If I could give my younger self nutrition advice, here are 10 things that I would say to her to help her make better choices.
Between exploring different diets and food trends and managing chronic digestive health issues, I’ve had a lot of food and nutrition related experiences over the years. I’m in my thirties now and it’s interesting for me to reflect back on some of the ways I’ve explored food in my own life.
I’ve always been interested in health, ever since I was young, which led me to becoming a nutritionist. And overall I think fondly of the years I spent learning about nutrition and experimenting with it in my own life. But I definitely had a questionable relationship with food at times, too, and there’s quite a few things I’d say to my younger self if I could.
So here are 10 pieces of nutrition advice I’d give my younger self, from my teen years all the way up through my twenties.
1. There’s No Need to Track Everything
From calorie counting to writing down everything I ate, a young Meghan went through a thankfully short-lived phase of obsessing over weight and how she looked and trying to control it with food. Here’s the thing: calorie counting overlooks nutritional value, causes you to ignore hunger and satiety cues, and really doesn’t give you the full picture about what you’re eating to begin with. So let go of the tracking and focus on what matters more, like how you feel in your body through the day, eating mindfully so you can better tune in to what works and doesn’t work for you, and perhaps most importantly: having self-compassion.
2. There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Diet
19 year old Meghan was huge into the raw food movement and raw veganism. Mid-late twenties Meghan was a big proponent of the paleo diet. If I could say one thing about these times, it’s to not be so rigid with your beliefs around food. Keep an open mind, and know that there’s no one size fits all approach to diet. Not only are everyone’s needs different, but your own individual needs will change, too.
3. There’s More to Health Than Nutrition Alone
Nutrition is important, of course, but it’s just one piece of the health puzzle. Mental health, physical health, community, relationships, and things like managing stress are also so very important. If I could speak to my younger self, I’d tell her not to spend so much time thinking about food and putting all her eggs into one nutritional basket. There’s so much more to life and more to what makes us feel our best than just nutrition alone.
4. Food Diversity is Essential
When I was in my twenties I went through several years of cutting foods out of my diet because of some pretty severe IBS I was dealing with. Some foods I cut out of my diet willy-nilly on my own, and some with the help of a professional.
Elimination diets can undoubtedly be useful at times when done with a qualified professional, but they can also be a slippery slope and lead to food phobia, disordered eating, or not eating enough — all which I personally experienced as a result of long-term food elimination. It took years for me to reclaim a healthier relationship with food.
While pin-pointing certain foods was a big part of my healing journey and did help me a ton with symptom management (I’m looking at you, FODMAPs!), ultimately, my health was at its worst when I had a long list of off-limit foods. It wasn’t until I was able to re-introduce so many of them that I felt so much better. Food diversity ensures that we’re getting adequate nutrients in our diet, and it’s also essential at supporting the health of our microbiome.
5. Eat Enough Food Through the Day
Between cutting foods out of my diet or only eating a protein bar for lunch, there were so many times that I just wasn’t eating enough through the day at all. This is what led to blood sugar highs and lows ad late night sugar cravings that felt uncontrollable. Eating more food can mean bigger portions, eating more frequently, and putting a greater emphasis on protein and fat alongside meals to keep you feeling more full and satisfied.
6. Balance is the Best Approach
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition information out there, influenced by what or how our peers are eating, or feeling tempted by some promising dietary regime or 30 day cleanse. Young Meghan has certainly been there! Unfortunately, all these things do is take you away from being able to truly listen to your body, and most importantly, embrace balance.
The thing about balance is that it isn’t as appealing as the dietary extremes we hear about. Balance doesn’t have a cult following, it doesn’t make grand claims, and it doesn’t have an alluring marketing campaign. It’s just plain ol’ eating fruits and vegetables most of the time and having fun for a good chunk of it too, without worry or stress.
Balance may not be as exciting on the outside, but it’s promising in its own quiet way. It allows you to nourish and support your body while having food freedom and enjoyment in life. So embrace balance by making those green smoothies but also enjoying a cupcake when you want it, too.
7. There is No Wagon to Fall Off Of
There were many times I beat myself up over the years for not eating as healthily as I thought I should some days. And all this did was lead to me perpetually feeling like I needed to start fresh. It’s a never ending cycle! The good news though is that you do not need to eat perfectly at all times in order to be healthy. There really is no wagon to fall off of in the first place.
8. No Single Food Can Make or Break Your Health
When we hear horror stories about the detriments of certain foods or ingredients, it can seem like singling out foods as the ultimate culprit to our health issues is sensible. But the reality is that demonizing or singling out one food only leads to more fear, stress, and uncontrollable behaviours around it.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there and diet culture permeates so much of what we read and see when it comes to food, but remember that we have to look at the big picture: if the bulk of our diet is coming from colourful, fresh fibre- and nutrient-rich foods, then the pizza we had on the weekend or the cookie we’re gonna have after dinner is truly a non-issue.
9. Keep it Simple
Eating well doesn’t need to be complicated. It doesn’t need to include hours of preparation, 1000 different books on nutrition, a long list of yes and no foods, or micromanaging every little morsel of food we eat. Take it back to the basics (and what we intuitively know to be best for us): colourful fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, meats, and lots of water. It’s really that simple. The more of those foods we eat, the better.
10. Eat Foods You Actually Enjoy
There were so many times that I’d make recipes purely because they fit into some dietary box that I was trying to stick to, or because I believed that it was really good for me. But I didn’t always like said recipes, and it meant I was either still hungry or just unsatisfied overall. Eating well is so much easier when we can enjoy the experience, the flavours, and the textures — not just the nutritional content alone.
I’d love to know, what nutrition advice would you give your younger self?