Five years ago (woah, five, where does time go) when I began my career as a Registered Dietitian I didn’t necessarily restrict my food calorically, I was actually eating tons of food and passionate about metabolism, but I had a pretty funneled view of “health.” I was so excited about helping others lead a healthy lifestyle, and similar to Alexis, loved plant based cooking and food. I loved getting creative in the kitchen and never really craved meat or diary.
I had also just began my RD career working alongside an endocrinologist who practiced medicine in an integrative and holistic way and we helped a lot of people suffering from cardiovascular disease, very advanced diabetes, stage IV cancer and all kinds of endocrine and autoimmune conditions literally regain their life and take back their health through a plant based diet. It was so refreshing and invigorating to be a part of this meaningful impact. The passion in that clinic was palpable.
Those first years out of college I read a lot on the health benefits of plant based diets. And I still do believe that fruits and vegetables and plant based foods are some of the healthiest foods we can eat, but what I’ve come to realize over the past 2-3 years is that a vegan (or 100% plant based diet) is an extreme way of eating because it heals extreme conditions and diseases. For the purpose of this post (so I don’t offend anyone and instead respect everyone) I’m talking about a plant based diet for health reasons and not ethical reasons.
I use the word extreme because to me, restricting all animal foods is extreme. And plant based diets are something I’d recommend if somebody had an extreme health condition…like their heart is failing or they are continually being prescribed more insulin. For people like me, and for the general population, I think an extremely restrictive diet in the absence of a medical indication is just that…extreme.
And I might be presumptive here, but based on my work with clients and and patients over the past five years, such a lifestyle can become a stressor as people try to maintain plant based eating, or gluten free/grain free or raw or whatever and still enjoy the gift of life’s pleasures like a meal out with friends, or a cookout, or holidays, or eating that muffin your momma baked.
And more than just that, people end up craving animal products and instead of listening to their cravings and eating accordingly, they do what I call “mentally restrict” were food choices are made based on “should eat” and not “want to eat.” And that does not lead to a life of food freedom.
All that to say, my thoughts around “healthy eating” have shifted a lot over the past few years. I strongly believe that the healthiest way to eat is the way which leaves you most satisfied and wholly healthy – yes physically, but most importantly, mentally and emotionally and spiritually.
I don’t care if you eat the greenest and rawest food on the planet…if you are socially isolated or anxious with restaurant menus or stressed out about food prepping…you’re not healthy at all. Stress is what will kill you, not the shredded cheese on your salad or the gluten in your toast.
So my own journey from a more plant focused (I was never 100% anything) to an intuitive way of eating was three fold. First, I became more and more educated on intuitive eating through this book and this book, listening to podcasts like Food Psych, and learning more and more about stress and it’s affect on our health. Second, I started to crave meat and dairy and when I ate it I realized I didn’t feel bad. I felt good. And thirdly, I started dating Nick two years ago and that man loves meat.
He was actually a paleo fanatic when I met him so he cooked a lot of meat, but over the past couple years he has melded into a eat everything guy. We both try to eat food that feels good and that makes us happy, whether thats a glass of wine and a meat + cheese board, a three bean chili or salmon and sweet potato…any and all foods come into our kitchen and into our mouths. And that’s exactly how we plan to raise our kids – with zero awareness of “good” or “bad” foods.
So that’s where I’m at now. Do I still eat lots of fruits and vegetables? Of course, because those make me physically feed good. Do I still eat vegan meals or paleo meals or gluten free meals? Yes. But not on purpose. It just happens. You might see me eat at Hu Kitchen or By Chloe for lunch, but then eat pizza for dinner. Or maybe I had a bagel sandwich from Tals for breakfast.
And that’s what keeps me healthier than ever. Enjoying food I love with people I love and letting food just be food.
There are definitely days where I overshoot my hunger and feel too full. Or I eat donuts and pastries for breakfast and my stomach feels a little off. Because I’m human. And those food experiences are just that, experiences. They teach me why I make food decisions, what feels good and what doesn’t so I can continue growing as an intuitive eater, making food decisions that are good for me.
“Stress is what will kill you, not the shredded cheese on your salad or the gluten in your toast.” As someone who used to stress about cheese on her salad, gluten in her toast, sugar in her yogurt and everything else, I cant thank you enough for posts like these. I’m usually a silent reader but just know that your blog has been a steady and critical piece in healing my ED. (Happy to report for the first time in YEARS I can now eat gluten and cheese filled mac and cheese in peace. Holla 😉 Thanks so much girlie, and happy wedding planning!
I was going to say the same thing. I’m in recovery from anorexia and the statement ““Stress is what will kill you, not the shredded cheese on your salad or the gluten in your toast.” hit me hard. I found this post by googling if I dairy will l kill me since my ED is stlll telling me if it’s not veggies fruit or oatmeal it will kill me so thank you for this.
<3 rooting for you in your recovery Sada!
acktive life says
Robin I love your posts and as someone who has been going through a lot of changes over the past few months, your posts keep me inspired and motivated to just live life, enjoy all foods, do what works for me, and be grateful for this healthy and beautiful body that I have. Thank you! XOXO
Great post, Robyn! Thank you for your wisdom. Super important, totally necessary question – what are you drinking in that last picture?! It looks delicious!
Great post, Robyn. Can you give the titles of the Intuitive Eating books you read? Thanks!
Alexis @ Hummusapien says
I LOVE YOU THATS ALL BYE
<3 You know it's the same back to YOU
Ashley Smith, RD says
Mmmm…. LOVE this!! So well written and full of rich truths!
glad you enjoyed!
Love this post so much! We change so much as humans allllllll the time, and letting our food preferences change and going with it is super important. I’m really loving your blog lately, I think what you’re writing is super important! Thanks Robyn
we are dynamic beings! so glad to hear you are enjoying it 🙂
I think this post will help a lot of people. I like how you made the distinction that extreme diets are best served for extreme conditions. During one of my rotations I helped a client with epilepsy with transitioning to a modified Atkins diet since research supports a high fat, low carb diet to reduce frequency of seizures. It’s an extreme diet, but if it helps reduce or eliminate seizures, it could be very worth it.
I find that my body feels best on animal protein vs plant protein because of my IBS. Too much fiber is a bad thing for me. It was hard to implement that in my life because I believed plant proteins were much healthier, however, I had to listen to what my body was telling me to feel my best!
perfect example of where a high fat/low carb diet is medically indicated. and I love how you are listening to what your body needs too!
Jess @ Jessica Cording Nutrition says
I love this post so much! This sorts of discussions come up with my clients all the time, and it’s great to hear about another RD’s experience.
glad you enjoyed Jess!
I love this so much!! You just don’t find this kind of persoective that often, everything is oversaturated with the benefits of plant based and scaring us in an effort to make everyone gluten free, low fat etc. that it makes us start to believe that we are actually eating the wrong way. Everyones body is different, it wouldnt make sense for everyone to have the same (restrictive) diet. Here’s to eating more!! 🙂
we are all different and so our needs are different – well said girl 🙂
Loved this post so much. Everything in moderation is my motto. Have you heard of the book “A Mind of Your Own: The Truth about depression”? It basically says that cutting out gluten and dairy and a few other things will help heal depression naturally and I wanted to know if there was actual truth behind this? The author is an MD but practices holistically now and while I think some of the info was good, I’m not sure what to believe. As someone who suffers from mild depression and wants to live without relying on medication, I just wanted to know your input if gluten and dairy (which don’t affect me I don’t think) would help relieve symptoms of depression? Sorry for such the long post! I just trust your input 🙂
Thank you for this! I needed this reminder too. It’s something I’m still working on, I think because once the restrictive mentality is there in your brain it’s easy to mask it behind “health” especially in recovery. Baby steps. Keep being awesome and helping countless women! <3
Yes health is so much more than food! Thank YOU for reading Laura!
This is such a refreshing take on eating. I love the focus on nourishing your body as a whole and not just focusing on one part. I agree with you about how stress is worse than any food. There is more to life than worrying about food which can suck the joy out of enjoying a meal with loved ones. Thanks for being such a positive voice and sharing your words with the world. 🙂
thank you for reading Jennifer and I’m so glad the post was refreshing for you! I couldn’t agree more – there is so much more to life than food xoxo
As a longtime reader and an almost-fellow health care professional (a month from graduating with my doctorate), I wanted to share some concerns I had while reading this post. I realize I also bring my own bias as a vegan for ethical reasons, but I appreciate you clarifying that your post is about health, not ethics.
In this post and in a lot of nutrition blogs, I’ve been noticing a lot of “you do you” talk lately, often in those words although I get that it’s part of a bigger discussion on intuitive eating. I’m not in the nutrition/dietetics field and therefore haven’t done nearly as much research in this area as I’m sure you have, but I get concerned when I see an attention-grabbing title such as “The Healthiest Way to Eat” and then read a post that is entirely based on one person’s experience and opinion, without anything more objective to support the claims. There may not be one gold standard for a diet, but there is certainly a better standard than one person’s opinion, no matter how knowledgeable they may be. I get that this post is about you and not meant to be taken as advice, but as health care professionals, I feel we’re called to consider the information we put out there that can influence others who may look to us as examples, whether we intend ourselves to be or not. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with your diet at all, just that labeling any diet “the healthiest way to eat” without backing up that claim is troubling to me.
I work with a lot of young athletes who are out of their sport for injuries and desperate to get back, and I’ve had to have difficult conversations about this – that based on objective, evidence-based factors, I do not feel they are ready because they are at risk for exacerbating their current injury or sustaining a new one. Would returning to sport make them happy? Is it what they want? Of course. Is it the safest thing with regard to their short- and long-term well-being? Absolutely not. Of course I don’t like telling people what they don’t want to hear, but I have to make that call in their best interest.
I realize this is probably an unpopular opinion but wanted to share for you to consider. Thank you for reading.
Hi Kristen, thank you for your comment. Ethical reasons aside (since like you and I both noted, this post has nothing to do with ethical reasons for eating) I do 100% believe that intuitive eating is the healthiest way to eat. That is the point I think and very much hope this post got across. There is lots of literature on the positive long term health affects of intuitive eating. I write a blog, not scientific articles and I aim to make the blog a space that feels like I’m having a conversation with readers which is why you won’t see a lot of scientific writing. The whole point of this post is just what you said, that there is certainly no one gold standard. So instead of eating based on what this person said or that professional said people should be learning their own bodies, what feels good physically to them and what is satisfying. Satisfaction + feeling physically well are two components that lay the foundation for intuitive eating. Yes, it takes more work to become an intuitive eater than following a set of eating guidelines, but as a Registered Dietitian and Nurse Practitioner I firmly believe it is the healthiest way to eat. Please note that in the post I also talk about extreme diets being helpful for extreme conditions so I think all this said, I am left confused on your athletes and injury analogy. I see no contraindication in someone following their bodies hunger and cravings signals while being mindful of what foods give them the most energy. If I’ve missed something here, please feel free to email me at [email protected]. Thanks again for your comment and for reading!
Ever since your last post, I’ve been hanging out for this one Robyn! So perfect, what a welcome voice of sense and clarity. So many people I interact with in my world are strictly plant-based, and know how to make a person feel like they’re being slack or neglectful or ignorant for not living their ‘enightened’ way. I’ve felt guilt of feeling like I should be strictly plant-based too, and the added shame of just not being able to cut out animal food because my body has asked for it (and I know now to give my body what it craves). Balance. This is it. <3
I just appreciate your “real”-ness! I tried to avoid meat and dairy during my ED, but it was strictly to restrict! Growing up on a farm in the midwest, beef and pork is what my family and friends eat! I tried to avoid this and think I was “healthier” because I didn’t like it. In reality, it was the ED controlling me.
Throughout recovery, I regained appreciation and satisfaction from meat, dairy, etc. Now I can enjoy hanging out with friends eating pizza with meat + cheese, getting ice cream, and grilling with my family. Another huge perspective change for me was traveling internationally. I got outside of my comfort zone, and ate whatever was available. Learning and living life in another culture means eating the food they offer! The cultures I experienced ate all kinds of meats, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, and lots of rice 🙂 Overall, this really made me appreciate the nourishment that ALL types of foods bring to our bodies!
Thank you for everything, Robyn! I have always loved reading your blog!
I am so glad to hear that you have widened your thinking and are learning what is good for YOU. and like you said, ALL foods are nourishing! Thank you for reading!
Heather @ Polyglot Jot says
I really value this post and see exactly what you are saying. While I agree to an extent that it can become challenging and seem restrictive especially in instances when you’re out or when someone else is cooking for you. However, I do feel that meat and dairy are definitely things to avoid for many reasons (Some of them being ethical so I understand thats not what this post is geared towards).
I highly respect you and love this blog and I also see your point in how this kind of thinking could be dangerous for someone especially if they are isolating themselves or being obsessive. I just have a hard time with the idea that meat and dairy is good for consumption. Perhaps my bias as a newer vegan is clouding my judgement. Either way, I hope you know I respect you and can see both sides of the argument.
Hi Heather – I think keeping the big picture in mind is important. Health is not isolated to a particular food, its about overall habits and all lifestyle factors including sleep, stress, and emotional/mental health – so when making food choices, all those things have to be considered when deciding if that choice is “healthy” or not.
Thank you for your respectful comment and for reading!
Amber @ Madden Wellness Counseling says
I also wanted to comment on your post. I’m not sure if you’re new to reading Robyn’s blog or if you’re a long-time reader. But after MANY years of reading Robyn’s blog, I can attest that she has truly been a role model for me in many different aspects of my life. I believe these posts are meant to be just that. For Robyn’s readers that know and understand her personal journey and how this translates to her audience, then we know that Robyn is a human being and is ever-evolving. To your analogy, I would also respectfully add, that if your patients truly WANT to continue their activity, it may be your recommendation that they do not. HOWEVER, giving up something that is a huge part of their life could actually decrease their quality of life, not physically, but emotionally. You patient’s may, instead, choose to take a risk of continuing their activity whether or not it puts them more at risk because they feel the risk is worth it for what they get back emotionally. I think the same applies here. Although there are always risk with telling someone that they can “do what they want” with their diet, I think placing such a focus on healthy eating and exercise also CREATES stress for people. And just as Robyn pointed out here, sometimes the stress we (and the diet culture) place people in is not worth the benefits of the healthy diet.
You articulated that so well Amber 🙂