When we think about what defines a “healthy meal,” we’re often bombarded inundated with ideas of stark white bowls filled with crispy veggies and topped with a luscious serving of protein. This version of “healthy” stems from diet culture, a system of beliefs that idolizes weight loss. To learn more about diet culture, especially as it pertains to the dance industry, click here. Through the lens of diet culture, “healthy” is dangerously oversimplified, whitewashed, and rooted in elitism.
What Is a Healthy Food?
In regard to food, a “healthy” choice looks different for every individual and is largely impacted by cultural norms along with environmental and financial access. As a dietitian and licensed expert in nutrition, I can confidently say that a crisp green salad topped with a source of protein might not be the “healthiest” choice for every dancer. Sure, a bowl of freshly sauteed veggies is a nutrient-packed choice. But if the only option available is a value meal from a fast-food establishment, then that is the healthiest choice to supply the body with the energy it needs to function.
But there is one aspect of a “healthy” meal that can, most often, stay consistent and that is balance. This involves the inclusion of each macronutrient- carbohydrates, protein, and fat, which collectively work to support the body’s vast complexities. To learn more about the role of each macronutrient in a healthy (and balanced) meal, check out these articles:
What Is Satisfaction?
There is another component to a “healthy” meal that oftentimes takes a back seat when we’re hyperfocused on the nutrition of our meals and that’s satisfaction. Ever find yourself staring at the bottom of the salad bowl wondering where it went? Perhaps you wanted pizza, but instead, you chose the salad for the sake of health. Amongst the chatter in the wellness world, we often prioritize nutrition before personal preference.
I consider satisfaction the fourth macronutrient of your balanced plate. However, it’s important to realize that the ability to prioritize satisfaction is a privilege and is not a necessary step in the process of eating intuitively. If this priority is not available (due to time, financial, or environmental constraints) then your “healthy” will always be to prioritize your biological needs. We’ve previously discussed how to identify biological hunger and what to do when you want to eat simply because you enjoy the taste of a particular food or because food is available. To learn more, consider these helpful articles:
The Importance of Satisfaction
Though satisfaction might not provide the “energy,” “muscle-building,” or “immune-boosting” physical benefits of the other macronutrients, personal preferences help to cultivate a connection between you and your food. When we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat the foods that we have a taste preference for, we’re more inclined to eat any and all foods mindfully. From here, we can work to lessen learned feelings of guilt, stress, and anxiety- all of which have no place in our eating experiences (you can read more about food guilt here).
To choose foods that satisfy, consider the following steps:
- Make food choices, not food rules. Click here to learn more.
- Include a source of fat in your meals and snacks. The mouthfeel of fat directly promotes satisfaction. Click here to learn more.
- Aim for a healthy body weight (read more about it here). If your body fat is too low, you’ll risk hormonal imbalances specifically relating to leptin, your “feel full” hormone. Leptin deficiency is known to result in chronic and insatiable hunger.
- Challenge the concept of “eat in moderation” (read more about this here).
Though it seems like a simple task, understanding what enough feels like can be challenging within the context of diet culture. In regard to food and portions, the bar has been set low for what we are told to be “enough.” External rules that dictate the “right” portions override our ability to listen and trust our internal wisdom for deciding what enough truly feels like. If you’re accustomed to strict rationings of food, such as with rigid portion control, food measuring, or food weighing, then you’re likely to be further away from discovering what is truly enough. To discover your personal enoughness, you’ll need to create a mindset of abundance, not scarcity. You’ll also need to start practicing unconditional permission (a topic I break down here).
The Bottom Line
Consider this fourth macronutrient (satisfaction) and honor your personal preferences and taste hunger. Experience the tastes and textures of your meals. If you do this without judgment or criticism, you’re better equipped to listen to your body. Learn more about mindful eating here. You may feel full sooner and as a result, be more likely to go home with leftovers. Including satisfaction as part of your balanced plate will help you to find an intuitive “moderation…” not a forced one!