The Ironic Health Benefits of Allowing All Foods (Yes, Even Processed Foods)

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We’ve seen diets that promote cutting out carbs, fats, sugars, cooked foods, processed foods, you name it. The diet industry’s modus operandi are restrictions and rules.

But what if we allowed all foods? What if there were no rules?

You may think all hell would break loose, you’d gain 100 pounds and you’d become horribly unhealthy, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, there are so many more health benefits to making peace with and allowing all foods into your diet, much more than restricting them. Here are five ways that increasing your food variety (yes, including “junk” foods) can actually benefit your health, both mentally and physically.

Less Obsessive Food Thoughts

I battled an eating disorder for five years, and it felt like the more I tried to control my diet and “eat clean,” the more out of control I felt. I thought about food constantly! I would think about what I would eat for lunch as I was eating breakfast. At its worst, I would log the entire next week’s worth of food into MyFitnessPal! Going out to eat was also a nightmare. Once you allow all foods, you grab whatever you want, when you’re hungry, and you don’t give it a second thought, other than maybe how your body will feel after, as an act of following what intuitive eaters call “gentle nutrition.” The freed up brain space will lead to less mental chatter, anxiety, and fear around food and eating.

Increased Cultivation of Body Trust

Our bodies are these wonderful series of complex systems that all have to work in harmony to keep us alive; and yet, we don’t trust them to know what kinds of foods they need to fuel themselves! As children, we’re born as intuitive eaters: we eat when we’re hungry, stop when we’re full, and despite what our parents put on our plates, we eat what we want and leave behind what we don’t. Let’s tap back into our childhood selves. Fighting against our bodies only leads to increased digestive issues, yo-yoing weight, and an overall dissatisfaction with our bodies. Body trust cultivates body respect and body love.

Increased Microbiome Health

Moving away from the mental benefits, there are also physical benefits. Those who suffer from orthorexia, or a fixation on “clean” eating, tend to also suffer from digestive issues. They think it’s a gluten intolerance or Irritable Bowel Syndrome; I was one of these people. It turns out, though, that severely limiting the types of foods I would allow myself to eat was severely limiting the good gut bacteria in my digestive system! It could no longer handle anything that wasn’t “on the program.” Maybe you’ll say, “Well, you shouldn’t be eating junk/processed foods/sugars, etc. in the first place!” But, forever? If you ask me, that’s not a sustainable (or fun) way to live, and a healthy microbiome is essential for overall health.

Benefits of allowing all foods

New Ways to View Food

When we’re looking at food as the end-all-be-all of optimal health, we tend to only view it as a crucial element of survival; but what about all the other wonderful reasons to eat? What about celebration? What about culture? Sure, your great grandmother’s banana cream pie isn’t exactly nutrient dense, but that pie isn’t about its nutritional profile: it’s about your great grandmother. It’s about tradition. It’s about memories.

Decreased Risk of Disordered Eating and Dieting

As I said before, I struggled with an eating disorder for five years. It started off with “innocent” calorie counting, “innocent” steps on the scale, and escalated into eating the same five foods all week in an effort to cobble together a 1000-calorie-a-day diet, only to binge on the weekend and fuel a pattern of self-loathing. I wouldn’t wish the physical and mental anguish I felt on my worst enemy. And it’s a slippery slope. No goal weight or physique is worth it when there are so many other wonderful ways to contribute to this world other than your body.

So eat the food. Eat all the food. Savor it. Enjoy it. And enjoy your body.

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Alana Van Der Sluys is the founder and CEO of Freedom with Food and Fitness (on Instagram @FreedomwithFoodandFitness and www.freedomwithfoodandfitness.com), where she supports women who want to ditch diet culture, find food freedom through intuitive eating, accept (and maybe even love) their bodies, and reclaim joy in fitness. She is currently looking for a publisher for her first book, The Everygirl's Guide to Intuitive Eating and Fitness, that will include actionable strategies, tips, journal prompts, and her own story to freedom from disordered behaviors, including orthorexia, binge-restrict cycles, and body dysmorphic disorder. She’s also a full-time high school English and journalism teacher, a “boy mom” of one, a lover of wine and whisky, and an avid reader of all genres.

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