Authentic Health: The Intersection of Want and Need

One of the reasons diets are so frustrating, apart from the fact they don’t work, is because they’re all so contradictory. One diet says to eat low carb, the other low fat, the other high fat and the other only orange foods. 

With all this conflicting information, trying to follow a structured diet can be very confusing, causing you to try all of them to no avail. You’re not any healthier or skinnier, which were probably the goals if you were on a diet, so what gives? 

What gives is the fact that many of us are on one or the other end of a spectrum of authentic health. We’re either all the way on one side, eating only what we need and none of what we want; or we’re on the other side eating only what we want and not considering nutritional requirements. 

The ideal sweet spot is known as “authentic health,” the intersection of guidelines from the science and medical communities, and our own body’s wisdom and desires. 

The Guidelines

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) update and release the Dietary Guidelines every five years. Each edition of the Dietary Guidelines reflects the newest developments in nutrition science. We typically see recommendations like focusing the majority of our diets on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. They encourage consumption of healthy fats, but recommend limiting added sugar, alcohol and salt. While their guidelines don’t mention hydration specifically, the U.S. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men drink about 15 cups of fluids a day and women about 11 cups. 

With regard to movement, the Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of strength training. That’s about 15-30 minutes a day, five days a week; even so, many studies are showing that even just 10 minutes of activity each day can slow the effects of aging. 

What happens when we approach these guidelines too strictly

When we hear these recommendations and the benefits of them, we automatically think about what happens when we don’t adhere to these recommendations 100% of the time. We get stuck in black and white thinking. We can tend to become obsessive with these guidelines in a way that is actually unhealthy

A guideline, by definition, is a general rule, advice or outline; it’s not an end-all-be-all creed for living a life free of disease. If we take the guidelines too seriously and adhere to them too rigidly, we run the risk of becoming obsessive and restrictive. If you’ve been in the intuitive eating space for any length of time, you know obsession and restriction leads to a pendulum swing toward bingeing and/or physical inactivity, sometimes as a biological response of rebellion. If we’re so worried about meeting these guidelines, but also fight with how restrictive they may feel, the added stress and anxiety takes a toll on our mental health. While many may disregard mental health as “woo-woo,” studies show very real consequences to ignoring mental health; in fact, stress over what you’re eating and how much you’re exercising can actually cause the very things we’re trying to prevent through nutrition and exercise: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. 

How to approach these guidelines gently

Intuitive eating has two principles that detail gentle movement and gentle nutrition, respectively. In both of these philosophies, guidelines for both nutrition and exercise are loosely followed in a way that allows people to find joy and consistency in both. For example, if you hate CrossFit but feel it’s a way to get in a workout “that counts,” you may be consistent for a few weeks or months before you burn out or injure yourself, and then sit on the couch for the next six months. If you, instead, choose something you love–like dancing, yoga or gardening–you’ll be not only more apt to do it, but do it with more consistency. As with anything in our lives, the rewards of nutrition and movement are found in the cumulation of these activities over time, not a week, month or even year of them; the same goes for the lack of them. If you miss a week of working out because life gets busy or hard, or if you go on vacation and don’t follow the guidelines while you’re there, this will not impact your health virtually at all. When approaching food, approaching it gently means keeping in mind how your body will feel after a meal and keeping the guidelines in mind, but also knowing that honoring your cravings will keep you feeling satisfied and at peace. So have that pizza, but maybe have it with a side of grilled chicken and roasted veggies. Take the 30 minutes you spend scrolling on TikTok and do some yoga or take a walk and listen to a podcast. 

Start living in the “and.” Eat cake but also eat fruit. Weight lift some days and dance while cooking dinner other days. Take rest days. Enjoy the cocktail. Sweat in Zumba. Gently stretch in yoga. Approach nutrition and movement from a place of love and abundance, and your body and mind will give you love and abundance back. 

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