Are we really looking after our bodies?

22 Apr, 2019

I was watching a cooking show a few weekends ago (for anyone that knows me, you’ll know I spend at least 60% of my spare time doing this haha!) and one of the guests mentioned something that sparked my interest:

They were talking about looking after their body, the way that they ate and how they had been eating food in abundance to do so.

It really got me thinking about what it means to ‘look after ourselves’ when it comes to the way we eat. I thought it was an obvious question, but it actually really stopped me in my tracks. When I got down to it, trying to define this was really difficult.

I think this really comes down to is separating what is fact from how we feel to then see how they can work together. There was a lot of controversy over the cancer research “ob_sity’ posters and similar things, with calls on twitter that this was ‘fat shaming’ and factually incorrect. Personally, I thought that was probably an accusation too far. There is a really good saying, that we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts…

It’s not ground breaking science to state that it isn’t healthy to have an extremely high or extremely low body fat percentage. Sure, you could go through life and have absolutely no health problems regardless of weight or body fat. Sometimes it is just luck of the draw. However, there are definitely more health risks associated with those two ends of the spectrum. But this isn’t the whole story… we’re more complex creatures and much more than just our body fat percentage.

A part of health I think is also worth talking about here is mental health. I’m not an expert in mental health and relationships with food, nor have I ever claimed to be, but I do think our mental health is worth talking about when it comes to the way we look after our body. Food is more than just fuel for an outcome. Food is a social occasion, a celebration, a home comfort and I think this is why it’s important to address how we think about food as well as the physical result we want to achieve.

For me, there is a time and a place for things like tracking calories and macros. There’s a balance between the result and the resulting behaviours in working with helping anyone with their nutrition. I do think that you can achieve the result and foster a really positive relationship with food at the same time. However, if the result becomes the only thing that matters and food becomes a crutch or something that causes stress then it has a much higher likelihood of moving people further away from a healthy relationship with it.

This is where the idea of looking after ourselves and the way we eat gets complicated. Even when we consider those things, does that mean it has to mean that to look after our body it means we have to eat in abundance? Or does it mean we have to look a certain way? Or disregard body image all together? I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

I’m still not sure I could give a clear cut definition of what it means to look after our body in how we eat because of how individual that could be. However, I think this is a pretty close stab at it: I would consider looking after yourself as something between nourishing your taste buds and also nourishing a balanced relationship with food.

The ways we go about achieving this are completely individual and of course it’s a lot more nuanced that just saying ‘ok, I’m going to do that now!’. We are human after all. But I do think we should be considerate in the way we approach the way we eat.

Ultimately, this will probably look a little different for all of us…and that’s absolutely fine. 

So where do we go with all of this?

In all honesty it’s hard to give a definitive answer to that, but I do think a few conclusions can be drawn that may be worth some thought in how we approach how we eat what we eat.

Firstly, I do think you can look after yourself and ‘diet’ at the same time. Whilst I think the culture of anti-fad-dieting is a brilliant thing, it can go too far if we are looking at the bare bones facts of what is considered physiologically healthy and what isn’t. As I said before, yes there are outliers to this but remember that is the small minority. If done correctly, I firmly believe you can get the best of both worlds and many people may well benefit from reducing body fat or increasing muscle mass (it’s not all about losing weight/fat in the fitness industry all the time!) in terms of confidence too.

I also think a lot of us have lost touch with what it really means to eat intuitively. The idea is great, but in practice there is more ground work that goes into it for a lot of people than just saying ‘listen to your body’, because our body gives us more signals than just hunger. What about all those times when you smell that delicious, freshly baked, buttered bread? (you’re thinking about it and want some now right?). In that respect, I don’t think educating yourself through learning how to control portions in various ways is a bad thing at all. If anything it forms the foundation from where you can then learn to eat intuitively.

Secondly, I don’t think the idea of rebelling against calorie restriction all the time because that’s ‘looking after yourself’ is a particularly healthy notion either. From my personal experience, eating in that way covered up for feeling pretty low when I was in my late teens and actually took me further from where I actually felt like I was looking after my body.

What I think should be considered is really why we want to eat the way we want to eat alongside an education of what the tradeoffs of various things may be. The more we understand, the more options we have available to adapt and be flexible. The caveat to that is, we need to know how to do those things in the first place. Some basic portion control, tracking, understanding of what is in food past calories all play a part in making sure we are nourishing our needs as well as our wants to keep a balance between the two.

Lastly, science and experience can go hand in hand. There is so much more to eating than just energy balance, but that doesn’t mean being mindful of energy balance and the experience of enjoying food are mutually exclusive things that can’t be married up. On the contrary, it’s when this happens that people more often than not find their sweet spot with food.

The way I hope this goes is that the fitness industry in general does a better job of incorporating these two elements in helping people to become both mindful of their energy intake and also their relationship with food. It’s not anywhere near as easy as selling diet plans, supplements or any of the other voodoo nonsense that is out there, but it’s a worthwhile quest. I’m sure as long as there is social media, people will exploit it…but hopefully the message of these two concepts can come together and help people understand both the physical and psychological sides of eating.

A note to finish up…I’m not in any way qualified to help with eating disorders, however, Jen and Ash at Active Mind Consultancy are exceptional at what they do at and you can follow them on instagram at @activemindconsultancy. What I am qualified to do is give guidance and talk people through the practical side of how to incorporate their favourite foods, manage their intake and exercise to achieve a positive impact on their life. As I have said before, I am always open to talking so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.