March is Nutrition Month

March is Nutrition Month

By PSP Health Promotion Services,

Each year, Nutrition Month is recognized in March. Your Health Promotion Team makes nutrition a top priority, focusing on education, resource development and local initiatives, to further your knowledge on the importance of nutrition and your health. To start off a month of nutrition conversations, below are the top three questions your Health Promotion Team has been asked this Nutrition Month:

What does it mean to ‘be mindful’ of your eating habits? 

Canada’s Food Guide states that part of healthy eating includes being more mindful of your eating habits. Every day, we make choices about what foods we eat, when we eat them, and how much we eat. These decisions are impacted by external cues, such as your physical surroundings and social environment, and internal cues, such as hunger, fullness, and emotions. Both internal and external cues will always be present – what’s important is how we respond to them.

Mindful eating doesn’t impose rules or guidelines about what or how much to eat, but instead, teaches that you are the one who should make those choices, and only you know what is best for your body. Being more mindful of your eating habits means paying more attention to your food decisions, and what leads you to making those choices. This involves listening more to our bodies, such as responding to our cues for when we’re feeling hungry and full, and becoming more aware of the physical and emotional cues that impact our eating habits.

With mindful and intuitive eating, it’s important to acknowledge that traditional diets don’t work, especially in the long run. Instead, they lead to body dissatisfaction, weight stigma, and often even regaining weight. Eating mindfully is basically the opposite of a traditional diet. We must recognize that no food is inherently “good” or “bad” – food has no moral value! Make peace with food of all types, knowing that all food fits in a balanced diet.

 Another key to intuitive eating is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. This is one of the hardest parts, but is very important. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings, and often, binge eating. Instead, allow yourself to eat and enjoy all foods. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, not something we do just to stay alive. When you allow yourself to eat what you really want, and enjoy every bite, over time you’ll see that it takes much less food to satisfy a craving or to decide you’ve had enough – perhaps a small piece of chocolate is now enough (rather than a whole bar), because you know you’re allowed to have more at any point in the future. That fact that the food is no longer off limits takes away the need to overindulge, and enables you to enjoy your food rather than feeling guilty. 

CAF members participate in the PSP Health Promotion Cooking class held at the Royal Artillery Park on January 30, 2020.

All humans are born with the ability to eat mindfully. Babies instinctively know when they are hungry and full, when it is time to eat, and what tastes good. They let these instincts guide their eating. Unfortunately, this inner wisdom often becomes clouded as we age by years of exposure to diet culture and food myths. “Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” may sound like common sense, but when you have a history of dieting, ignoring your hunger cues, or following rigid “healthy eating” rules, mindful eating becomes very difficult.

Although it takes time and practice, as you become more mindful about your eating, you should find that you will develop a healthier relationship with food, mind, and body.

 What does “healthy eating” really mean? 

In a world of social media, healthy eating is often portrayed in a pristine kitchen, on a bright white plate with a meal presented like would see at a fine dining restaurant. Also scattered through social media accounts are photos of meal preparation – glass containers perfectly packed with fresh produce and local meat, meant to be consumed throughout the work week.

Healthy eating is not just about the way that the food is presented on the plate, or about having a hot, prepared meal for every lunch at the office – although, both are aspects of Canada’s Food Guide, including preparing meals at home and cooking more often. Healthy eating is individual for each of us – what is healthy eating for me may be different than what healthy eating is to you! This is why Canada’s Food Guide is designed to be flexible and relevant to each and every one of us.

Healthy eating is a pattern that supports your best possible physical, mental and emotional health. It includes having a positive relationship with food, enjoying your food and feeling comfortable and satisfied after eating without feeling guilt or shame. Healthy eating can simply be filling half your plate with fruits/vegetables, a quarter with grain and a quarter with protein, or these portions can be combined into making a soup or stew, a sandwich, or a casserole.

Healthy eating is entirely what you make it. Those of us who may want to express our creativity can prepare our plates with an array of colourful fruits and vegetables paired with plant or meat-based protein, flavouring with a variety of spices from your cabinet. For some of us who prefer simpler meals, frozen or canned vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, and can be prepared easily by roasting, boiling, sautéing or even microwaving.

Finally and most importantly, healthy eating is also all about balance. We nourish our bodies by consuming nutrient-dense foods, providing us with essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to maintaining body functions, while also allowing for treats and sweets – even if they are higher in calories, fat or added sugars. The key is eating them in moderation and balancing them with healthier foods the majority of the time.

What are the benefits of cooking at home more often?

Cooking at home more often has many benefits, and supports a wide variety of healthy eating habits.

First, cooking your own meals is often a healthier option because you have control over what ingredients you use, and how much. Processed foods, as well as the food from some restaurants, are often high in salt, saturated fat, and/or sugar. When you cook at home, your meals will likely be much lower in these ingredients, which helps to improve your overall health. You also have the flexibility to choose healthier ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins.

Saving money is another benefit of cooking at home. Eating out or ordering take out is expensive, and adds up quickly. While it is certainly nice for a treat, it may not be financially sustainable in the long term. When you cook your own meals, you can save money by buying in bulk and using similar ingredients in your recipes, choosing meals based on sale items, and ensuring that your portions are appropriately sized so you aren’t wasting food and money.

Cooking at home also allows you to enjoy cooking and eating your meals with your family, roommates, or friends. The experience of cooking with others gives you the opportunity to learn new kitchen skills, try new foods, and enjoy the process of food preparation through quality time with loved ones. Studies have shown that people of all ages eat better when they share a meal with others.

Overall, there are many proven health benefits to cooking at home more often. You can eat healthier, save money, and learn to enjoy the cooking and eating process with others.