Ditch the Diet: Creating Your Own Relationship with Food

If you opened any social media channel or news website right now, you could easily find a few dozen rules about what you should and shouldn’t eat to improve your health, lose weight, and feel great. Mixed in with some all-natural remedies to “cure” diabetes overnight, something we all know isn’t possible.

Unfortunately, so many of these messages contradict each other— and it can be a bit overwhelming:

  • Cut all the carbs.
  • Cut all the meat.
  • Eat mostly protein.
  • Eat mostly fat.
  • Eat mostly carbs.
  • Only eat plants.
  • Only eat meat.
  • Only eat these diet powder shake products.
  • Take these pills.
  • No, take these pills.
  • Use this or this or this instead of sugar.
  • Use this instead of rice, pasta, or bread.
  • Don’t eat for 24 hours.
  • Eat every 3 hours.
  • Eat every 16 hours.
  • Never eat dessert.
  • Eat dessert sometimes…but not too much!

Ah! What the heck are you supposed to eat? And when? And how much? What’s left to eat? The only way to feel like you’re doing it right is to either eat a bowl full of air or give up entirely!

But there’s another approach we don’t talk about enough: take what is useful and leave the rest.

Experiment and find what works for you.

At the end of the day, it’s not about finding the perfect diet plan. Instead, the most successful path is about creating a relationship with food that not only improves your health but also leaves you feeling satisfied and at peace with food.

If you start an extremely restrictive diet that leaves you feeling obsessed with all the foods you’re supposed to avoid, that’s not going to work well long-term. You’ll likely end up binge-eating all those forbidden foods. That’s not peace. That’s not going to improve your health or help you lose weight.

Someone famous once said, “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.”

This couldn’t be more important when it comes to making changes in your relationship with food. 

You can experiment for a reasonable amount of time (maybe only a week, maybe several) with a clear approach to food, like eating low-carb or plant-based, and then reflect!

  • What parts of that diet worked well for you?
  • What did you learn about how your body responds to certain foods?
  • What did you learn about how you feel when you reduce certain foods?
  • What parts of that diet were too restrictive for you?
  • What parts of that diet would you like to take with you?

Experiment. When you approach nutrition changes as an experiment, you give yourself the freedom to take what is useful and leave the rest. You’re not a failure for being unable to commit 100% to a diet someone designed that works well for them.

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Creating your own food guidelines…

These aren’t rules. These are guidelines. Living a full life includes being able to enjoy fun foods with friends and family. To experiment in the kitchen with new ingredients. To indulge in a way that prevents feelings of deprivation and supports your ability to eat a healthier diet long term. 

Creating your own guidelines means pinpointing habits and choices around food that help you reach your goals, leave you feeling energized and at peace with food, and put you in charge of what’s right for you.

Here are examples of my own guidelines for food based on how my food choices make me feel and how they help me live well with diabetes.

  • I feel best eating breakfast around 10 a.m.
  • (At other points in my life, I felt best eating breakfast at 1 p.m.…but not right now!)
  • I feel best when I eat vegetables + fat/protein for breakfast.
  • I feel best when I drink only one cup of coffee in the morning, then water and seltzer the rest of the day.
  • I feel best when I eat mostly raw fruits and veggies with nuts or hummus for lunch.
  • I feel best when I remember to eat a snack at 3 p.m.
  • I feel best when I get whole food carbs throughout the day from fruit, vegetables, and legumes.
  • I feel best when I stick to very healthy choices throughout the day.
  • I feel best when I save a “less than perfect” food choice for after dinner.
  • I feel best when I eat veggies and protein/fat for dinner.
  • I feel best when I save my starchiest carb-choices for an evening dessert.
  • I feel best when I limit my alcohol consumption to the weekend, no more than 2 servings per night.
  • I do not sleep well if I go to bed hungry!
  • I do not feel energized if I eat heavy or hot foods during the day.
  • I do not feel well if I eat animal protein more than twice a day.
  • I do not feel well if I eat dairy or gluten.

These are all conclusions I’ve come to through experimenting! I’ve experimented with very low-carb eating, high-carb/low-fat eating, general plant-based eating, higher-carb eating, intermittent fasting, and ditching all the rules altogether!

You’ll notice that none of my guidelines are rules. None of these items declare that I cannot eat X, Y, Z or that I must eat at a certain time of day. 

These are guidelines—they are not forced upon me by someone else’s ideas of food or fear of failure. I know that if I choose to follow these guidelines, I set myself up for success. But I could also choose to eat a sugar-glazed cinnamon bun the size of my head for breakfast—the choice is mine! If I make a choice that goes against these guidelines, I am not a failure—but I am also not surprised when I feel less than great.

I choose these guidelines most of the time because my experiments have taught me that they help me feel great.

Let yourself experiment without fear of failure.

I encourage you to set-up a week-long experiment, and many more in the coming months. But keep it simple! 

For example, you could start with one of these:

  • Try eating vegetables and protein/fat for breakfast instead of processed carbs.
  • Try limiting your caffeine consumption to a certain amount, then switching to water.
  • Try eating no meat for one week.
  • Try eating a sugary treat only once per day.
  • Try eating at least 3 times during the day.
  • Try eliminating diet soda for one week.
  • Try removing ALL the rules/pressure you have in your head about diabetes and food and let yourself simply choose what you want to eat for an entire week. 

How did you feel during each experiment? What did you learn about food or your habits around food? How did you feel eating vegetables for breakfast instead of starchy carbs? Did you curb binge-eating habits by eating more during the day? 

Take some time to reflect without judging yourself. Think about the little details that work for you and the details that don’t. Forget about trying to make someone else’s diet perfectly fit into your life.

Create your own relationship and your own guidelines with food.

Insulet has paid a fee to engage Ginger as a content creator, however the views expressed in this article are solely those of Ginger. Before making any dietary changes, readers should speak to a Registered Dietitian and their diabetes healthcare team.