Being a dietitian, food is a constant thought. What we, as dietitians, put into our mouths is constantly analyzed and scrutinized. Do you know what it’s like to unpack your lunch box with others peering at what you’ve packed? Or having people say “I can’t believe you’re eating chocolate, I didn’t think dietitians would eat something that unhealthy?” Do you think it’s easy for a dietitian to gain a few pounds or maybe even (gasp) have an overweight BMI (body mass index) number? When making small talk with strangers, many ask what I do, I reply “I’m a registered dietitian” and then… their eyes slowly examine my body, expecting me to be overly thin and have an “ideal” body. The word “ideal”… isn’t that unique to each individual? I can assure you my ideal is different from many of my friends, and many celebrities. My nutrition philosophy isn’t cookie cutter; my efforts aren’t spent demanding you get to a certain weight. My goal is to see my clients happy, healthy and energized.
The obesity rates in America continue to increase, causing detrimental damage to the lives of many Americans. Yes, most of my hours are spent motivating clients to improve their nutrition behaviors and reduce their weight; but more recently, I am encountering people obsessed with their “health”. The gap seems to be widening… one end of the spectrum: Americans with little motivation to live a healthy lifestyle, and the other end: Americans striving to be the thinnest and “healthiest” they can be. Why is losing weight an obsession we have, a marker for success?
By now, I’m sure we all know being morbid obese is not good for our health. I’m not going to focus on this population. Rather, I would like to touch on the population living an overly restricted lifestyle. They ask me how many calories are in a half cup of broccoli. They feel guilty when they didn’t make it to the gym five days this week. They admit to eating too many holiday cookies, almost asking for a slap on the wrist. They exercise to burn off food they “shouldn’t” have eaten, rather than exercising because they enjoy it. They’re obsessed, orthorexics. Orthorexia is the term given to characterize people who develop an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.
People may ask…these groups of individuals living an obsessed lifestyle, well aren’t they healthy? What’s wrong with that? Once again, everyone is unique. I’m not encouraging you to skip your workouts, or shove holiday cookies down your throat. In fact my job is to help you live a healthier lifestyle. Healthier to me, means balanced. It means living a little. Enjoying time with friends and family, eating that piece of cake, and enjoying it too. It means eating full-fat cheese, and savoring how good it tastes. It means going for a bike ride with your children and counting that as your physical activity for the day, rather than scolding yourself because you didn’t stick to your P90X workout schedule. It means enjoying your life, not feeling so guilty and pressured to fit into this mold the media has created for us.
A little personal case study for those interested: Most students who choose to major in dietetics have a personal tie to nutrition. They’ve suffered from an eating disorder, require specialized nutrition for their own diagnosis (say Celiac Disease, Type I diabetes, etc.), or have a special interest in nutrition (struggled with their own weight, been an athlete, etc.). I chose dietetics because I was familiar with nutrition; I struggled with my weight growing up. I was always taller and bigger than the girls in my elementary and middle school classes. Always wanting to lose a few lbs., I had tried several diets before entering high school. I will admit this was a personal desire of mine, not one my parents had ever (ever) persuaded me to do. Growing up, I was always reminded that I didn’t need to lose weight and showered with positive body enforcements.
I recall doing the Atkins diet throughout high school and much of college. Snacking on Slim Jims, late night binge eating meatballs and cheese in my dorm room, drinking vodka diets because they had no carbs… how disgusting and restricted? I lived much of my college and early graduate days drinking Crystal Light, diet sodas, eating sugar-free jello, Atkins bars, salads and hamburger meat. Although I would stick to this low-carb plan through the week, I would binge eat when I dined at restaurants, or had too much to drink. I lived my life feeling guilty for what I had put in my mouth. I was obsessed with trying to lose weight. I would buy clothes a size smaller, hoping to lose weight and fit into them. I calorie counted, carb counted until my head hurt.
When I started my own business in early 2012, I began cooking with more whole foods. I began enjoying food. I started buying full-fat sour cream and full-fat cheese, which was a definite no-no prior to my new approach. I began skipping the gym sometimes, and not feeling guilty. I began going for bike rides and doing yoga, things I would never have counted as “daily exercise” before. In the past, if I wasn’t burning more than 400 calories it didn’t count as exercise, how crazy was I? I began to eat smaller portions and eat only when my body asked for food. I was eating better quality food, and savoring it. I wasn’t stuffing my face with processed crap, never fulfilling my cravings, and feeling guilty for what I had done. I began to live a balanced life. As I began to enjoy food, and left my guilty obsessions behind, the weight started to come off. I admit, since letting go of my calorie obsessed eating behaviors, my scale has gone down ten pounds, or so. How could this happen? (Smile)
Now, am I encouraging you to gain weight or eat unhealthy? Absolutely not. I’m encouraging you to live a balanced life. Eat that cookie, but fill up on fruits and veggies too. Drink that glass of wine and eat your chocolate, but savor it. Stop obsessing with losing weight and focus on living a healthy, happy life.