Today is National Eat What You Want Day, a holiday created in 2015 to encourage people to take a day off stressing about dieting, and to live a little. It’s a day to indulge in your favorite foods, guilt-free, without regret.
That sounds great, but shouldn’t National Eat What You Want Day be every day? Yes, I am a dietitian, and I am advocating that you eat exactly what you want, every day.
Nutrition is usually thought of in terms of restriction. The common nutrition view is that the key to good health is limiting calories and avoiding sweets, fatty foods, and processed foods. We’re bombarded with “eat this, not that” swaps that categorize food as good and bad, healthy and unhealthy.
Of course, there are foods that are more nutritious than others. But now matter how much sugar, or how few vitamins a food might contain, there’s still room for it in our diet, and certainly more than once a year! Foods that are pleasurable to eat provide nourishment in other ways. Imagine sharing a chocolate and sprinkle dipped ice cream cone and laughter with friends outside on a hot, sunny day, connecting with family over a home-cooked dinner of cheesy casseroles and fried chicken, or exploring a new city’s cuisine on a family vacation. These are all healthy eating experiences, and definitely wouldn’t provide the same nourishment to your soul if you stuck to salad!
As a non-diet dietitian, I encourage my clients to give themselves permission to eat whatever they like. The most common pushback I get is a fear that they’ll just eat pizza and cookies all day. At first, you might eat a lot more of the foods that used to be off limits, but eventually your taste buds will habituate. You’ll get sick of the same tastes, and those previously off-limits foods will not longer be so special when you’re allowed to eat them whenever you want. Yes, there will be a point where you can say no to chocolate cake, not out of restriction, but because you really don’t want it.
Setting certain food off-limits creates a forbidden fruit effect, and you’ll likely end up eating more of those foods in the long run. One can only go so long without cookies, and when you finally do eat one, you’ll likely eat those cookies in a way that feels very out of control.
Giving yourself permission to eat all foods, you’ll be surprised to find your taste buds naturally crave variety. Yes, you’ll still crave brownies and pizza, but you’ll also crave the fresh, crisp flavors of a salad, the juicy sweetness of fresh fruit, and the nutty, hearty flavors of whole grains. And when you notice that more nutritious foods make your body feel good, you’ll want to eat them more often too.
So this National Eat What You Want Day, give yourself permission to eat that big, gooey slice of three-layer chocolate cake from your local bakery. And give yourself permission to enjoy another slice the next time you’re craving it too!
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