After almost three years of following a plant-based lifestyle, I recently started eating cheese again. At first, this made me feel a little bit like a failure, but then I remembered how much I've been craving creamy goat cheese, fragrant bries, and the sharpest cheddars my local deli has to offer. In other words, I knew I needed to listen to my body, not my brain, on this one, because figuring out how to stay motivated with healthy eating isn't about placing unnecessary restrictions or rules on yourself. Rather, it's about listening to your body's cues and actually honoring them. In my case, cheese, like any other food that might be deemed "unhealthy" by some people, is totally healthy in moderation. And according to new research, indulging in your favorite treats can definitely play a role in navigating a healthy lifestyle.
If you're also someone whose eating habits fluctuate from spinach and avo to the most delicious ice cream sundae you can find, that's totally normal. What's more, this new research, which has been published in the scientific journal Nutrients, says the occasional treat definitely won't undo the health benefits of your usual routine. Again, it's all about that balance, baby.
According to the study's press release, the researchers looked to two different studies on the subject, one of which had asked participants to follow either a Mediterranean-style diet or a low-sodium diet for five to six weeks. Then, the researchers in that study took notes on the participants' physical well-being, and asked them to return to their regular eating patterns for four weeks. After that, they re-evaluated the participants' physical health to see if it looked any different from their first, post-diet health measures.
Study co-author Wayne Campbell, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, said in a statement for the press release,
It seems that your body isn't going to become resistant to the health-promoting effects of this diet pattern just because you tried it and weren't successful the first time.
In other words, if you're trying to stick to a certain way of eating — whether it's to boost your heart health, improve your ability to sleep, or enhance your productivity — this research suggests that you don't have to be "perfect" in following whatever regimen you choose. So don't be so hard on yourself if you're trying to follow something like, say, the keto diet, but you find yourself really wanting a big ass grilled cheese one day. Eat the grilled cheese, girl. Just do it.
The thing is, if you're eating plenty of nutrient-rich foods in addition to your favorite indulgences, you'll still be healthy overall. "As long as the majority of your diet is filled with healthy whole ingredients, just about any food can fit into your diet when consumed in moderation," Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, tells Elite Daily in an email. "The important thing to remember is that you can always get back on track and start up again with your next snack or meal."
I know for me personally, it can be easy to slip into the habit of assigning a kind of moral values to foods — thinking of some as "bad" and others as "good." But it's a much healthier approach to think of what you're eating in less disparate terms, says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, a nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. "Remember that your worth is much more than what you eat; and that one food or meal does not constitute your diet or lifestyle as 'unhealthy,'" she tells Elite Daily. Instead, she explains, "it's about very long-term patterns of intake, movement, and mental health."
This acceptance of traditionally "unhealthy" foods might be hard to visualize if you tend to struggle with a balanced approach to eating in general, but one possible way to change your mindset, Auslander Moreno suggests, might be to think of yourself as the CEO of your own body. Just as you wouldn't fire a good employee for simply making a small mistake, you shouldn't berate yourself for eating something that you don't consider to be "healthy."
In fact, eating "unhealthy" meals is part of a healthy lifestyle, Auslander Moreno says. "Mindful indulgences, as my practice calls them, are an expected part of a sustainable healthy lifestyle — otherwise it would be an unsustainable healthy lifestyle," she explains.
If sticking to a specific type of diet is the only thing you're comfortable with, Auslander Moreno suggests "dipping your toes into this incredibly liberating philosophy by planning indulgences." For example, if you know you're going to a friend's birthday party this weekend, and you're a huge fan of cake, go ahead and tell yourself ahead of time that it's totally fine to enjoy the treat, without restricting your other meals or planning extra workouts. Little by little, Auslander Moreno explains, savoring treats on a regular basis can help dial down any anxiety these foods might otherwise cause you to feel, and the overall strategy will help you see eating delicious foods as a wonderful, normal part of life.
"Food is a source of pleasure, happiness, social gathering, religion for us humans," Auslander Moreno tells Elite Daily. "We should honor that with intent, trust, and balance. Indulgent meals should be truly savored and enjoyed, and then become nothing but a joyous memory, not something to ruminate or harp on."
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some delicious Gruyère risotto to attend to.