A similar type of conversation I’ve had multiple times with a girl in my running group sparked a thought in my head. The first time we had this type of interaction it went something like this:
All chatting at a post-run brunch…
Girl- “You guys, you would not believe who I saw at Graeter’s Monday night… Our group nutritionist! She was there eating a giant scoop of ice cream!”
Me- “You know that was me… right? I’m the group dietitian.”
Girl- “WOAH What?! ” *looks at me and realizes it* “What are you doing eating at Graeter’s?!”
This past Saturday, a bunch of us walked over to the nearby donut shop for some post-run donuts and she had the exact same type of reaction. She then said something that really got my gears turning. It was something like this: “I always feel better about myself and my diet when I see you at places enjoying these unhealthy indulgent foods.” Now of course none of these conversations I’m rehashing here are quoted verbatim, but I think you get the idea. The concept of the nutrition expert enjoying what many would consider unhealthy food was remarkable to this individual, and to numerous other individuals I encounter on a daily basis. Believe it or not, this is not a unique interaction in my life, and I’m certain other RD’s out there will agree. Blogs, social media, and mainstream news sources often leave the impression that the only way to be “healthy” is to enjoy green juices, eat organic and only enjoy food that came from the ground. This is so not the case. Healthy eating extends far beyond the individual dietary choices we make day to day, and in my opinion relates more to the mindset we take when approaching food.
Believe it or not, it is OKAY to enjoy our favorite foods. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I really like donuts. And if you haven’t already realized it, I treat myself to a donut every now and again (and I make a point to share these moments on social media). Notice how I said treat myself. Donuts are not a regular dietary staple for me. Quite frankly, the magic of them would be ruined if they were. But, when I start to develop cravings for specific foods, I allow myself to take care of those cravings. I don’t “shove them in a box” and forget about them. I indulge in a reasonable sized portion and boom, craving satisfied.
There is plenty of research out there that says we are more likely to over indulge the longer we deprive ourselves. I used to be a living, breathing example of this. I used to have a goldfish problem. I’d purchase a bag and devour multiple portions in a single sitting. So, I reached a point where I was like, enough is enough. I banned goldfish from my pantry and figured I’d soon forget about them. Eventually, I became fixated on the crackers and decided to purchase a bag after months of depriving myself of the snack, trying to ignore my craving. This resulted poorly as I ended up binge eating multiple servings of goldfish in a short period of time. While it took practice to change this routine behavior I had previously established–one that resulted in a vicious cycle of depriving and binge eating–it was well worth the effort it took to learn the true meaning of balance and moderation. I now buy my goldfish in the big bulk carton but rarely touch the things. When I’m craving something salty, crunchy and cheesy, I reach for a handful. That does the trick; I move on with my life. I’m not saying this behavior change happened overnight, because it didn’t. I’m not saying it was easy either. But allowing a shift in my frame of mind was the first step. It’s okay to enjoy our favorite foods. Actually, I encourage it.
I want to leave you with a nugget of wisdom to ponder this weekend when you will likely be enjoying time with friends, family and good eats. When you eat something you crave, which bite is the best? Is it the first or the 15th? I bet all of you said first. Be mindful as you indulge and start to shift the way you think. Food should be enjoyed and not feared.
Going back to the initial conversation that got me thinking about this idea in the first place, I want to send a message to all the individuals out there who are seemingly shocked by my eating patterns. “She’s a dietitian, she should know better than to eat donuts.” “Can you believe it, the dietitian is enjoying a burger, beer and fries?” Remember one thing, dietitians are humans too. Just because we have all the knowledge and tools with regards to nutrition does not mean we are perfect. I have cravings just like the rest of you and my cardinal rule of eating applies to everyone. If I leave you with any thoughts for the weekend, I hope it’s this: It’s OKAY to enjoy our favorite foods.