some examples of these unhealthy practices:

  • Not eating enough – I see this with a LOT with women. Most women assume that they are eating enough because they are perpetually trying to lose weight, but in reality they are starving themselves.   A few hard boiled eggs and a few veggie slices certainly seems like a healthy option.  But once again, you could be eating too few “healthy” foods, and actually be hurting your body.
  • Eating too much – On the flip side, you can be eating only “healthier” options all the time, and continue to eat TOO much of those foods. Remember…a calorie is a calorie.  Eating more than what your body needs, despite how “healthy” a food may be, still isn’t good and can result in unwanted weight gain and lethargy.
  • Avoiding entire food groups – Our bodies were designed to operate on a VARIETY of foods. Limiting yourself to only a few food groups (unless medically necessary) can be a recipe for disaster and bad health.  Again, our bodies need a variety of nutrients which can be accomplished by eating a variety of foods.
  • Not getting enough servings of fruits, veggies, and proteins – A lot of people tend to avoid these foods because they feel like these foods aren’t as convenient and satisfying to eat. Again, this falls in line with cutting out entire food groups.  If you think you can be healthy simply existing on rice cakes and peanut butter…think again.
  • Having an obsessive relationship with food – You see it all the time scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Pictures of Tupperware containers all lined up in a row containing a week’s worth of egg whites and avocado slices for breakfast, grilled chicken with steamed broccoli for lunch, and Tilapia fillets with green beans for dinner. The people sharing these pictures may seem like they have it all together and that they are the beacon of health.  However, their approach to nutrition is really destroying them on the inside, dictating every part of their lives, causing them to binge and go overboard during their weekend “cheat day”, and ultimately jeopardizing their mental and emotional health.

Here are some examples of healthy habits:

  • Eating the right amount of food for your body.
  • Making sure you are getting some protein and veggies at almost every meal or snack.
  • A few slices of pizza, some pasta, or a few slices of bread every now and then J
  • Adding some satisfaction factors to your salads (croutons, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, etc).
  • Having some Greek yogurt/cottage cheese with fruit or some jerky, hummus, and veggie slices for a quick snack.
  • Allowing yourself to have a sandwich made with actual bread.
  • Enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or a few scoops of ice cream for dessert every now and then.
  • Enjoying a few dark chocolate covered almonds every night J

Hopefully by now you can see that all food is neutral.  We need to focus more on our overall relationship with food, our patterns of consumption, and striking a balance with food.  We give too much power and control away to food if we’re constantly labeling it as “unhealthy” and “bad”.  Having this mindset around food prevents us from making the best decisions for our health…those that will allow us to both feel nourished AND happy.

If you think about it, there is no one single food that can make you healthy or unhealthy when you approach nutrition with a moderation mindset. You don’t have to completely eliminate bread or pasta from your diet, you don’t have to eat ONLY protein and veggies at every meal, you don’t need to eliminate all sugar and alcohol from your diet, and you don’t have to live out of perfectly portioned Tupperware containers for the rest of your life.    You can both be healthy and fit while eating all of the food that the “food police” out there tell you is “unhealthy”!

Still sound a little outrageous?  I promise you it’s not.  And I propose a little bit of a challenge for you to prove to yourself that moderation is possible!

Here’s your challenge:

Pick a food for your next meal that you would usually consider to be “unhealthy” and create a healthy and balanced meal around it.  For example, if it’s a burger, add a nice big salad to go along with it.  If it’s lasagna, add some veggies to the dish.  If it’s some pizza, can you add some veggies to the pizza or add a salad to go along with it?  If you’d like some pasta, how can you add some protein and veggies to this dish?  When in doubt…always find a way to incorporate some protein and veggies to your dish!

*** On a side note, if there is a food that you are allergic to, then it’s a whole different discussion. In this case, of course, the food is most certainly bad for you and you should avoid it.

Once you’ve created your meal, I want you to take your moderation practice to the next level.  Be present in the moment while eating and pay attention to the signs from your body that it’s had enough food.  Remember, we want to feel satisfied after each meal…not stuffed!

Feel free to let me know how this little challenge goes for you.  I’d love to hear about it!

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