It’s 2k17 ladies and gents, and signs of New Year’s resolutions are everywhere to be seen. Sales of exercise bootcamps, organic kale and un-pronounceable weight loss supplements are up, and intent to consume sugar, fat and UberEats is down. Although it is a new year, I’m hearing a lot of people making the same health resolutions- to “lose 5kg” and “quit sugar”- they’ve set (and consistently abandoned by February) for the past five years.
As an observant realist, I can’t help but think a shift in focus is needed. I can’t help thinking that shifting away from strict, numerical goals about calorie intake and weight-loss, to achievable goals about building a mentally healthy relationship with food might be the key to the most successful and tastiest health resolution yet.
To test my dietary hypothesis, I asked Brisbane based nutritionist and founder of Wholesome Habits Rachel Mackey for her perspective on restrictive vs non-restrictive eating.
“Our society has created an umbrella of rules and guilt regarding food and nutrition, which, I believe, has led individuals to go one of two ways. One, we can submit to these so-called ‘rules’, cutting entire food groups, eating only ‘healthy’ foods, exercising excessively and feeling guilty for the slightest mishap in their ideal diet/lifestyle plan. Or two, rebel against the rules, which has the potential to lead to overindulging and a lack of care in the other direction in regards to food & exercise choices,” says Mackey.
I too can relate to the submission of self-constructed food rules. I’ve forced a barista to remake my coffee because it was made of full cream, instead of skim. I’ve refused to eat lunch because my sandwich had been spread with butter. I’ve cancelled on dinner dates because I would rather eat something I know the calorie content of.
Beyond the psychological and social problems of obsessively healthy eating, is the simple fact that occasionally indulging in a food that brings joy to your soul will not ruin your health.
“We need to restore balance back into our diets and encourage mindful eating; teaching ourselves to be fully aware of the food we are consuming, making informed decisions to nourish our bodies but also letting go of guilt when we choose to indulge a little bit,” Mackey adds.
In fact, research by Tel Aviv University has demonstrated a balanced diet, that includes chocolate cake, to be more beneficial for weight loss than restrictive low-carbohydrate diet. The research team lead by Professor Daniela Jakubowicz, split 193 clinically obese adults into two groups who consumed either a low-carb diet that included a 300-calorie breakfast or a balanced 600-calorie breakfast that included a chocolate cake dessert. Halfway through the 32-week study both groups had lost an average of 15kg per person. But in the second half of the study the low-carb group regained an average of 10kg per person - while the dessert gorgers lost another 6.8kg each.
“Ultimately this shows a diet must be realistic to be adopted as part of a new lifestyle. Curbing cravings is better than deprivation for weight loss success,” says Jakubowicz in The Telegraph.
Since embracing the treat-yo-self mindset myself, I’ve found joy in drinking milkshakes, the favourite beverage of my youth I’d been avoiding for years because of their nutritionally “unideal” makeup. Not so surprisingly, the addition to my diet has not super-sized me. In fact, I’ve noticed since including more milkshakes in my diet, I feel super satisfied and the rest of my meal choices during the day are based off nutritional quality and uninfluenced by cravings.
While I’m not saying to abandon your New Year’s health resolutions, or to make milkshakes a food group, approaching a new year with moderation instead of deprivation might be the key to success, joy and more holistic health.