When people find out I’m in school for nutrition a few things typically happen:
- They get defensive about their food choices (without me saying a word).
- They ask me what to order from a menu or ask for advice (no guys, you shouldn’t do this on dates!).
- I get judgy eyes about what I choose to eat.
It’s this last one that got me thinking…what is my responsibility as a [future] dietitian when it comes to food?
While discussing our papers on the Meaning of Food, my Nutritional Counseling professor revealed the common threads weaved throughout our essays. I realized how much I related to everything my professor mentioned, even if I didn’t include it in my paper. My classmates and I all have common insecurities, perspectives, and memories related to food.
One recurring theme throughout our papers was the juxtaposition of “good” versus “bad” foods. As graduate students in nutrition, we aren’t supposed to think this way…right?
At the end of the day, we — dietetics students, dietitians, and healthcare workers — are still people dealing with healthy eating the same way everyone else does. We may know the “right” foods to eat for health, weight maintenance, and certain disease states, but we like to eat for pleasure and happiness too. We have the same struggles with avoiding sugar, fried foods, and excess that everyone else does. We just have the tools to combat these obstacles in our back pocket…but the choice to actually use them is still ours.
As our conversation continued I got to thinking about the perfect diet. I, personally, don’t think such a thing exists. I don’t think a vegan lifestyle is superior to a paleo one. I don’t think that my food choices are better than yours. And most of the time I am not even paying attention to what you are eating (shocking…I know!). Due to my education, I may know more than you do about the foods that are healthier for us over others (and why), but that doesn’t mean I only eat these foods.
I love chocolate and french fries and pizza just as much as the next person. I know that I should limit these foods (OK, maybe not the dark chocolate) in my diet because they are not as nutritious as roasted sweet potatoes, kale salads, and fresh fruit, but I certainly don’t eliminate them.
I recently came across an #eatclean contest on Instagram. I’m not sure of the details…maybe whoever posted the most pictures of “clean” foods wins? I know I frequently use this hashtag to encourage others to choose foods with minimal processing versus those overly processed foods that are stripped of essential nutrients, but when eating the “cleanest” becomes a contest it’s no wonder there’s a rise in a new eating disorder: orthorexia.
The obsession with healthy eating, even if you are eating enough, is not to be taken lightly. Our culture thrives on perfection, from photoshopped images of celebrities to picture-perfect plates admired by the health-crazed social media population. But when it comes to what we eat, perfection isn’t necessarily something to be applauded.
Studying nutrition, working in the field, and blogging about healthy cooking and nutrition, I am surrounded by food 24/7. If you were to look at my photo library on my phone, you’d probably think I have no friends; It’s all food, all the time…and mayyyybe a few workout selfies. While I try to set a balanced example, including a variety of foods in my daily diet, there’s a dangerous line that I try to stay far away from, between loving my profession and being obsessed with healthy eating.
I know many of my friends in the field agree that we often feel judged about what we eat if it’s not what most people consider a “good” food. While I don’t believe in “good” foods versus “bad” foods, I prefer a gentler way of categorizing foods: better-for-you foods and sometimes foods. Articles titled “5 foods dietitians would never eat,” just don’t seem realistic. Unless a food allergy exists, there’s no reason to feel like any particular food needs to be completely banished from your diet.
A perfect diet consisting only of better-for-you foods is not realistic, desirable for our taste buds, or even healthy, and I [personally] don’t think a dietitian — or anyone — should strive for this ideal of perfection. Birthdays happen once a year, and family traditions are not to be diminished. Heck, if a stressful day at work leads to cuddling in bed with a bowl of chunky monkey every so often...enjoy the moment! I’m not saying these extremes should be everyday…or even weekly…occurrences, but there’s something to be said for once in a while. As a future dietitian, I take my responsibility seriously to set a positive example, and that’s one that includes moderation.
Case in point…The other day my mom was reading one of my blog posts, turned to me and said, “I feel like I’ve read you write, ‘It’s all about balance’ in your last three posts.” Guilty, mom! But this is only because I truly believe that to have a healthy perspective on food and nutrition, we must keep in mind ying and yang. Pizza with a salad, red wine with water, and chocolate with strawberries…Especially chocolate with strawberries!
There are many versions of healthy. And there are even more interpretations of the perfect diet. A perfect diet is what works for you…cheers to french fries and green smoothies galore.
Are RDs [Registered Dietitians] supposed to eat a “perfect” diet? Is there even a such thing as a “perfect” diet?
Disclaimer: All opinions are my own and are not meant to speak for other professionals in the field.
P.S. Throughout National Nutrition Month I’ve seen several dietitians write about similar topics and wanted to share two of my favorites…