A nutritionist explains why it’s OK to ‘break your diet’

Eating wine meal

One thing that’s tough about dieting: You always want to stop.

The easiest solution to this problem is changing your lifestyle instead of adopting a temporarily strict eating regimen.

Nichola Whitehead, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with a practice in the UK, fully supports the latter option. In either case, however, she says it’s perfectly fine to go off your healthy eating plan every once in a while.

“It’s alright to overeat occasionally,” Whitehead tells Business Insider. “It’s overeating consistently day in and day out over the long term that causes weight gain.”

If you’ve managed to switch from a diet heavy in red meat and processed carbohydrates like white bread and white rice to an eating plan based mainly around vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, you’ve already done the majority of the work, says Whitehead.

Still, cravings, birthdays, and bake sales come and go. It’s ok to indulge every once in a while.

Another thing you have working in your favour once you’ve started eating healthier overall is that your body wants to regulate itself, Whitehead says. This is where something Whitehead calls “listening to your body” becomes a key asset.

“If you overeat one night you’ll probably be less hungry the following day. So it’s really important to listen to your body,” says Whitehead.

Ice cream

Our body has a natural tendency to lean towards homeostasis, or internal stability. When you overindulge on a pint of ice cream one day, your appetite on the next day will likely be reduced. If you’ve started eating better, you may need to start paying better attention to what your body is telling you it needs. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Do you want to eat or snack for an emotional reason? Do certain situations trigger you to eat certain foods? All of these cues are important to ensure you’re eating a balanced diet and not overdoing it when you don’t need to, Whitehead says.

Once you begin to notice these cues and follow them regularly, it’s OK to override them every once in a while. After all, a balanced diet is all about balance, right?

Perhaps you know you don’t need to get dessert after dinner with your friend. But she’s celebrating her birthday, and you know you’d really enjoy sharing a piece of chocolate cake with her. Go for it.

What’s more important isn’t what you do when you have a slip-up — it’s what you do over the next few days, weeks, and months, says Whitehead. If in the days after an indulgent evening you find yourself consistently craving sweets after meals, try having a piece of fresh fruit, drinking more water, or going for a walk instead.

“It’s what you’re doing over the long term that’s really going to make a difference,” says Whitehead.

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