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A Healthy Plate

Monday, March 11th, 2024

by Nicole VanZuidam, MA, LMFT



Many people might remember the food pyramid.  It was created by the USDA in 1992 to give a visual explanation of what was considered at the time to be a healthy diet.  This common image that is likely remembered frequenting the back of a cereal box was the model of food consumption for a short 19 years.  It was replaced in 2005 by a staircase-looking model, then replaced again in 2011 by USDA’s MyPlate, which you might recognize as a plate divided into sections for fruits, veggies, proteins and grains with a side circle of healthy fats.  

The USDA actually revises dietary guidelines every five years as we continue to learn more about foods, additives, and how they impact our bodies and health.  Fast forward 32 years from the first model of a healthy diet.  Can you imagine today it being suggested to consume 11 servings of grains or carbs per day? As we have learned how our bodies respond and our knowledge about products has increased, we have shifted things around on our plate.  Taking care of our physical bodies and health in this way can be mirrored in how we care for our mental health and relationships.

It is not uncommon to see an infant or toddler cry, pout, or throw a fit to communicate a need or that they are upset by something.  As we age, we learn how to better communicate these things, but we do our best to function with the knowledge that we have until we learn more.  When we think about how we function in relationships and our mental health, we do this by using the interpersonal skills and coping skills we are familiar with.  We have the opportunity to learn new skills from others by being taught by others directly or by observation.  Along with learning a new skill is learning more about ourselves in what works well, what does not, and how to implement something into our specific situation.  This process of discovery and learning is ongoing throughout our entire life.  A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson says this well: Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow. 

After letting that sink in, we also must use wisdom to discern when we can balance something new on our plate.  In today’s fast paced culture, many of us have the tendency to continue to pile new activities and responsibilities onto our plate feeling as though we must juggle it all.  When functioning within a family, it is also very important to consider how our plates are portioned out for the needs of each family member.  Are we able to add something else without taking something else off that won’t upset the balance, or do we need to evaluate what to remove?  Have we checked in with our family members to ask how palatable the changes are? 

What has also been discovered about diets is that it is not a one-size-fits-all.  Diets are best when tailored to the differences in males, females, and varying body types.  This equally needs to be applied to our mental and interpersonal health.  There of course are basic dos and don’ts for overall health, but our plates will need to look differently as each of us are in different places, moving at different paces in our learning and discovery process as individuals and as families. As we grow as individuals and the make-up of our family changes, it is helpful to take inventory along the way to take into consideration not only how things change, but what we learn about ourselves, our relationships, and how to function in more healthy ways.  If you have a partner, it is important to include them in the inventory and then add children into an age-appropriate conversation about this as well.  Those who know us best can be in good positions to hold us accountable if we have created a space and relationship in which they feel comfortable to approach us with either concerns or encouragement. 

Maintaining a healthy plate is no doubt a challenge and yet even more difficult when we add extra stress or hardship into our lives.  If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or stuck in unhealthy patterns, therapy is a great place to explore ways to balance out your plate. At River Counseling we meet you where you are at, offering hope. You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office or with one of the therapists from our other locations, Sioux Falls Psychological services or Stronghold Counseling in Sioux Falls or Yankton. To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696. Please note that River Counseling’s phone number has changed to 605-274-2716 and the 337-3444 phone number is no longer in service.