Welcome back to episode number 3 of the Balanced Vibes podcast!
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Today’s episode is about eating in a balanced way.
I’m so grateful that you’re here. I know that there are plenty of other things you could be doing but you chose to be here, so thank you!
Today we're talking about balanced diet and how to eat in a balanced way.
Theres so much information out there on how to to eat right, so no wonder we end up confused…
A few years ago I gave a presentation at one start up company’s wellness days. I asked the participants what a balanced diet and fitness looks like for them, and they said:
I lose weight.
Unfortunately, that’s what most of us think. But it’s not that simple. Many of us have experienced how our diet or workout routine helped us lose weight, but wasn’t actually the healthiest for us.
Here’s what we’ll cover in today’s podcast:
- What balanced eating looks like and how to eat in a balanced way
- Why many diets aren’t balanced and therefore, don’t work in the long term
- How to create your own balanced diet. You’ll learn how to put together your personal diet that is balanced, so that you no longer care about how other people eat
- If it’s necessary to weigh and measure and track your food, in order to eat in a balanced way
- What to think about food restrictions: Are they ever necessary, or are they always a bad thing as the anti-diet culture claims?
What Does It Mean to Eat In A Balanced Way?
There are so many angles from where we can approach this question. In my opinion, there are at least four sides to it:
Nutritious Foods + Fun Foods
In order to eat in a truly balanced way, there has to be room for both nutritious foods and fun foods, with the focus on nutritious foods. Nutritious foods are the ones that grow in nature, plus the healthy proteins and fats. Fun foods are the ones that aren’t necessarily nutritiously dense, but are the things we like to have, like cookies, chocolate etc. These foods should have their place in a diet because if we restrict them, we start feeling deprived.
The majority of our diet should consist of nutritious foods. Food freedom is a great thing and I’m a big advocate of it, but eating too many fun foods simply isn’t great for our health and won't make us feel good.
In order to eat in a balanced way, it’s important to eat all three macronutrients: Proteins, fats and carbohydrates. How much of each one depends on each person. Some people prefer higher fat, others higher carb diets. And there are many variations in between.
In general, active people should definitely not limit their carbohydrates too much. Cutting any macronutrient super low is not helpful. For example, right now the Keto diet is super popular, but cutting our carbs to 25 grams or so per day is not reasonable for most people.
Balancing Blood Sugar
High-low blood sugar rollercoaster can cause us a lot of trouble, like insulin resistance and diabetes down the line. If our blood sugar goes high and then drops suddenly, it also makes us crave more sweets and more coffee…
There’s nothing wrong with eating chocolate or drinking coffee, but if we need these stimulants constantly, that can lead to more cravings and issues with blood sugar. When we keep our blood sugar stable, we feel better. I’m going to share my experience with balancing blood sugar and how it improved my health, a little bit later in the episode.
Balancing Caloric Intake
This is another critical step to take if we want to eat in a balanced way. I believe that most of us have tried going on extremely low calorie diets to lose weight. A lot of times, the recommended amount that you can find in health magazines is 1200 or so per day… Which is dangerous!
If you have a weight loss goal, there has to be a small caloric deficit but we shouldn’t go from eating 2200 to 1200 calories per day. It has to be done more gradually, by creating a much more conservative deficit.
Here’s another way how we mess up our diets: Calculate our BMR and then start eating below that. This is not a good idea! BMR is the rough estimation of the amount of energy that we burn every day, to keep our bodies alive. We think that we burn energy only when we work out but it’s not true. Our bodies need energy even when we don’t work out. It’s like a car: When it’s running, even if it’s not driving, it uses energy. Our body needs energy to regulate our body temperature, circulate blood etc. That’s why we should never drop our calories below BMR.
All these 4 points are important angles of a balanced diet and when we keep these in mind, eating in a balanced way becomes easy.
Why Most Diets Are Not Balanced and Sustainable
Most diets are designed to make us lose weight. At first when it happens, we get high on it: We can buy smaller clothes, we get compliments etc. But after a while, if the caloric deficit has been severe, the negative effects of it start kicking in: We start feeling more fatigued, maybe deprived, some people start even experience hair loss (though that’s not usually the first thing that happens), we’re feeling cold, we’re losing sleep, our periods get irregular… All this happens when the weight loss is too fast.
If someone has the desire to lose weight, it’s important to remember that it can be done in a more responsible way. It’s important that we eat in a balanced way and don’t create too big caloric deficit.
Here’s How Most Diets Are Not Helping You To Eat In a Balanced Way:
Food restriction. Most diets make you leave out certain foods because they have Yes and No lists of foods that you can and cannot eat. If your favourite food is on that No list, you’re going to feel really deprived. That throws us out of balance.
Macronutrient restriction. Many diets make you cut certain macros very low. Right now, the carbohydrates are the “bad guy” that are blamed for making people fat and therefore have to be eliminated (not true).
The Keto diet is currently the most popular diet and very many people are doing it. However, unless we have a real reason to do a keto diet (which most people don’t), I don’t think we should. What we’ve seen is that it often makes people feel very tired, brain-foggy, unable to focus…
A few years ago I overhead a conversation between two women at the gym.
One of them said:
I have to get back on this amazing low-carb diet! It was so good, I lost a lot of weight and I even saw my abs, I looked amazing!
The other woman asked: Why aren’t you doing it anymore?
The first one: I was so brain-foggy and exhausted.. My coworkers got really worried about me because I kept forgetting to go to client meetings, or call back to clients… I was no longer able to do my work, but the diet was awesome!
This is often the mentality that we unfortunately have. Weight loss shouldn't be the end-all be-all. This is the problem with many diets — they focus on weight loss but not health.
I’ve personally done a very low fat diet and as you can guess, that didn’t go well either. In 2007, when I joined Weight Watchers, their mantra was to eat as low fat as possible. We were allowed to eat 2 tablespoons of oil a day. Now I’m putting more oil in my salad on one meal than I used in an entire day back then! I also used the lowest fat cheese, never used any full fat dairy etc. Of course I developed a lot of hormonal issues.
As a result, I lost a lot of body fat. As we all know, women need body fat to have a working hormones and healthy menstrual cycle. Back in my Weight Watchers days, my body fat was low, and my diet had nearly no fat in it. These days, I love fat! It’s a disaster when I run out of peanut butter which just happened last night. I really eat a lot of it and I’m joking that I didn’t find peanut butter until I was in my mid twenties, so I have to make up for all the time I lost.
Most diets make us under eat. 1200 calories a day is not enough for an adult woman. There’s no way you can eat in a balanced way if you eat just 1200 calories a day. Especially if you’re active, you need to eat much more than that.
About a year ago I saw a post by a fat loss coach who said that her clients get to eat 1600 calories a day, making it sound like this is a huge amount of food. It really isn’t that much, especially when you work out, but even when you don’t, this is too low. Of course, there’s nuance in how much food exactly each individual needs, but for most women, 1200 calories a day is far too low. If I had to eat 1600 I’d be starving all day.
I remember one case where a personal trainer put her client on a 900-calories pre-wedding diet. This is extremely irresponsible. What happens after the wedding is over? First of all, this woman is not going to be very present on her wedding day because she’s just so hungry. And guess what happens when the wedding and the diet is over? She’s going to dive head first into the bag of chocolate, candy, or frankly, any food and binges like there’s no tomorrow.
Not allowing any fun foods. Everyone has their fun foods. Someone likes their cookies, I like my chocolate. Someone likes their chips, others like wine (that’s me too). If no fun foods are allowed, this is not a balanced diet. Sure, in a balanced diet, the focus should be on veggies, greens and proteins, but there should always be room for fun foods too.
I used to heavily restrict fun foods. When I was still doing Weight Watchers and running a ton, I would binge eat least once a month. Later, I would binge twice a month, and a one-day binge turned into a two day binge. I now know that all this bingeing was caused by restricting fun foods and also overall low caloric intake. This was no way to eat in a balanced way because not letting myself to eat chocolate, nuts and cheese because they were too high in calories, lead me to binge on these foods. If you don’t have room for fun foods, your diet isn’t balanced.
Saying that we can eat anything we want whenever we want, in any quantities. But what about this anti-diet approach?
I’m a huge fan of food freedom, I don’t think any food is good or bad. However, there are nutritionally great and then not so great foods. Here’s my take on eating anything you want, whenever you want and however much you want:
If you’ve been restricting certain foods for years, then yes: It’s so important that you give yourself the freedom to eat everything if you truly want to stop obsessing over food. You have a lot of knowledge about nutrition and know every ingredient, calorie and macronutrient in foods. You have to let go of those numbers.
Yes, you may overdo it at first. You may eat loads of cookies or anything else that you’ve been restricting. This phase is necessary for most people in order to recover from obsessive food behaviors, and it only lasts for a short while, not forever.
But what about someone who has no basic education on nutrition, who doesn’t know what foods consist of, what are macronutrients and calories, sugar and blood sugar and how they affect us? Can we say that it’s okay to eat everything she wants, in any quantities? I don’t think this is the right thing to do. This person may literally never eat veggies, which really isn’t that great for health. We also know that the food industry makes foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar which are highly palatable and easy to overeat, especially for someone who doesn’t know the effects of eating too many of these foods.
No, none of these foods should be off limits, but it’s also important that we don’t go into this brain shut-down mode and eat until we feel sick. That’s why I don’t think that it's always correct to say that you can eat whatever you want, any time you want, in however large quantities. There has to be a balance there as well.
How To Start Eating In A Balanced Way?
Once you figure out a diet that works for you and learn to eat in a truly balanced way for you, you never have to take other people's diet advice anymore. And that’s empowering and freeing!
Here are my tips to get started with eating in a balanced way:
Eat all three macronutrients so that you can have good energy and healthy hormones. How much of each macronutrient you need is something that you have to figure out, but you don’t have to track your macros — simply start paying attention to how you feel after eating one food, and how you feel after eating something else. Just be sure you have all three macros on your plate. Side note: From what I’ve seen, many people tend to under eat protein.
Know your physiology. You may feel great eating one food and not so great eating the other food. Experiment with it! Have a higher carb breakfast, like oatmeal, and the next day a higher fat/protein breakfast, like eggs and bacon. See how these foods make you feel, you your energy is, how your workout goes etc. You have to figure these things out for yourself!
Eat a variety of foods. Of course, eating the same things over and over is convenient and we also like some foods more than others. But if we eat same things day after day for months and even years, we start running into problems. I’ve seen a person who did exactly that, and as a result, developed a bad skin condition and lost a lot of hair because she was constantly missing out on certain vitamins.
Focus on real foods, with some fun foods sprinkled in. Not having your favorite foods is the fastest way to binge eating.
Eat enough. Under eating causes a lot of problems as you may already have experienced yourself. How do you know you ate enough? You feel satisfied, you don’t get intense cravings, and your energy is generally good.
Do You Have To Weigh And Measure Your Foods To Eat In A Balanced Way?
You don’t have to track your food if your goal is to simply eat in a balanced way and healthfully, and if you don’t have to track unless you have a specific physique goal.
I’ve created a framework that I call the 4S Method. This framework helps you to eat well and balanced, without having to weigh and measure your food. Here’s what it looks like.
The 4 S System for Sustainable Eating
The following framework will help you make food choices that that you like, that satisfy your hunger and keep you comfortably full. Remember, the 4S System a guideline, not another set of rules. Therefore, keep it in mind as often as possible, but don't let it stress you out.
Here are the 4S's:
Let's look at each one of them individually.
Our meals should be tasty. If we find ourselves eating something that we don’t enjoy, let’s ask:
Why am I eating this? Is it because I want to control calories, do I believe that this meal helps me lose weight, or is there another reason why I’m eating something I don’t like?
Savoring our meals is a critical step in learning to eat sustainably and healthfully.
If you eat something and find that you feel bored with it or don’t enjoy the meal, add something to your meal (dressing, oil, some cheese, cream…) to make it more enjoyable.
Our meals should satisfy both our taste buds and our hunger. Do you know this feeling when you eat a large bowl of food and feel physically full, but not satisfied? Or the food was good, but we didn’t eat enough of it to feel full?
We want food to satisfy both, our hunger and taste buds.
Our meals should support us through our everyday lives and activities. For example, eating very low calorie meals or only snacking on raw fruits and vegetables, especially when being physically active, is not enough to support us. It will show as poor workout recovery and feeling low energy when exercising.
Remember that hard mental work increases our need for food too. It is normal to need more food when going through a hard work task, even if we’re physically not as active. Under eating can cause brain fog and trouble focusing.
Check in with your current energy needs, based on what’s going on in your life. Are your meals supporting your life and your activities?
In most cases, our meals should sustain us for 4-5 hours. If we find that we’re hungry 1-2 hours after eating, this meal didn’t do the job and we should make our meals larger.
Be aware that this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat when you’re hungry sooner. You definitely should!
Also, if you’re recovering from an eating disorder and your hunger signals are currently very weak or are missing altogether, then eating more frequently (every 2-3 hours) is a good way to start brining those hunger signals back to normal.
Pay attention to how many hours after a meal you start feeling hungry. If less than 4 hours, you need to make your meals larger.
Are Food Restrictions A Bad Thing?
Food restriction and elimination is a complicated topic.
Here’s how food restriction can be dangerous: When it comes from the diet culture whose only goal is to make us lose weight, without considering our mental or physical health, this can be dangerous. Many people restrict foods and say that they do so to improve their health, while in actuality there’s nothing wrong with their health. They’re just using this as a way to cut their calories and try to control their weight, usually in an unhealthy way.
On the other hand, in some cases food restrictions can be extremely necessary. For example, if someone has an autoimmune condition, celiac disease, Chrone’s disease, IBS, food intolerances, allergies… These are all real reasons to eliminate the foods that are bothering for this person. The anti-diet culture movement is often quick to judge and put a dieter label when it’s not appropriate.
How Reducing Sugar Helped Me To Get Rid Of Period Pains
Here’s my experience with cutting sugar for health reasons:
My periods came back in May 2017, after 10 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (loss of period due to overtraining and under eating) and since then, were always very painful. Every month, on the first day of my period, I had to take the maximum allowed amount of painkillers because my pain was unbearable.
At the end of 2019, I learned from the program Fix Your Period, that blood sugar fluctuations can be responsible for period pains. I got myself a glucometer and started taking my blood sugar reading before and after my meals. I started noticing how some foods, especially those very high in carbs and sugar, really spiked my blood sugar.
I eliminated most of them for the next 4 weeks, and the next period that came was completely pain-free. I couldn’t believe it!
Since then, I’ve kept my sugar intake on the lower side (while still having some treats of course), I’ve had 4 periods since, and I have not had to take painkillers.
However, even after sharing this story on social media and sharing why I was replacing sugar with monk fruit sweetener in my baking, I got negative comments from people telling me that I was promoting the dieting mindset… Which couldn’t be farther from truth. That’s why it’s so important that we don’t judge others for their choices, and keep our eyes on our plate.
Who Should and Who Should Not Track Their Food
As said earlier, you absolutely don’t have to track and measure your food if your goal is to simply eat in a balanced way. Also, especially if tracking and measuring stresses you out, don’t do it! I definitely don’t recommend tracking for those who are dealing with eating disorders, or for those who had it in the past and know that tracking would trigger old, unhealthy behaviors.
But if someone else has a physique goal and wants to track and measure to see results, and if they’re able to do it stress-free, let them do it. It’s not ours to judge.
If we focus on ourselves and no one else, all is good.
Here are the things you have to know, in order to eat in a balanced way.
- Don’t cut any macronutrient out of your diet, or cut it too low.
- Know your physiology and learn what foods make you feel good and give you energy and what don’t.
- Eat a variety of foods.
- Eat some fun foods. You don’t have to follow the 80-20 rule or the 90-10 rule. Just allow yourself some fun foods!
- Eat enough. Under eating is never a good idea!
That’s it for today! I hope you found it useful. If you have any comments, share them here!
This is the program I used to get free from my period pains.
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