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Being Too Healthy Can Be Unhealthy

Enjoying a treat is not 'cheating'.

22/10/2016 6:15 AM AEDT | Updated 22/10/2016 7:06 AM AEDT
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Eating is about enjoyment as well as fuel.

Eating well is good for our health, both physically and mentally, and in the long run the benefits are far reaching.

However, being too strict has its downfalls, too. Restricting yourself from certain foods or those you enjoy most can make being healthy even harder. In fact, Clinical Psychologist and TV Presenter, Leanne Hall, said that "being too healthy can be unhealthy".

A recent study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, found that by incorporating a 'cheat day' into the week, people were more likely to stay on track. The study found that when people placed themselves on very restrictive diets with far-fetched goals, the smallest blip could feel like a complete failure. People experienced the 'I've blown it' mentality and subsequently binged or completely fell off the wagon.

On the flip side, people who allowed themselves a cheat day felt like they were entitled to a mini break from their self control and were better able to sustain their healthy eating overall.

Accredited Practicing Dietitian Caitlin Rabel said that the cycle of feeling like a failure followed by bingeing is often due to diets having failed in the past, particularly when someone has allowed themselves a cheat or treat day.

"Following a strict diet is just not sustainable. Restricting your favourite foods is not something the majority of people can keep up long term, and more times than not this just leads to bingeing," she said.

"Restrictive diets are also a huge risk factor for the development of disordered eating and eating disorders."

Rabel notes that in the short term there are many issues that can arise from following a restrictive diet. These include becoming socially isolated due to not being able to participate in social occasions, having to have different meals than family, feelings of deprivation and preoccupation with food and diet.

In the longer term, following an extremely restrictive diet can lead to micronutrient deficiencies, disordered eating behaviours and other mental health conditions.

"Eating is something we need to do our entire lives and is about enjoyment as well as fuel," Rabel said.

"It's not a short-term thing, and so it's important to allow yourself to eat treats to ensure the longevity and sustainability of your eating behaviours."

So what advice does Rabel offer for anyone who is still hesitant about 'cheating'?

"I would advise people to explore why they feel like having a food that they enjoy, and find pleasurable and satisfying, is 'cheating'," she said.

"There's no food that exists, except if it is off, mouldy or rotten, that cannot be part of a healthy diet."

Managing your treats and ensuring you don't fall off the wagon is also about eating mindfully.

"Our world is so busy and hectic these days that we're often eating while we're doing one million other things," Rabel said.

"Stopping what you're doing, sitting down and solely focusing on eating means you're more likely to fully appreciate the food, and less likely to overindulge."

Similarly, Rabel suggests really thinking about what makes you feel satisfied.

"You're better off having a scoop of full fat ice-cream, than having a scoop of low fat ice-cream, not feeling satisfied and then eating half the tub," she said.

"If you're still finding yourself very hesitant or anxious about eating particular foods, it would be advisable to discuss this with a therapist or dietitian that works with the Non-Diet Approach."

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