4 Ways to Transform Your Relationship With Food

Every five years, we get a new set of USDA dietary guidelines. The guidelines are developed by experts and outline scientifically validated nutrition and dietary information for the US population. The last set of guidelines arrived in 2015, which means the next set is slated to arrive later this year.

We were curious to hear what dietitians have observed about the future of eating and overall wellness. Where is culture shifting, and what new ideas are becoming internalized within the nutrition community? This is what four experts had to say about what we should see more of in the years to come:

Mindful and intuitive eating is now taking center stage. More experts want you to focus on the process of eating and truly enjoy your food. “Start by ‘setting the mood,’” says Megan Wong, RD. “Try and limit distractions, putting away any screens and devices. Play background music if it helps, and make your dining area an enjoyable, relaxing place to be.” Wong says mindfulness is different for everyone. “For some, it’s thinking about where your food came from and how it got to your plate,” she says. “For others, it means eating more slowly, paying more attention to the textures, aromas, and tastes of what you’re eating and how you feel.” 

Thinking about how food tastes and why we eat can help us develop a healthier relationship with food in general. This goes hand-in-hand with intuitive eating, which Bonnie Roney, RD, a registered dietitian and Food Freedom coach, says is letting your body’s “inner wisdom, hunger and fullness cues guide” decide when you eat and what you eat. “Those who eat intuitively have been found to have less disordered eating, improved body image, decreased weight cycling and lower BMI,” she says. The lessons? Eat slowly, enjoy each taste, listen to your body when it says it’s full, and don’t deprive yourself.

Carbs get the fat treatment. There was a massive fear of fat back in the 1990s. This is when the low-fat phenomenon swept through the country, and everyone was following high-protein, low-fat diets to turn themselves into so-called “beacons of health.” Today, we understand there are healthy and unhealthy fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—like the fats in avocado, nuts, olive oil, and fish—are superfoods. Saturated fats—like those found in processed foods, cheese, butter, coconut oil, and red meat—should be limited in the diet. 

Today, we understand the nuance. And today, carbs are getting similar treatment, says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, a dietician and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. “The conversation is shifting from carbohydrates as a macronutrient to limit, to a conversation about which are more nutrient-rich than others,” she says.

Just like the categorization of fats, there is now recognition that there are healthy carbs and less healthy carbs—and what should be considered healthy vs. unhealthy may not be surprising to most people,” she says. Nutrient-rich carbs are whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit. Refined carbs should be limited, like white bread, pastries, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

All foods have a place on your plate. There’s room for all foods in your diet, even an occasional slice of cake after dinner or a rich pasta dish once in a while. “Carbs and gluten aren’t evil,” says Kathryn Bubeck, RD, a dietitian in Greensboro, North Carolina, and expert for InvigorMedical.com. “Some people feel better on a low-carb plan, some of us prefer high-carb. Unless you have celiac disease, there is absolutely no reason to eliminate gluten from your diet. To take this one step further, I wish people would stop eliminating entire food groups unless they have an actual medical reason to do so.”

Bubeck says the idea that some foods must be totally banned is “terribly outdated,” and there are really no “bad” foods. “Unless you’re literally eating expired, dirty, or rancid food, everything has some type of nutritional value,” she explains. “Villainizing certain foods can lead to disordered eating, and this can be a very hard cycle to break.” Enjoy it—the ice cream, the bread, the chips. Just don’t over-consume it.

Focus on your behavior, not just your weight. For so long, everyone looked at weight as a measure of health. But body mass index (BMI) is only one measurement, and it’s not an entirely accurate predictor of someone’s overall wellness, says Roney. 

“Nutrition experts are continuing to learn how behaviors, not weight, are the best predictors of health,” she says. “Weight is not a behavior, and many registered dietitians are shifting from weight-focused to behavior-focused practices with patients and clients to improve health markers such as lowered waist circumference, blood pressure, or cholesterol.” Sure, weight loss will most certainly help to reduce these numbers, but you can achieve improvements by focusing on the behaviors or habits that caused the numbers to go up, not just weight.

It is more important that you eat a healthy, balanced diet versus falling inside a narrow BMI. Believe it or not, scientists have found other numbers that have nothing to do with weight—like the speed a person walks, or the intensity of their grip—can be predictive of a person’s overall health. 

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