Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Food (A Dietitian’s Perspective)
As you can imagine, it is often difficult to “enjoy” food when your mind quickly generates a nutrition fact label for every meal you sit down to. And I’ll be honest, in the early days of my dietetic training this was a challenge. I was far too focused on the fat content of the food, and couldn’t bring myself to order much more than a salad at a restaurant. For many dietitians out there, being an expert on food can become your own worst enemy. It’s true when I say ALL of us are bombarded with way too many health claims and recommendations on what we SHOULD eat.
Discerning through this information overload and understanding what is truly best for you can be hard. Over the past few years, I think my relationship with food (along with my understanding of nutrition) has grown much stronger. I’d love to share a few “gems” I have discovered along the way:
1) We all need a little fat to survive.
Like I said, I was a little fat phobic in the early days of my education. I would attempt to fill myself with low fat, carbohydrate rich snacks and wonder why I had an insatiable appetite. Only 3o minutes to 1 hour after a meal, I would find myself needing to eat again. Now, I don’t measure the oil that goes into my pan. I enjoy 2% yogurt. I understand that sometimes I want to use cream in a dish instead of evaporated milk. By including an appropriate amount of fat in my diet, I feel my intake has instead decreased overall. Key point: I’m not saying that we should load our diets with fat, but a little incorporated into our meals and snacks is important.
2) Salads at restaurants can often be worse than what you really want to order.
This isn’t a message to go out and order a double cheeseburger with bottomless french fries. What I want to point out is that the portion size offered at a restaurant is often the larger problem. Salads in restaurants are often huge, and loaded with dense ingredients and dressing. My friend Betsy and I have spent numerous “dates” together while our guys had their noses in a textbook. We love to share a dish, and I’ll admit, we do often order fries instead of salad. Key point: Portions matter, as well as the frequency which you eat out. If you eat food outside the home more than once a week, you need to be a little bit more careful.Cobb Salad
3) Just because a food is healthy, it doesn’t mean you eat unlimited quantities of it.
I’m going to use the example of baked chips. Baked chips are lower in calories than their regular counterpart and therefore are considered a better choice. However, eating an entire bag of baked chips is going to negate this principle. If you know you are going to do this, buy the regular variety, and control your portion.
Understand that we all need a treat sometimes, and sometimes the treat needs to be full fat ice cream or (my guilty pleasure) kettle cooked chips. Key point: It’s OK to indulge occasionally. Watch your portion, and don’t feel guilty about doing it.
4) Listen to your body and identify your type of hunger.
This is a great tip I learned from one of my experienced colleagues at a previous position. Ask yourself this, what type of hunger are you feeling? Is it mouth hunger (a craving for the taste of food)? Is it heart hunger (eating because you are depressed or bored; aka emotional eating)? Or, is it stomach hunger (the actual need to eat food because you are truly hungry)? If it’s not stomach hunger, move onto doing something else.
In most cases, we eat when we are bored or crave the taste of food. Key point: Listen to your body. Trust your ability to understand when you need to eat. If you are hungry, feed it.