Our obsession with food
Food is always a great topic, because it affects everyone very personally. The discussions in the media are endless. Media strives on the subject of food, because it’s polarizing and inexhaustible. Whether it’s fats, sugars, lactose, gluten, the vegetarian diet, the vegan diet, the paleo diet… we will never hear the end of it. It helps to think about food and how you treat your body, of course, and it’s smart to be knowledgeable about nutrition. Yet at the same time the information can be overwhelming. What we’re sometimes left with is confusion and a feeling of guilt. Am I really eating healthy? Should I be checking myself for gluten intolerance?
For many their diet is a means to identify themselves. Having special requirements due to lactose or gluten intolerance can make them feel special or provide a valve for other issues, not realizing that a change in diet can lead to severe malnutrition or worse. A person claiming to suffer from gluten intolerance might very well be suffering from orthorexia nervosa – a distinct eating disorder characterized by an excessive preoccupation with what’s perceived as healthy food. Yes, that exists, too.
Ego- versus task-orientation
So how do you judge your own view in regards to nutrition? I want to provide some inspiration how to think about food and nutrition in the first place. In sports and performance psychology we have a differentiation between „ego-orientation“ and „task-orientation“. Essentially it boils down to this: Am I doing something because of what it says about me or am I doing something because I enjoy the activity? You might be playing football, because of the attention you get as a quarterback, or you might simply enjoy the movements and athleticism of the sport. Similarly this principle can be applied to nutrition. Do you feel the need to change your diet, because of what it says about you as a person or do you feel the need to change your diet, because your body is telling you to adjust your eating behavior?
The dietary discussions going on in the media sometimes trigger the fear of missing out. Since it’s such a huge topic, should I also review my diet? With seemingly everyone around me going on a juice cleanse, should I be doing a juice cleanse, too? The first step to mental health is finding a reassurance in what your own beliefs and convictions are. Regardless of the latest dietary trends, do you feel healthy and fit in your body? How does what you eat make you feel?
In sports, athletes with high ego-orientation tend to experience higher stress and emotional instability when it comes to sports than athletes with high task-orientation. Task-orientation usually supports enjoyment, satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. With nutrition and health being such relative terms you can’t really win if you approach it with a general measuring stick. Everyone’s different. With an ego-orientation you can go through all the diets you like and impress friends and family, but it won’t say much about how healthy you actually are. As mentioned earlier, going on a gluten-free diet might get you attention at the restaurant, but it can actually be unhealthy for your body. Yet, if your are genuinely interested in the foods you eat and how your body responds to them you are more likely to enjoy the process.
So start with yourself and evaluate nutrition from a task-oriented perspective. How much pleasure do I find in selecting and cooking food? What am I trying to achieve with my diet? What foods do I react to in which way? Of course, it helps to keep an eye out for trends as a means of inspiration as long as you don’t get caught up in them. Sometimes it’s smart to listen to friends and enjoy a juice cleanse. But before you switch to a gluten free diet, just because it’s a Hollywood trend, make sure to consult a nutritionist or physician. It’s important to start with yourself first and figure out your own physical and psychological starting point.
What’s your motivation?
When you notice that certain foods have a negative effect on you, it’s probably a good idea to adjust your diet. If you’re healthy and enjoy a balanced diet, don’t feel bad about having a piece of sugar-loaded cake on occasion just because sugar is getting a bad rap in the media. Rather than thinking about food as something that requires rules and restrictions, think of food as something that nurtures your body and your senses.
Clemens is one of the wonderful optimum-you guest experts.