Something I’ve been thinking about and talking about a lot with my clients recently is letting go of the idea that every single thing you put in your mouth has to have the most nutritional value. In our culture of “wellness” and “superfoods” and green juices, it’s easy to get the message that everything we put in our bodies has to have the most nutrition possible. Why have a sweetened yogurt when you could have plain instead? Why have whole milk when you could have skim? Why drink regular milk when you could have almond juice? Why have white pasta when you could have wheat?
Well…because maybe you don’t like plain yogurt. Maybe you think it tastes like sour milk and it makes your mouth cringe in a weird way (am I speaking from experience? Maybe.) Maybe you just love the way whole milk tastes in your latte (also speaking from experience). And maybe you just think whole wheat pasta tastes like damp cardboard.
And all those reasons are totally valid reasons to avoid something. As a dietitian, I don’t want to force my clients to eat whole wheat pasta when they’re going to be grimacing the whole way through. I want them to eat something that they are going to be able to fully enjoy and feel satisfied by. If you’re craving pasta and then force yourself to eat a substitute that you don’t even like in the name of “health”, then you’re going to be left physically and mentally unsatisfied.
I don’t want you to feel unsatisfied. It’s my job to make sure food is satisfying and nourishing for you.
And if you’re thinking “but sometimes we just have to force yourselves to eat things that we don’t like!”, I get where you’re coming from but I don’t agree. I don’t think we have to force ourselves to eat anything we don’t want to eat or do anything we don’t want to do. If we use the pasta example, whole wheat pasta has more fiber and a little more protein than white pasta. If you were my client, first I would help you determine if you really needed to be concerned about protein or fiber (it’s possible you’re already getting enough). And if you do, my hope as a nutrition therapist would be to help you find other ways to increase your fiber and protein intake without it being unpleasant or deprivation-based.
It’s okay to eat things just because they taste good or because they sound good or because they’re nostalgic or because they have special meaning or because it’s what you have access to. Not everything needs to be a superfood (and while we’re at it, “superfoods” are a totally made-up concept that have no definition). We don’t always need to optimize our food choices for maximum nutrition benefit. Because health is more than food and health is more than our physical body; it includes mental, emotional, and spiritual health which can all be fed (no pun intended) when we have satisfying eating experiences.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to incorporate some gentle nutrition- in fact, that’s one of the tenets of intuitive eating (and worth noting that it’s the last one for a reason). But it can be easy to get sucked into the world of “wellness” and to obsess about ingredient lists and protein content and nutrient profiles but I urge you to take a step back from that. Take a few minutes to think about what sounds satisfying to you and listen. You can start small. You can pick one eating occasion to test it out on. Try what it would feel like to listen to your body’s cues and take time afterwards to process how your mind and body feel.
I want the people I work with to be healthy but I also want health to be looked at as a broad concept; it’s so much more than how many grams of fiber are in your meal. Ditch the labels, let go of judgment, and eat what you enjoy.
If you’re interested in an affordable introduction to the tenets intuitive eating, check out my program Finding Freedom. And if you’re not already, make sure you’re signed up for my email list to get anti-diet inspiration twice a month.
Until next time,
Cover photo by Wendy Rueter