Hi all! Excited to guest post here on Real Life RD while Robyn settles back into the real world after these crazy whirlwind weeks of getting hitched and honeymooning!
For those who don’t know me, hi! I’m Rachael, a private practice RD in Columbia, SC and a blogger at Avocado A Day Nutrition, where I share recipes for delicious and satisfying food and inspiration for nourishing healthy relationships with food. Robyn and I are part of the same intuitive eating mastermind group (and snuggle buddies at FNCE – our national dietitians conference). I feel so grateful to soak up some of her genius, so I’m happy to pay forward the favor and share a tool I use in my practice to help clients make peace with food.
With intuitive eating, one of the biggest challenges is getting past labeling food in black and white terms. The disordered eating brain wants to put food in to nice and neat little categories. Food is “good,” or food is “bad.” There is no grey.
But in order to make peace with food, it’s really important to view all food on equal grounds. Putting certain foods on a pedestal while demonizing others leads to binging, backlash eating, overrestriction, and of course, a whole heck of a lot of shame and guilt.
I think what makes this so difficult is the fact that while morally equivalent, certain foods are more nutritious than others. That doesn’t mean those foods are better than foods that are less nutritious – they simply have more nutrients and serve a different purpose.
There are many ways food can promote health and fuel your body outside of the nutrients it contains. Providing energy is one. While a snack with lots of added sugar might not provide many nutrients, it does provide an easily available source of energy if I decide to go on a run or hike later on. Pleasure is another. Sure, a soda doesn’t provide nutrition, but you know what? An ice cold coke out of a glass bottle (always the glass bottle…) is seriously the most pleasurable thing on a hot and humid South Carolina summer day, especially when it’s paired with a barbecue sandwich and a wood picnic table. Then there’s the social aspect of eating. Most people don’t think of Thanksgiving as “healthy,” but when you think of it as a way to connect with friends and family, how is it not? And frankly, loneliness will shave a lot more years off your life than macaroni and cheese ever will. Dieting… not so great for your social life.
Even if you’re looking at food from a purely nutrition standpoint, it isn’t so black and white. Ice cream provides calcium and fat soluble vitamins. Pasta provides your brain with the carbohydrates it absolutely needs. Heck, even soda contains fluids to help keep you hydrated! That might be hard to internalize, but if you’ve been lost in the desert for a few hours, that soda is preeetty much the healthiest thing you could put in your body.
Are you stuck on labeling food as good and bad, healthy and unhealthy? Try this simple trick that I came up with for my clients to help them banish black and white thinking and begin to view food in shades of grey.
First, when you catch yourself labeling a food as bad, I want you to imagine a scale. The bottom means it contains no nutrients, the top means it’s ripped out of the pages of a Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook. Follow your initial thought and put it on the scale.
If you put it on the bottom of the scale, see if you can move it up a notch. Consider nutrients it contains and energy it provides. This might be difficult, but think back to the basics of where the food comes from. For example, a chip is just potatoes and oil. What kind of nutrition can you get from potatoes and oils? A potato contains fiber, vitamin C, and complex carbohydrate. Oils help you absorb fat soluble vitamins, and fats are beneficial for hormonal health. Even if you’re just moving it up a smidge, it’s one step away from black and white thinking.
If you put it at the top of the scale, take a moment to challenge it. That green juice, while nutrient packed, doesn’t really contain much energy, fat, protein or carbohydrate, does it? The low calorie snack bar you’ve been glorifying? What does it contain in the way of whole food ingredients? Does it really deserve it’s spot at the top of the scale?
Next, think of another scale. This one represents pleasure. Now, here’s the kicker – this scale is just as important as nutrition when it comes to health. Make sure you put equal weight into it! Consider how enjoyable the food, and the eating experience are, then place it on the scale where you see fit.
The goal of this exercise isn’t to discover the perfect “balance” on the scale, but to use it as an exercise to challenge you black and white thinking. Remember, eating in the middle is what’s healthiest, both for your body and soul.
Keep in touch! I’d love to hang out with you on instagram and facebook! Head to my blog my more diet and deprivation free inspiration!