Finding Balance with Food

It’s not easy. For most, it’s a lifelong cycle of eating “good” and then slipping up and eating “bad” and then eventually feeling so sick with ourselves that we drag ourselves up, fill our fridge with fruits, vegetables, and other “health” foods, and start again. We criticize ourselves for having no self-control, no discipline, and we live in a constant state of “I’ll start tomorrow,” or even more popular, “I’ll start on Monday.”

I get a bad rap as a dietitian. At social events, others will say “well don’t watch me eat this piece of cake.” As if I live on a pedestal of eating “perfectly” and my job is to judge and shame others for their eating habits. If I could, I would want everyone to know that I’m human, I don’t eat “perfectly”, and all I have is a commitment to treat myself with compassion and empathy, which is something not many people do. Which is what keeps them in a pit of frustration and feeling like a failure.

I’ll tell you a secret. Current nutrition recommendations are more harmful than they are helpful. They tell us to eat only whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. They tell us to limit added salt, sugar, and saturated fat to almost zero. These recommendations are unrealistic and unattainable, and with such high expectations, they set us up for failure. Even the most disciplined person will find it impossible to give up their birthday cake. And it creates a state where we live in fear of what our food is doing to us. And fear is not a good motivator for change.

Something that is popular right now for the more health conscious is cheat meals and days. Some of you might say, “Well I eat healthy most of the time, but I have my cheat meal or my cheat day. That’s my balance.” I’ll tell you that if you have to cheat, it’s probably not a very realistic diet. What happens when social events don’t fall on designated “cheat” times? Or your cheat day happens to be a busy day and you don’t have time to enjoy food as much as you’d like? You’re left feeling unsatisfied, because you didn’t get your fill, or you had to say no to something you really wanted, because it wasn’t time to “cheat.”

As a dietitian, and as someone who has lived this, this is very close to my heart. And I am here to reassure you that you’ll be okay, you have my full permission to eat that piece of cake, that big mac and fries, that bag of chips. If it helps, I’ll tell you that I eat them too. And I do, probably more often than you think is “acceptable.” It’s hard to sum up all the advice I want to give to others, because boy, do I have a lot. But I think it comes down to really and truly caring for yourself. A fellow a dietitian said to me, “is it really loving yourself if you make yourself feel bad for doing or not doing something?”

To help get you started, here are some examples to get you thinking. Instead of saying, “I’m eating this salad because I should and because it’s good for me.” Only eat the salad if you truly want the salad. Instead of saying, “I’m working out because it burns calories so I can eat more later.” Only do the exercise if you truly enjoy the activity and it feels good to move your body. Instead of saying, “I’m eating this donut (or 6) but I’ll have to run this off later, or eat less tomorrow.” Eat it because it tasty, and don’t punish yourself for it!

I hope that helps. And if you’re looking for more reassurance and encouragement, I’m here if you want to reach out. I’d love to hear from you.

-Rachel Werling, Dietitian