Introduction

Hello everyone! The discussion on the table today is whether or not all foods can fit into a balanced diet. In short, the answer is YES, but there are a few things to consider.

 Most, if not all, of us, are tired of being bombarded with dietary advice from social media, friends, family, and even strangers.

As a dietitian, I want to use my expertise and experience to help guide your understanding of nutrition. I want to help you in an effective and supportive manner.

Suppose you have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or prediabetes. In that case, the question of what to eat can become more stressful.

Many articles are published about “bad foods” and often demonize things we enjoy eating.

You may need to follow some necessary restrictions if you have a specific food allergy or intolerance. Other factors like religion, ethics, culture, or certain diseases may also be legitimate reasons to limit your diet. Still, many unnecessary restrictions are regularly touted to accomplish the ‘perfect health or body.’

Individuals with prediabetes and metabolic syndrome can still eat the foods that they love, even if some of those foods may not be considered particularly nutritious. Learning balance and moderation is the key to enjoying a wide variety of foods while still achieving an overall high quality diet.


The Role of Regular Monitoring

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or metabolic syndrome, monitoring certain health data becomes especially important. Regular checks of blood sugar, blood pressure and blood lipids, including cholesterol and triglycerides, can provide you with valuable information. [1, 2, 3] Your healthcare provider can recommend how often each parameter should be tested for you specifically.

These checks provide insights about what is happening inside your body and how your food choices may be influencing your health. This can help you customize your dietary choices to feel better overall. For example, if you have high cholesterol, you may benefit from eating foods rich in unsaturated fats and fiber while limiting foods high in saturated and hydrogenated fats (like vegetable shortening).

If you are dealing with high blood pressure, you can pay more attention to your sodium intake. Steps such as cutting down portions of high sodium foods, not adding salt during cooking, or at the table, can make a significant difference. You can also learn to add flavor to foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.

If you know your blood glucose tends to run high, adding fiber and choosing carbohydrates that digest slower can help. Carbohydrates that break down in the blood stream slower can keep glucose more stable and help you avoid blood sugar spikes.

 Does that mean having these conditions means you can never have foods high in saturated fat, salt, or sugar again? Of course not; it just means that you may need to look at balancing your choices. Using mindful eating techniques can also help you consume your favorite, but not necessarily nutritious, foods in moderation.

It is possible to have a win-win between your cravings and your body with practice, balance, and sustainability. 

Image of a man's arm on a table wearing a blood pressure cuff, and a doctor's hand holding a stethoscope.

Mindfulness and Metabolic Health

Having metabolic syndrome and prediabetes should prompt us to look at our dietary habits to optimize our health and well-being.

While managing glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol with these conditions is crucial, there are more practical solutions than adopting a restrictive mindset around foods. In fact, a restrictive mindset around food can be counterproductive on the journey to improve health.

I promote mindfulness as a guiding principle for those navigating metabolic concerns.

Embracing a variety of foods, considering processing and preparation, and honoring fullness signals help us make informed nutrition decisions. In the long run, this can lead to improved metabolic health.

Even though mindfulness encourages us to think about what, when, why, and how much we eat, it is not an “all or nothing” approach. No matter how small, taking little steps is still a step towards improving our connection with our bodies and nutrition.  

Understanding How All Foods Can Fit

You are probably used to articles like, “Avoid these foods to lose weight” or “Don’t eat this to have great health.” Maybe not those exact words, but probably something similar.

So, I would like to change the perception a bit. Instead of saying “avoid this food,” I would encourage you to “introduce this new food.”

The issues I see with most diets are that they lack an abundance of variety and, in turn, the nutrients that come with them. They also tend to be repetitive, boring and not sustainable.

I want to encourage you to try foods that you have never eaten before. Even foods you may not have cared for in the past can become favorites when you prepare them a new way. Nature is impressive, and many of us are fortunate to have access to fresh foods from around the world at our local grocery stores.

Make a point to try something new on a regular basis. The internet gives us access to lots of great recipes right at out fingertips, so finding good ways to prepare new foods is pretty easy . You may discover some new favorites that are also more nutritious options. Here is a spot to inspire new ideas

You can also look for new ways to prepare old favorites. Search for recipes that use herbs and spices rather than salt and sugar to add flavor. Choose preparation methods that preserves nutrient content. Baking, broiling, grilling, steaming, air frying, and microwaving are better options for this than boiling or frying in oil.

Trying new items, using herbs and spices instead of so much salt and sodium and using preparation methods that preserve nutrients are all ways to improve your nutrition. This also gives you more space in your diet to include less nutritious options like that chocolate cake or potato chips in moderation. Again, all foods can fit.

The Benefits of an Inclusive Approach

Even though food can be a root of joy and connection, it can also be a root of insecurity and isolation. Weight stigma involves negative attitudes, stereotypes and discrimination that results from a person’s body size.[4] Societal pressures to look a certain way and the stress we feel when we believe we don’t live up to those standards can leave us with heavy emotional scars. [5]

As someone who has dealt with weight stigma since childhood, I understand. There is now a wealth of research that has demonstrated the harm that comes from a focus on weight and achieving an “ideal” body. The truth is that so-called “ideal” is a myth. We were each wonderfully made to be individuals of different shapes and sizes.

I am not denying that body weight can contribute to metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, and other health conditions. However, the pressure to achieve a certain weight to look a certain way in order to be “healthy” has backfired. This has led to restrictive diets, excessive exercise and other behaviors that work against long-term health.

In reality the focus on weight is misplaced. I am not promoting mindful eating or other nutrition interventions for the sake of weight loss. This may, or may not, lead to a change on the scale. I focus on overall health and well being which is a combination of factors, not a specific weight.

My goal is to help people manage their diet-related metabolic risk factors within an overall healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. I promote mindful eating because when we connect with our body’s cues, we can also heal our relationship with food. This allows us to foster positive habits that are sustainable and satisfying regardless of weight. [6]

Image of woman, wearing a pink shirt, looking at her reflection in the mirror and smiling.

Reduce Guilt and Shame

Have you ever been on a diet that made you feel guilty for not strictly sticking to the “approved foods” list? I believe that guilt that comes with those restrictive diets causes far more damage than any piece of chocolate cake or bowl of ice cream.

I discuss food guilt in more detail here. When you practice eating mindfully, you are ultimately in charge of the items you choose to eat.

Instead of asking yourself, “Can I Eat this?” your question would be more like “Am I physically hungry right now?” Let’s face it, we eat for lots of reasons other than actual physical hunger.

Other drivers of hunger can include stress, fatigue, boredom, excitement, social situations, etc. Paying more attention to what our body actually needs, allows us to make more informed eating decisions. Mindful puts us in charge and enables us to make choices to better meet our true needs.

Practical Tips for Embracing All Foods

Listen to Your Body

Listening to your body’s signals as you eat is a tip I cannot emphasize enough.

When you allow yourself time to interpret your body’s cues, you can respond with actions that further suit hunger or satiety.

This step can help you avoid discomfort after mealtimes and improve your relationship with food. If you aren’t mindlessly eating foods out of habit or because you are stressed, tired, happy, sad, etc., it leaves more opportunities to intentionally enjoy the things you love within an overall healthful diet.

 In short, eat when you are hungry, pause when you are full, and savor the moments of your mealtimes and snacks.

 Include a Variety of Foods

Unnecessary restrictive diets may only allow you to eat particular foods. This can make mealtimes dull and unfulfilling.

You may grow tired of the foods you are “allowed” to eat while feeling deprived of favorite items.

On the other hand, mindful eating encourages you to be more conscious about your choices. The focus is on paying attention to your actions and striking a balance.

In addition to enjoying what you already like to eat, you can try new foods that expand your diet with more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and grains.

Practice Moderation

You may associate eating in moderation with the same idea of restriction, but this is not necessarily the case.

When discussing moderation, I mainly refer to balancing the occasions and amounts of food items you eat.

For example, pretend you are a kid with a big bucket of candy after trick-or-treating at Halloween. There are different ways to eat that candy. You could go feral and eat the entire bucket over a few hours. This will likely leave you feeling tired, nauseous, and guilty.

On the other hand, you could choose to eat a few of your favorite pieces for that night and store your candy to eat over the next few days, weeks, or months. Then you have more time to enjoy the candy.

When you eat candy mindfully, you can simultaneously enjoy the experience and avoid the guilt and discomfort of eating too much in too little time. This is an example of practicing moderation. Which is an element that I emphasize with individuals that wish to improve their dietary habits.

In contrast, if you were following a restrictive diet, you might only be “allowed” to keep the raisins or fresh apples you were given.

You would have to give away or throw out the rest of the candy. For most kids, that would be an awful experience.

Restricting yourself forces you to cut something entirely off without exceptions. However, moderation allows you access to all foods while encouraging balance. This will enable you to enjoy the food without feeling the common adverse effects of overeating. 


Conclusion

Now, think about this.

You sit at the table with new foods as well as old favorites, pause to pay attention to your body’s hunger signals, and think about how much you want to eat before you start the meal or snack.

Then, you savor each bite while appreciating the smells, textures, and flavors.

As you take your time to acknowledge each bite you take and the nourishment that it brings, you also give your body time to send signals of fullness.

You respond to those signals and adjust the amount you eat accordingly.

This is the essence of mindful eating. Placing the time an energy to create awareness around mealtime, cultivates a stronger connection between your body and mind.

This allows you to understand how you feel after eating each meal and what changes can be made to feel more fulfilled and energized.

When you practice mindful eating and give your body nutritious foods while enjoying occasional treats, you can sustain an overall healthy eating pattern for the long term. This can lead to better control of metabolic health parameters, including cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.

It’s a win-win! So, can all foods fit in your diet? They absolutely can!

References:

1.Fundoiano-Hershcovitz, ‪Yifat, Bacher, D., Ritholz, M. D., Horwitz, D. L., Manejwala, O., & Goldstein, P. (2022). Blood pressure monitoring as a digital health tool for improving diabetes clinical outcomes: Retrospective real-world study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 24(2). https://doi.org/10.2196/32923

2. Klonoff, D. C. (2007). Proceedings of Second Annual Clinical Diabetes Technology Meeting: Benefits and Limitations of Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology (Online), 1(1), 130-132. https://doi.org/10.1177/193229680700100121

3. H, J. O., M, M. M., & H, A. (2022). Significance of Lipid Profile Parameters in Predicting Pre-Diabetes. Archives of Razi Institute, 77(1), 277-284. https://doi.org/10.22092/ARI.2021.356465.1846

4. Weight Stigma.World Obesity Federation. (2023, October 17). https://www.worldobesity.org

5. Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2010). Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 100(6), 1019-1028. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491

6. Nelson, J. B. (2017). Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectrum : A Publication of the American Diabetes Association, 30(3), 171-174. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0015

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