5 essentials to eating well: Part 1 – A balanced mindset

Eating well is partly about what we put into our mouths, but there are a lot of variables affecting the quality of your food before you dig your fork in. Over the next 5 days, as part of National Nutrition Week, I’ll be exploring 5 things that are essential to helping you eat well – I’m talking skills, actions and thought processes that you can put in place to improve your eating habits, no matter where you are with your eating at the moment. The good news is they can all be learnt, so check in each day for the next 5 days to see if you’ve got these 5 essentials down pat. Master these 5 things and you’ll be well on the way to a healthier eating pattern.

#1 – A balanced mindset 

A balanced mindset around food is something that doesn’t come naturally to most of us as we’ve had many years of media messaging and social influences suggesting to us that healthy food is tasteless or that healthy eating means cutting out all the fun stuff. There’s a constant revolving door of fad diets telling us to cut out this, that or the other and people pushing their idea of healthy eating at us through cookbooks, television shows, kitchen gadgets and new food products . It’s not hard to end up being confused about what a healthy, balanced diet involves.

The problem with focussing on cutting things out is that we end up overly focused on those things and wanting them more. If we focus on getting in the wide range of foods that we need first and allow ourselves some treats alongside the essentials, most of us end up eating in a much better way.

Unfortunately there is no quick and easy solution, although there are a never-ending number of products or diets promising us a quick fix! This may be tempting to most of us, but when it comes down to it it’s best to get back to basics. When we don’t eat in a balanced way it makes it harder to provide our bodies with the broad range of nutrients that it needs to function well. Without the building blocks and foundations that the body needs, we can end up feeling sluggish, tired, foggy and generally not at our best. When we eat to the requirements of the body it serves us well, but when we don’t it will tell us by feeling under the weather, or lethargic.

When clients come to me saying they are lacking energy or ‘oomph’ to get through the day, the first thing I look at is whether they are eating in a balanced way and more often than not they are missing something in their eating habits – cutting out carbohydrates (the preferred source of energy for the body) or not getting enough vegetables are the main ones that I see regularly. Correcting these issues usually shows great improvements in energy and concentration levels as well as general well-being.

Use the checklist below to see if you need to work on this skill – if you do, check out the ideas for working on your balanced mindset and commit to trying 1-2 of them over the next week (and let us know in the comments below).

You’ve got a balanced mindset for food if:

  • You see foods as ‘everyday’ & ‘sometimes’ foods rather than ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
  • You aim to get in a wide variety of foods each day or week without cutting out any of the major food groups.
  • For the most part, you focus on nutrient-dense foods that fuel your body efficiently, but know that it is fine to include treats sometimes too.
  • You know that it is alright to like or dislike any particular food and that food is a personal choice and something to be enjoyed.
  • You know that nutritious food can be delicious, interesting and exciting (and can list your favourites!).
  • You know that there are no miracle foods that will ward off or cure all diseases and that the best way to do this is to eat in a healthy, balanced way.
  • You don’t get carried away with the latest fad diets or media reports on foods to eat or avoid.
  • You enjoy what you’re eating and aren’t overly restrictive.

Not there yet? Try some of these ideas:

  • Brush up on the food groups: Think that chocolate is it’s own food group? Get to know the real 5 food groups that provide the body with the energy and nutrients that it needs here and go here to calculate how many serves you need each day from each of these groups.
  • Mindful eating: This is the practice of slowing down and eating with all of the senses. For many of us, eating is something that we do without really paying attention to it. When we slow down and really focus on our food it helps us get more in touch with our hunger and fullness signals and get more enjoyment out of our food. Want to know more? Here’s a summary of the concept.
  • Know your likes & dislikes?: I haven’t come across many people who love every single food! Knowing your own likes and dislikes and being honest with yourself about what they are is a good first step to being comfortable with including more of your likes and less of your dislikes. It allows you to shake the social assumptions about food and get more in touch with your own real feelings about different foods. This isn’t a license to eat solely treat foods, so make sure you fill your list with foods from all of the food groups. Can’t think of a vegetable that you like? Try some new ones, or cook familiar ones in new ways – and make sure that you’re eating mindfully (see above).
  • Food rules mind dump: If you are following a lot of ‘rules’ around food it can help to do a bit of a mind dump and write them all down. Sit somewhere quiet and have a deep think about any rules or restrictions you are putting on yourself when it comes to food. Seeing them in black and white on paper can help you to rethink your assumptions and assess your thought processes when it comes to food. Once you’ve written them down, think about why you are subscribing to each rule and whether it is actually helping or hindering your health (mental and physical). Got lots of rules and not sure if you need to be following them? It might be time to see a dietitian to touch base about how you are eating (see below).
  • See a dietitian: If you need some help moving towards a balanced eating mindset, or getting in a more balanced eating pattern, consider seeing an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). You don’t need a referral to see one in Australia, so search here to find one near you and contact them directly. If you have a chronic health issue (such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes), you may be eligible for subsidised visits, so check with your doctor first.

Mastered this one? Come back tomorrow to find out the second essential element to eating well!

#2 – Basic cooking skills

#3 – Creativity

#4 – Planning ahead

Need to work on this one? Share how you’re going to do it by commenting below.

Image source: Ambro on

What do you think?