“Eat to live, don’t live to eat. Eat clean. Guilt-Free Eating. Earn your food at the gym. Nothing tastes better than skinny feels.” Messages of morality are weaved into our conversations about food and wellness every day and often out of the mouths of well-intentioned people. This creates an interesting and often harmful paradox: Eat this way or you are bad. Eat clean or you are sinful.
I did not get into this line of work to help people determine how many calories they need daily to achieve their ideal body weight. I decided to be a dietitian so I could help people heal their relationship with food. Food is emotional, cultural, personal and our life depends on it.
If you set out to establish a healthier relationship with food be prepared to face some inner demons because it is never about the food. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to get a Masters in Psychology instead of Nutrition. The war people wage against themselves and their choices is something that often calls for additional support from the mental health community.
I am part of a generation that far too often ties their self-worth to their own achievement: in school, at home, in the gym. Self-love is a powerful antidote to the self-loathing that results from striving for our own version of perfection. I believe that nourishing yourself on a daily basis, truly enjoying what you eat and moving your body in a way that makes you feel good are daring acts of self-love. Food can be an expression of love.
When I was a baby, my sleep-deprived mom fed me at midnight, my grandfather spent his weekends picking home grown tomatoes and strawberries from his garden for Sunday brunch, my dad makes his famous Beef Stroganoff on my visits home, my mom bakes cookies and mails them from Washington to New Hampshire for Michael and I to enjoy, I pour over traditional Mexican, BBQ and southern cookbooks so I can infuse some nostalgia into our kitchen for my homesick Texan. Food is emotional and cultural and absolutely an expression of our love.
I’ve made a career of teaching young men and women how to apply their knowledge of nutrition in real-life, every day scenarios. How do you make the science of baking and nutrient density relevant for a recently diagnosed diabetic who is afraid making cupcakes for his granddaughter’s birthday will land him in the hospital again? How do you take the concepts you learned in a nutrition policy course and use them to advocate for your clients who want to eat more fruits and vegetables but don’t have access to them in their town?
I encourage students to look at food and nutrition from a place of deep empathy, both in their own life and in the lives of their patients. For example, is your patient in the hospital simply because they didn’t know that French fries and burgers weren’t heart healthy? Or is it because a Big Mac and fries are $2 at McDonalds and McDonalds is on their way home from work? Perhaps they work 14 hour days and it’s the only thing their kids will eat and they just want to sit down and have a meal with their family before everyone has to go to bed? Understanding breeds empathy. Empathy is at the core of self-love. We could use a little more love in the world, start with you.