In today’s world, it’s easy to get fooled into thinking that the stricter and more restrictive a diet is, the better it is for you. In fact, some of the most popular diets have recruited “lifelong” followers, people labeling themselves things like “paleo”, “raw”, “vegan”, and “keto” in order to make sure there is no wiggle room in what or even how they eat.

And while it is refreshing to know that more and more people are taking nutrition seriously, it’s simultaneously alarming to know just how potentially detrimental (and dangerous) this “one-way” mindset can be. While eating lots of plants and whole foods is a great place to start (and a wonderful guideline for day-to-day eating), obsessive monitoring of what you’re eating can cause problems – and not just for your emotional well-being.

Stressing about what you eat actually hinders the way your body works. According to well-known nutritionist Jessica Sepel, “You can eat all of the salads in the world, but if you’re obsessively monitoring your food intake—if you’re stressed and anxious—your body isn’t going to function optimally.” And, when you look at many people’s relationship to food today, it’s easy to see that stress and anxiety run high.

Rather than having your life revolve around food, which can sometimes result in something as extreme as an eating disorder, the best advice might be to allow food to integrate naturally into your lifestyle. Understanding that every day is different, and allowing room for changes and spontaneity, can reignite the fun so many people have been missing in diets. And, more importantly, it can create space for authentic and natural gratitude.

Should you stop doing your best to make smart, healthy decisions about what you eat? Absolutely not. But can you let your relationship evolve into something that doesn’t include stress and shame? Yes. (And you should!)

Just as you should start your day with a healthy breakfast, you should also make it a habit to start your day with gratitude, whether in the form of a journal, meditation, or just simply quiet time to reflect. This practice of self-love is the foundation for a healthy lifestyle, one that can guide the decisions you make about food in a way that is sustainable and enjoyable.

Remember, the food you eat is meant to nourish your body, which means that, first and foremost, you have to learn to be genuinely grateful for your body. When you can make nutrition decisions based on real well-being (and that includes mental and emotional as much as physical), then you unlock the secret to restoring a healthy relationship with food.

A great place to start?

Try to live by the 80:20 rule, which means that 80% of the time you eat healthy and whole foods that nourish your body. The other 20% of the time? You have room for “flexibility and indulgence”. The most important part of following an 80:20 plan is that when you do make room for those moments of indulgence, you allow yourself time and space to really enjoy them, taking in the tastes and textures with mindfulness and, of course, gratitude.