Headlines about the perfect diet and the best way to lose weight are very common distorters of the concept of dieting. Note that diet is not defined as a method of weight loss, but as healthy, organized eating habits. The popularization of those we label as “health nuts” depicts the growth of contemporary nutritionally-healthy lifestyles and the importance of maintaining them, but lack clarity in providing information on how to do so. If every diet plan in Cosmo tells us it’s the “best,” how can we decide which guidelines to follow?
We are all aware that food affects mood; sugary foods trigger a greater dopamine release, to which the brain gets addicted. We begin to crave the feeling this dopamine rush induces upon us, and recognize that in order to experience it, we must consume more junk food. This cycle has a myriad of mental and physiological consequences. The deprivation of junk food, and subsequent lower levels dopamine, can trigger gloomy and sad feelings.
We all learned about the food pyramid in school; we know that vegetables are healthier than french fries, but getting into the routine of eating right still seems very difficult and mentally straining. This is because we often misinterpret healthy eating as extreme dieting. The contemporary view on dieting and its juxtaposition with the modern perceptions of beauty tends to steer us away from the original importance of maintaining mentally and physiologically beneficial eating habits.
Eating the right foods is crucial to enhancing physical and mental capacities, the nourishment of the brain and the balanced levels of dopamine that is provoked by the consumption of the right foods allows optimal brain function. With a balanced release of dopamine in the brain, emotions are less polarized. Instead of being very happy after eating a doughnut and then having what we define as a “sugar crash,” one would feel less happy directly after consuming a less sugar-induced food but maintain this mood for a longer period time. Since emotions and thoughts are known to be a unified neurological process, sharp changes in emotion hinder our thought process. Eating nutritional food helps to maintain a healthy emotional balance to promote brain function and enhance productivity.
The notion of “being healthy” and “eating right” has become a focal aspect of contemporary lifestyles. The widespread discussion of this concept has led to various interpretations of the term “healthy.” Fundamentally, the word “healthy” is defined as “beneficial to one's physical, mental, or emotional state: conducive to health”. With this in mind, it is reasonable to conclude that healthy cuisine is simply food that promotes what we’ve defined as healthy. Developing healthy eating habits consists of eating food that benefits physical, mental or emotional state.
In order to promote one’s emotional and mental states, it is crucial to eat foods that enhance brain activity. Eating foods that produce a balanced release of dopamine, or low-glucose products, are a major part of a healthy diet because their effects on brain function promote mental and emotional well-being.
The variation of diets we see in contemporary media is a result of the difference in physical goals that diets are designed to achieve which causes “physically-beneficial” nutrition to be defined in different ways. Diets that promote weight loss, for example, will bear minimal similarities to diets that promote muscle growth and development. While a weight loss diet consists mainly of low-calorie foods, a muscle growth diet incorporates more protein and high-calorie, low-sugar foods. These two diets are both healthy, they are equally beneficial to mental and emotional health, and have different but equal benefits to one’s physical state. It is because of these different emphases in terms of physical benefits that so many dieting methods have emerged; they attempt to provide guidelines to forming eating habits in pursuit of certain physical goals.
With this in mind, personalization of a physical goal and the creation of eating habits that are the ways to build a healthy diet. Without an external influence on our physical aspirations and a universal notion of health, we can decide how to design our own plates.
We all know how to count calories, and we all know the food pyramid, so we know what foods we should be eating if we want muscle growth or if we want to lose a pound or two. It is also imperative to consider personal preference regarding food; no diet plan attends to the everyone’s preference, only personally constructed dietary habits are applicable to us as individuals. There is no perfect diet, no perfect way to eat, there are only eating habits that pertain to our individual physical goals and benefit our mental and emotional states which we must construct in order to live the healthiest lifestyle we can.
Keren Blaunstein is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.