When you think about food, what immediately comes to mind?
Fuel? Pleasure? Rules? Guilt? Pizza?
If I’m being honest, for me it’s all of those things. I’m continually working (every damn day) on re-learning how to tap into the physicality of food – paying more attention to what energizes and nourishes me, what tastes delicious and feels satisfying, and less attention to certain values or judgments that I have learned to associate with those foods.
It’s, frankly, hard to do given all the “cues”…or “miscues” out there.
Remember when Starbucks introduced the “skinny” menu?
A “skinny vanilla latte” is made with espresso, skim milk, and sugar-free syrup. First things first, when I use dairy in my coffee (or any dairy for that matter), I use full-fat dairy. I recommend my clients do the same because, personally, I find a splash of whole milk or Half and Half is much more satisfying than skim milk, and it depletes the need for any added sweeteners.
Furthermore, most would agree that trying to eat whole foods (i.e. foods in their most natural state) as often as possible is an excellent nutritional foundation. Extracting naturally-existing nutrients from food, like fat, alters the "wholeness" of that food, just as adding flavors or sweeteners does.
Sugar-free syrup is essentially chemicals. It’s no better for you than the calorie-dense, sugar-filled stuff because your body cannot differentiate the real stuff from the fake stuff and it processes it the same way (i.e. blog sugar spikes, your body produces insulin which increases fat storage, etc).
As I always point out, there is no right choice for everyone. Maybe you prefer skim milk or you don’t use dairy. Totally fine. My point is that we see the “skinny” label and immediately associate it with a “good” or “healthy” choice when, in fact, that may not be the case.
In a culture obsessed with abs and the latest diet craze, it’s shockingly easy to disconnect food from its very basic purpose: nourishment. And guess what, guys. Nourishing yourself should be (gasp) enjoyable!
At the beginning of the year, The New York Times published a poignant article hitting on this very point, titled “Ruby Tandoh Just Wants You to Eat What You Love” 1
“…She believes that taking pleasure in food is an inherently nourishing act, that to cook yourself dinner is to be good to yourself.
But rules? “Eat what you love” is the closest thing Ms. Tandoh has to one. Spend an afternoon with her, or follow the recipes in her cookbook, and it’s clear that the phrase is a call to follow your own sense of the delicious.”
Food is a primal necessity for survival. We need to eat every day. If something we do every day, multiple times a day, is an experience derived from punishment or restriction, it is not, by definition nourishing.
<Nourishing: promoting or sustaining life, growth, or strength>
As I always tell my clients – many of whom have a history of chronic rule-setting when it comes to food – tuning into what your body wants and needs does not mean you are going to wake up and eat brownies every day. Sure, maybe that sounds like fun. But brownies for breakfast won’t nourish and energize you in a way that translates into self-care. And, remember, we are trying to tap into the physicality of food. By the same token, if you HATE drinking your food but you wake up and force down a protein smoothie because it’s been touted a “good choice”, you also are not nourishing yourself in a way that translates into self-care.
To find lasting, sustainable results in our health or weight-loss journey (or really anything in life for that matter), our actions have to support the ultimate goal of taking care of ourselves, being kind to ourselves. Otherwise, we're just spending day in and day out holding on for dear life to follow the rules. Until we can't hold on anymore.
We eat a lot of kale in our house. The thing is, we don’t eat it to “be good” or trendy. We eat it because we prepare it deliciously and it fuels us with tons of nutrients. It makes our bodies feel great. You know what else we eat a lot of? Cheese. Fewer nutrients, yes, but it’s freakin' delicious and we enjoy it.
In our culture we have a tendency to equate discomfort with grit or strength (“no pain, no gain”). On the flip side we often associate pleasure with indulgence and guilt. Seems kind of backwards, no? Yes, hard work is important and with hard work comes challenge and, often, being pushed outside of one’s comfort zone. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that when we are satisfied, in body, mind and soul, we are much more apt to sustain the behaviors that make us feel so. And that sustenance leaves us better equipped to funnel our energy into connecting, learning, growing and loving. And that is what makes the world go round. Not green juice.
What do you LOVE to eat? Let's get the discussion going in the comments below!