Want a nutritional life free from guilt? Avoid the words ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’.

Have you ever wanted that delicious piece of chocolate cake but told yourself you shouldn’t have it because it has too much sugar and fat? Did you notice that you couldn’t stop thinking about that cake after you avoided it, or that the less appealing food you ate in its place didn’t satisfy your sweet tooth?

As a registered dietitian, you might think that my goal is to tell what you should or shouldn’t eat. While it is true that fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains nourish your body, it is also important to live free of deprivation. If you constantly find yourself saying “I should” eat this or “I should” eat that, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship with food.

Here are some simple tips on how to find a balanced nutrition plan that you’ll enjoy — guilt free!

  • Evaluate your current meal plan. Are you skipping meals? Are you drinking enough fluid? Do you drink sugary beverages? Are your portions large? Are you snacking during the day? Is there a part of the day when it is difficult for you to make healthy choices? Take a moment to honestly assess what is working for you and where you can make improvements. This is the first step in making a satisfying change.
  • Plan your meals free of “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts.” Instead of depriving yourself, make a list of all the foods and beverages that are truly important to you, including those you can’t live without.  If your favorites are higher in calories, fat, sugar, or sodium, plan your daily meals so that you allow for discretionary calories.  Eat them less frequently so that they are a treat.
  • Ensure you are drinking enough water. It is not uncommon to mistake hunger with thirst. Drink a glass or two of water before you reach for a snack to make sure you are physically hungry, and not just thirsty. If you are truly hungry, then eat.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes. Managing your meal sizes  is one of the best ways to enjoy your favorite foods without feeling guilty. Read the nutrition label for the serving size, and portion the food out before you eat. This will ensure you know exactly how much you’re having.
  • Ensure your meal regimen works well for you. Meal plans are not one-size-fits-all. Try different schedules. Maybe six small meals works better for you than three big meals in a day. Find out what works best for you.
  • Don’t keep tempting foods in the house. If you really want a particular food, go out and have a serving of it.
  • Eat slowly. If you’re eating too fast, you might not be giving your brain time to recognize that you’re eating. Slow down and revel in every bite.
  • Eat lean protein and unsaturated fats at your meals and snacks. Foods such as lean meats without skin, eggs (or egg whites), nuts or nut butters, fish, low-fat dairy, olive oil and avocados are examples of foods that digest slowly and keep you satisfied longer.
  • There is no such thing as cheating. When it comes to food, you don’t need to worry about cheating.  Just ensure you’re on a meal plan that allows you to eat your favorite foods, and you’ll be likely to stick with it.