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Eating well without the ‘shoulds’

Nutritionist Jodie Abrahams on how to have a healthy start to the year, without beating ourselves up too much.

Eating well is about looking after yourself. It’s about doing something that makes you feel good. Eating to feed yourself in the broadest sense can be transformative, both physically and emotionally.

Much of society’s focus on eating well is on how it can benefit your appearance (and it definitely can), but I see this as a bonus that comes with more profound changes. We don’t talk enough about the life-changing benefits of eating foods that truly nourish you: feeling stronger, having more energy, sleeping better, improving your mood. And these benefits really are life-changing when you think about how they impact on your day-to-day existence.

But it’s hard to escape the prescriptions about healthy eating that we’re fed by society: ‘You should watch the calories’, ‘You shouldn’t have seconds’, ‘You should go gluten-free’. If you are trying to make positive changes to your diet, it can feel like you’re being bombarded with commands and judged if you don’t follow them.

As a nutritionist, I believe that this approach is wholly unhelpful. It can actually be damaging – and at worst it can lead to guilt, a desire for control and the harsh self-judgements associated with eating disorders. The rise of orthorexia is proof of this, where the desire for ‘clean-eating’ morphs into something altogether unhealthy.

We also need to recognise that eating ‘healthily’ doesn’t look the same for everyone. Humans are far too complex biologically, emotionally and genetically to be lumped together into convenient labels like ‘paleo’, ‘vegan’ and ‘gluten free’. As individuals, we need to find a way of eating that suits us and the way we live our lives.

So here are my tips for eating well:

  • SLOW DOWN: give eating the attention it deserves. This is a time to nurture your body and enjoy a sensory experience. Turn off the TV, close your laptop, put your phone away. Look at your food, smell it, chew each mouthful well, enjoy the flavours. Not only will this aid your digestion, but you’ll also notice when you’ve had enough so you’re less likely to over-eat.
  • PAY ATTENTION: stop, tune into your body and think about how different foods make you feel. Are you always bloated after your lunchtime baguette? Are you starving by mid-morning? These sound like simple things, but often they’re missed when we de-prioritise eating.
  • CELEBRATE FOOD: food can be one of life’s great pleasures, so connect with what you eat. Cooking a meal from scratch makes you appreciate the process and the result. Enjoy the satisfaction of creating. Make your meals a celebration and savour the food you eat.

Jodie headshot

Jodie Abrahams is a nutritionist working in North and East London with a special interest in women’s health. See jodieabrahams.com for recipes, tips and consultation packages.