There are a few professions that make party conversation die, or at least U-turn, pretty quickly. Admitting “I’m a Dietitian” often comes with a quick test of judgments, philosophies, or current food/drink-in-hand. Mostly innocent questions, like if a dinner plate looks “healthy” enough, how many calories it has, or what I think about the latest fad diets. I get it, and I’m sure I’ve been just as unintentionally guilty of doing this to a myriad of others (You work for Delta?! Let’s take some flights, yo!). It’s the nature of small talk, or sometimes friend-to-friend talk; we’re curious humans. But more often we’re humans who want to be comforted and told that what we’re doing is OK.
Want to know a secret? Here’s some RD real talk: I don’t care about what you’re eating.
I don’t care what you’re buying at the grocery store, drinking at the bar, ordering for lunch, or buying in front of me at the coffee shop. I don’t care how many calories are on your plate, in your cup, or filling your bowl of dessert. Unless we’re working together 1:1, this information doesn’t tell me much of anything, and you don’t need me to be adding up the numbers.
This doesn’t make me an ass, indifferent, or a bad dietitian. Rather, it comes from an open mind that knows we’re all different. Maybe you’re a distance runner(or sport of choice)-in-training who needs and wants a big muffin with that cup of coffee; maybe you’ve had a nice lazy morning and this muffin is something you enjoy every weekend. Any number of things could be going on in your life at this exact moment. So who am I to judge or make assumptions about that in relation to the way you choose to eat in any given situation? Dietitian or otherwise, it’s not my place.
Sure, there are basic nutrition principles and I presume most of us know, and generally understand, them. Eat fruits and vegetables every day; choose whole grains; drink water; pick your proteins (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc); don’t be afraid of fats; drink and enjoy dessert in moderation. We have all heard, read, and digested those tidbits in every way possible. We know what “junk” food is (though sometimes we don’t really know if it’s “food” — tricky, those scientists), we know when we’ve eaten too much, we know when we’re hungry. Articles get published every day that say those basic statements in some arrangement of words, often diluted with noise or industry-funded messages. When something newsworthy does get published I’m happy to read, review, and chat about it. While there are very few truly gray areas in nutrition, there are plenty of philosophies to choose from. We’ve probably all tested at least one “diet” in our lifetime, and every day we’re making nutrition choices between this or that — sometimes in an effort to feel better, sometimes with a middle-finger to the “they” of nutritional science advice, because for today you just don’t care.
What I DO care about is how what you’re eating and drinking makes you feel. Let’s talk about that.
We could argue low fat vs. low carbohydrate vs. paleo vs. vegetarian vs. detoxing vs. the-next-big-thing and whether or not it’s the “healthiest” way to eat, but plenty of people do that already and not a single straight no-bullshit answer has come of it (that I’m aware of). What we should be preaching in place of all of the above is awareness.
I bet it’s not hard for you to think of the last time you were famished to the point of hangry and/or full to the point of not wanting to move from the couch. (Hand raised.) I bet it’s easy to recall a time when you had food poisoning, or a time when you were 100% sure a meal just didn’t sit well. But I also bet it’s rare for you to take these assessments on a daily basis, when you’re just going through the motions of eating, living, eating, working, eating again, and sleeping.
Did that muffin leave you satisfied for a few hours until lunch, or were you hungry again pretty quickly?
Were you able to focus on your tasks after that heavy greasy meal, or were you feeling a little sluggish?
Are you often able to go for a walk after dinner, or would you rather plop onto the couch and lay sedentary until you go lay in bed?
Do you wake up feeling hungry within an hour, or are you still full from that must-find-the-couch evening?
Have you ever checked in with yourself before, during, or after a meal to see how you’re feeling?
Have you ever tried to associate a sleepy afternoon, constantly-starving day, or no-appetite-for-dinner feeling with what you ate or drank in the hours before?
Most foods that follow those basic guidelines above? They’ll probably make you feel pretty good. The junk foods? Not so much.
As a dietitian and your friend, I do care about how you feel. We tie a lot of emotion to what/how/why we eat, but rarely take a step back and analyze our physiological reactions to it. Food fuels and affects you in unique ways, and it may take some work to figure out those personal nuances. I certainly can’t do it with a glance at a plate, so let’s not spend the party analyzing or wondering. That’s why I don’t care to judge what you’re eating, I just care about how it’s making you feel. And I want you to care, too. That’s where some big change can happen. We’ll get there…