Recently, I was chatting with one of my good friends and fellow Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. We were talking about how despite being Nutritional Therapists, we have both personally found more balance, ease and happiness thinking LESS (not more) about our food choices.
As a Nutritional Therapist, I have spent a LOT of time thinking about food. In fact, even most of my high school and college years were spent thinking about food in a restrictive kind of way (how little am I able to eat) but then as I started my Nutritional Therapy certification I started thinking about how wonderful and nourishing food can be (but there was always a caveat that this only applied to eating “perfectly healthy” food). I am so glad I have this knowledge about food and no longer fall into the low fat, low calorie craze, but sometimes when we then become obsessed with eating only “perfect” foods (i.e. local or super high quality proteins, perfect fats/ oils, and low amounts of starchy carbs) you can fall into a different type of disordered eating.
It’s the same thing with all the different diets I’ve tried. I’ve obviously done the super low calorie diet, I’ve done gluten free, I’ve done paleo, I’ve done primal (paleo but adding in dairy), I’ve done sugar free and I’ve done keto. All of these plans have taught me different things about food, but they are all still DIETS. They still all cause you to think about food all the time because our lives aren’t set up in a way where once you decide to be on a certain plan then that is the only food magically around you. We aren’t like our ancestors who only had access to the foods they grew/ were in season. We have constant access to all sorts of foods and sometimes the stress of having to turn down something you want because you are following “x” plan is more stress than its worth.
I also think it’s true that if you are anxious about eating a certain food you may have a negative reaction to it and/or not digest it well. I used to be so anxious about having any sort of sugar or “bread” type product- sandwich, bagel, muffin, etc. But the last time I was at home in New Jersey, I just really wanted a bagel. And not a gluten free bagel or keto bagel- a real, gluten filled, New Jersey bagel. I got them for the family, had an everything bagel with cream cheese, and all was well! And I was so concerned that because I was eating all these “processed carbs” I wouldn’t be full or satisfied and come two hours later I would be ravenous, etc. But you know what? That bagel fueled me up for a drive home and about 5 hours later I ate a salad. All was good. Now, do I think bagels are the most nutrient dense food choice? No. But do I think that if you really want one should have it? YES.
Ignoring our food cravings can lead us to OVER-eat other foods because we are trying to make up for what we really want. Have you ever really just wanted say, a piece of chocolate after dinner? And then you try to eat everything else instead? You’ll grab another serving of dinner, eat some fruit, eat some nuts, and then finally after all that realize you still just want the damn chocolate? And you realize if you just ate the chocolate to begin with you would have been satisfied? I think this happens a lot and it takes a while for us to understand our food cues and cravings and determine what is a habit (i.e. every night after dinner I eat chocolate) versus what is something we just truly want and crave in the moment (i.e. maybe your body is low in magnesium and would love some dark chocolate to fill up those stores!)
I guess my point is that your body will tell you what you want if you are really listening to it. Do I think it’s beneficial to learn about nutrition and food, and try a sugar detox/ whole30 or RESTART program? Absolutely. I think it’s important for a lot of people to learn that their food choices might be affecting their health in ways they don’t even know. And it’s good to re-set and get back to your baseline and figure out what foods make you feel truly good. But once you know this, my point is that you don’t need to be as dogmatic/ black and white about your food choices. There is room for things that might not be the most “nutrient dense” or “perfect” foods but at the end of the day (unless you have an allergy) it’s just food and it will pass. It’s usually more our thoughts and feelings around these foods as well as what you are doing consistently that has an impact on our overall wellness.
So if you want the cake, eat the damn cake. If you know that making it gluten free/ refined sugar free will make you feel better- then make it that way! But if you know you will only be truly satisfied by having one piece of the “real” stuff versus needing to eat five pieces of the “healthy” stuff- just eat the real thing. Then you will be able to just move on after the meal versus obsessing about it for the next three hours.