What is Healthy?
By Erin Kukura, MS, RD, UCSD Recreation Dietitian
As a dietitian I often get asked what the “healthiest” way of eating is. Contrary to all the fads out there, there is no ultimate, magical way of eating. In fact, too much rigidity and stress due to restrictive or extreme eating habits is not healthy at all and can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders. Orthorexia, characterized by an unhealthy obsession with eating “healthy” is a prime example of taking something to the extreme to the point where it becomes harmful. Additionally, health encompasses more than eating habits and physical activity. We are now beginning to understand the importance of stress, sleep, connection with others, hobbies and physical movement in our overall well-being.
Diets or other “quick fixes” are designed to be restrictive and may result in some weight loss in the short-term. But, who can follow a diet for years, for the rest of their life? And if you do, what kind of a life would that look like? The point here is that diets while successful in the short-term do long-term damage (see dangers of dieting post). And while they are being touted as “healthy” are in fact leading to weight-gain and accumulation of fat long-term. Not to mention the stress, frustration and self-loathing we experience when we inevitably “fail” the diet. Lastly, being on a diet takes away the ability to listen to our own bodies and to eat in a way that can be nourishing.
How we eat encompasses more than simply viewing food as fuel and nutrition. Eating a variety of mostly whole foods from all food groups, honoring hunger and fullness cues, moving our body, and incorporating stress reducing strategies are all associated with positive health outcomes. Additionally, allowing ourselves permission to eat “fun” foods in moderation can be satisfying and play a role in our emotional health. It’s a normal part of eating to enjoy all foods in moderation and balance. Additionally, how and why we eat is incredibly complex. We may crave certain foods because we aren’t eating enough during the day and struggling with low blood sugars, or maybe we crave certain foods and eat as a way to cope with our emotions. The point here is that our relationship to food is incredibly complicated and continuing to restrict and deprive ourselves only leads to more harm.
The takeaway is that health is complex and consists of a multitude of areas. Our food choices and eating pattern are a piece of this, but also don’t need to be extreme in order for us to gain the benefits. Instead, the behaviors and lifestyle choices we make on a regular basis actually have a pretty big effect on long-term health outcomes. Some simple lifestyle habits include: Eating regularly throughout the day, making time to catch up with friends or get outside, eating fruits or vegetables at most meals, moving your body in yoga or another fitness class, spending time doing a hobby that you like, incorporating self-care strategies, and taking a break from your phone and internet.
I encourage you to think about what behaviors truly make you feel good and what might be one small change you can make to do that more consistently. Focusing on these small, daily changes can do wonders for your health and well-being long-term.
If you’d like assistance on your journey to well-being or feel that you would like to improve your relationship with food feel free to contact Erin @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on services go to: https://recreation.ucsd.edu/wellness-services/nutrition/