March 26, 2023

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Surabhi Talwar Sekhar, Co-founder, Happy Jars
My 3-year-old daughter looked at me scornfully at dinner one day and said “Mama, that pizza is bad for you. It’s junk.” I felt bad enough that I’d had my Friday evening treat ruined, but I felt even worse about what she was learning so early on in her life.
As the founder of a health-food brand, I’m often expected to vehemently diss pizza or aloo parantha, and stand firmly on the side of low-carb, no-oil, healthy alternatives. While I have become somewhat of an expert on nutrition labels and ingredients lists, my beliefs around food and specifically the happiness we derive from it are based on the principles of food positivity.
I’ll start by defining what a negative relationship with food looks like. If you are prone to bingeing, overeating, or feeling so full that you’re in danger of ‘bursting’, then chances are that your love for food has gotten the better of you and your choices are imbalanced. A negative relationship with food means you are often subjected to cravings, you find yourself snacking between meals and as a result you don’t give your body enough time to digest or get the fuel from your food. If this sounds like you, don’t worry, because it’s possible to switch to a more positive relationship with food.
Food positivity is not about following a fad or a diet. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Food positivity is about developing a mindful, happy relationship with food and learning how to eat well. When you have a positive relationship with food you have control over what you eat. You don’t have to ‘ban’ anything because you can stop eating when your stomach is full, and you don’t eat mindlessly or without portion control. As a result you feel healthier, you have more energy and you maintain a fitter lifestyle.
My 3-year-old telling me the pizza was ‘bad’ is a reflection of the over-simplified view of food that is being used by many so called ‘healthy’ brands today to villainize certain ingredients. Sugar, fats and carbs to name a few. ‘Stay away from all the whites’ is the advice a lot of nutritionists pass around freely. But as busy working professionals with full-time parenting responsibilities, advice like this can seem daunting at the least, and outright depressing at the most. I believe it’s important to recognise that food does make us happy. The best moments of our day are spent eating our favourite meals, surrounded by our closest family and friends. And that’s alright, because you don’t have to guilt yourself into eating quinoa salad while everyone else tucks into a burger. You just need to change your relationship with food into a positive one. Here’s how.
1. Improve your knowledge of food so you can make better choices.
For example, for similar amounts of calories, a toast with peanut butter will keep you fuller for far longer than a toast with regular butter. This reduces unhealthy snacking between breakfast and lunch and gives you higher protein intake. Another crazy example of food-know-how is that if you eat fruit whole it has more fibre which helps control your insulin spike. If you juice the same fruit and drink it, your insulin spikes more. Therefore, try to eat nutrition-dense, simple food. Whole food such as whole grain and whole fruit, is always better. Similarly, eat natural, real food made with minimally processed ingredients. Furthermore, avoid using chemical substitutes for any ingredient, least of all for sugar and sweeteners.
2. Teach yourself how much to eat, but don’t ban things.
Eating mindfully, in smaller plates, with your opposite hand – these are all small tricks that will help you to prevent overeating. The trick is to learn how your body reacts to what, and how much, you eat. Often the negative pressure of banning yourself from eating things you love takes an immense toll on your happiness. That’s a mistake because food is not the enemy. It is our choices around food that make our consumption of them positive or negative to our health.
3. Focus on ingredients, not calories.
Do not fall prey to the ‘diet foods’ such as meal replacement shakes or diet foods. They may be full of artificial sweeteners or added sugar. Instead, choose non-diet, whole foods such as unsweetened yogurt or peanut butter with no added sugar. Do not let the numbers decide your fitness. Calories in your meals, numbers on your scale, footstep count- these are not the best indicators of your fitness. Instead, focus on consuming the right ingredients and maintain a naturally occurring healthy relationship with food.
4. Follow intuitive eating.
Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy that rejects the traditional diet mindset and says that you should trust your body to make those choices. It promotes a healthy attitude toward food by suggesting you listen to your body’s hunger signals. Simply put, eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Become more aware of how and when you eat. Do not skip meals, or overeat. Let your natural internal bodily queues guide you as to when and how much to eat. The philosophy also suggests that you honor your hunger, exercise, and respect your body -among its other principles. To conclude, food positivity is not a short-term hack. It takes effort and time to develop it. So if you’re looking for a long-term, positive lifestyle shift, developing food positivity is essential.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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