To sustain the satisfying balance that characterizes the healthy indulgent life, you need some guidelines. Because this is not a diet! It's a lifestyle approach that is nutritionally informed, sensible, flexible and avoids starvation and deprivation.
Here's what I mean:
I'm not a nutritionist but I have read a lot of nutrition and diet books. I would say that I have been an avid consumer of diets and nutritional information for decades. I have watched as nutritional fads have come and go, and have watched a parade of food villains and food heroes. One of the latest food villains seem to be wheat, while eggs and potatoes seem to have come back into favor. I have been swayed away from fats, then back to "healthy fats", away from carbs, then back to carbs. I've counted calories, tracked points, and then have been told to eat as many calories as I want if I cut certain food groups from my diet completely. The journey has been confusing and exhausting, but through all the confusion and conflicting information I have noticed that sensible systems that are designed to improve health, reduce disease, inflammation and oxidative stress, and systems that offer truly sensible paths to sustainable weight management offer guidelines that are remarkably similar, consistent, and pass the "kitchen table wisdom" test. They make sense.
My approach to eating is informed by these time-honored, scientifically sound nutritional concepts
That means not eating too much, or when I eat too much one day, I eat a little less then next
Eating lots of veggies and fruits
Choosing lean proteins and whole grains most of the time
Being attentive to the nutrient and caloric density of foods
Nutrient density refers to having a lot of nutrients per calorie of food
Caloric density refers to having fewer calories per weight of food
Limiting processed or junk food
Really limiting sugary snacks and drinks
Drinking lots of water
My diet is nutritionally informed because when I choose what to eat, I find it helpful to keep those guidelines in mind. Being nutritionally informed is not the same as being nutritionally obsessed. Rigid rules and lack of flexibility is practically guaranteed to backfire for reasons you'll learn about on my psychology page.
We are all born with an innate sense to eat when we're hungry and to feed ourselves just the perfect amount of food. Yet, almost immediately, our environments conspire against that intuition. Over-feeding babies, strict meal times, food plans, having to clean our plates, forcing ourselves not to clean our plates, following a diet rule book, following a menu plan, and trying to decide how much to eat based on how much our dining partners are eating are just some of the situations which occur constantly throughout our lives and unfortunately cause us to lose touch with our internal sense of hunger and satiety. Many of us are so disconnected from our internal hunger that we don't even know how to tell when we're really hungry or really satisfied.
Re-learning how to eat based on internal cues has been extremely valuable for me, and the intuitive eating movement which counters the ubiquitous diet industry offers great promise for helping people with food and eating issues. The intuitive eating approach is not a foodie free-for-all, as it might sound. It is based on being truly in touch with your body and listening to what your body is telling you about its need to eat. When you listen to your body, you are unlikely to gorge, because your body won't find that to be comfortable. Intuitive eating offers freedom from the tyranny of diet "shoulds".
When the intuitive approach is nutritionally informed in a sensible way, it allows for healthful eating choices that make the body feel good. And when it's applied in a flexible manner, it allows for more indulgent choices when they are true choices, that is, when they come out of a place of being in control.
This may sound like common sense, but many diets put the body into a state of starvation or semi-starvation, and all diets put you into a psychological state of deprivation. Starvation is clearly unhealthy, it lowers metabolism, results in cravings and is ultimately not sustainable. Aside from negatively impacting health, starvation inevitably results in overeating, then weight gain. And weight gain that follows weight loss, commonly called yo-yo dieting, results in weight that is more stubborn than the original weight. It gets harder and harder to lose weight, and weight creeps up gradually. Study after study proves that the main result of starvation and semi-starvation diets is weight gain!
And deprivation is just not sustainable. Feeling deprived causes emotional suffering and behavioral overeating for a whole variety of reasons. I work hard to make sure I never feel deprived. For example, I do not focus on foods I "shouldn't eat" because this triggers deprivation. I pay attention instead to the whole variety of healthful foods that I enjoy eating so that most of the time, those are what I choose to eat.
Because I am nutritionally informed and pay attention to my body, and because I practice mindfulness, many of my food choices are nutritious and calorie conscious. They are truly my choices; not what I tell myself "I should eat". And because no foods, even junky foods like fries and cupcakes, are demonized, I don't feel a sense of deprivation and typically don't crave them. When I really want them, I enjoy them attentively, savoring every bite and noticing when I have had enough to satisfy me. Overall, it works out pretty well. Occasionally, I go a little nuts. And when I pay attention to my body, it turns out that I naturally go a little less nuts soon after. But sometimes I do choose to consciously cut-back for a little while, just like if I spend too much money this week, I spend a little less next week. Simple.
So you see that the ability to pay attention to your body and to be mindful is pretty critical here. And I won't lie to you, sometimes a touch of willpower helps. You'll learn more about these important skills, and a few others that make this satisfying lifestyle sustainable, on my psychology page.
If you are interested in more about my strategy, click here for a few audio guided slideshows describing how I choose healthy foods, how I shop and how I cook.
If you are prone to compulsive eating, binging, have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, or if you have other concerns with your relationship with food or with your body, I strongly advise you seek the support of an experienced professional to guide you and accompany you toward a healthier relationship with food and with yourself.