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Monday 26 September 2016

'There's always room for cake in a balanced diet,' says top nutritionist Karen Coghlan

Karen Coghlan

Published 29/04/2015 | 14:51

African woman eating spoon of sugar
African woman eating spoon of sugar

Being in good health means being in a state free from illness or injury. But it's not just physical. Our health, as a whole, also includes our mental health and emotional wellbeing.

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It is well known that our food choices contribute largely to our physical state. By choosing nutrient dense, whole and minimally processed foods, we can fight diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer.

However, what may be not so obvious is that our food choices, our behaviours, and even our choice of language around food, largely affect our mental wellbeing also.

In order to lose weight, the typical dieter's mindset is to give up sweets, chocolate, crisps, cake, ice-cream, and white bread. In other words, all nutrient-less or "bad" foods.

Women who feel stressed find it harder to lose weight
Women who feel stressed find it harder to lose weight

But this isn't necessary.

We can still eat some cake and reach our goals. We simply eat some of the cake, some of the time, instead of all of the cake, all of the time.

For that matter, there is no such thing as "bad" or "good" food either. Our food choices do not hold any moral values. We either make choices that are conducive towards our goals or we don't. And, of course, it is ok to make food choices, some of the time, that are not completely based purely our fat loss goals.

We can and should make some food choices because we enjoy the taste, the texture, how it makes us feel, and because it gives us great pleasure.

For example, chocolate cake is neither good nor bad. Sure, if we ate nothing but cake, then this would be unhealthy, but the cake should be considered in a holistic way as part of our overall diet.

On the other hand, if we ate nothing but green vegetables, then our diet would be lacking essential macronutrients, such as protein and fats, and this would be equally as unhealthy as eating all the cake, even though vegetables are inherently considered "good".

We need to look at our eating behaviours on a whole instead of taking our food choices out of context and labelling them as "good" or "bad".

BAD equals shame

If we eat "bad" foods, then we are instilling a belief that we did something wrong or immoral. The use of our language may seem trivial, but it can be problematic if it results in feelings of guilt or self-righteousness over our food choices.

We can feel guilty if we eat too much "bad" food, or alternatively, we can feel a sense of superiority if we have eaten "good" food.

This style of black or white thinking inevitably leads to emotional distress as feelings of guilt set in. Or worse still, you can experience shame because you have led yourself to believe that you have strayed from your dietary goals.

Using phrases such as "I've been so bad" can imply a sense of being a bad person and a sense of shame, which can lead to diminished self-worth and poor mental wellbeing.

It's also a very rigid approach to food and, actually, balance is what we should strive for when it comes to eating, that includes cake.

WOULD YOU RATHER?

If your eating behaviours and food choices have been positive overall - ie plenty of whole and minimally processed foods such as lean meats, fish, veggies, nuts, seeds, some diary, and whole grains - then there is absolutely room to include fun foods that we enjoy to eat, regardless of their nutrient-less content.

For example, would you rather (a) a Cadbury's Dairy Milk Caramello or perceived "healthy" option (b) yogurt raisins as a treat?

If you look at their nutrition profile, they have very similar amounts of calories, protein, sugars, and fats per serving. Both are high in sugars and hydrogenated fats.

The only difference is that the yogurt raisins are less processed than the chocolate and contain slightly more micronutrients due to the raisins.

However, if you prefer the chocolate over the raisins as a treat because you would enjoy it more, then buy the chocolate.

Don't choose to buy the yogurt raisins just because they are sold in the health-food aisle and that they are the "better" option. Because really they are not.

If you are choosing the chocolate bar as a treat - a fun food that we enjoy from time to time - then don't worry about the processed ingredients, and enjoy every last lick of the melted chocolate as you dunk it in your tea, guilt-free.

Allow yourself treats or fun foods about 10pc of the time, without the moral label, regardless of their nutritional value, and regardless of whether you have a fat loss, health, or sports performance goal, and watch the mental struggle disappear.

Karen is a nutrition coach and personal trainer and runs online group nutrition coaching programmes. See www.thenutcoach.com or email karen@thenutcoach.com.

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