To someone who has always had a healthy relationship with food, food is just food. Meaning food is simply something you eat to enjoy and to keep you alive, and yes, sometimes indulge in just for the sake of eating something tasty. But, for me, and for many other people I know, food is so much more than that.
For myself, food is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, a lot of people who get into nutrition have history of disordered eating (perhaps one day I’ll share more, but today isn’t that day). One reason why I chose to study nutrition is because I was so misguided as a teenager when it came to learning how to be healthy. I wish I had a qualified nutrition professional leading me in the right direction when I was younger, so now, I’m doing my part to help myself and help others in the future. But that’s not the only reason. I love cooking, I love creating healthy versions of recipes, and I believe proper nutrition is vital to living a healthy life. I’m also intensely passionate about science and scientifcally-based evidence when it comes to using nutrition to prevent and treat disease.
As a nutrition student, I’ve learned so much in my classes. My favorite courses so far have been Medical Nutrition Therapy, where we learn how to treat illnesses and symptoms like portal hypertension, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis, and others, and I also really enjoyed Cultural Aspects of Food. In Cultural Aspects of Food, we learned about how early man ate (surprise: the paleo diet, although very healthy, isn’t completely reflective of how cavemen ate), how different cultures eat, issues surrounding the global food source and how we’re going to sustain ourselves. Even though I feel like I’m getting a great education, I sometimes doubt myself when it comes to what I’m eating. Based on the recommendations in my Nutrition 101 class, I’m doing pretty well, nutritionally. I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, my grains are always whole and not refined, I limit sugars, and my protein is usually lean (I don’t eat meat for various reasons [but I completely understand that veganism isn’t for everyone] so I stick with beans, tofu, etc. which are low in fat). But, I also take in a lot of information from outside of my classes.
When you’re passionate, or dare I say, obsessive, about food/nutrition, you tend to want to learn as much as you can, and this can present some problems because it can be information-overdrive. Somedays I’ll read some article claiming gluten is the most harmful thing one could ingest, and the next, I’ll read a scholarly paper proving that whole wheat products are perfectly fine for non-celiacs. It can be really confusing to sift through information, especially because nutrition is such a new science. We’ve only been studying what we’ve been eating for a limited amount of time and in that time, there has been so much conflicting advice. In the 80’s and 90’s, fat (in all forms) was shunned. That did us no good. In the early 2000’s, Atkins was the boss. Low-carbohydrate diets have been shown to be effective for weight loss, but at what cost? Eating large amounts of meat, especially factory-farmed meat, has been shown to increase the risk of cancers and heart disease, and it’s unsustainable for our planet. Now, it seems like the focus is on eating is purity, or cleanliness. To be healthy means you must eat organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. While I can agree that a diet consisting of mostly unprocessed, whole, organic foods is best, it’s not healthy to obsess over how pure your diet is, especially if it limits your social life or mental wellbeing.
So what advice as someone studying nutrition can I give to you (and myself!)? I think the answer is to find a way of eating that is a) based on nutritionally sound advice (we need carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals to sustain ourselves) b) balanced, based on the individual (some people really do feel better avoiding gluten even without diagnosed Celiac Disease, some people do well eating only plants, some people need less carbs to thrive) c) an ongoing experiment. Meaning you might experiment with the ratios of your macronutrients and see how it affects you, or you may want to see if going gluten-free alleviates some stomach pain, or you may find that a moderate diet of whole grains, dairy, fruits, veggies, and meat is working just fine. The important thing is to find a way of eating that makes you feel healthy, have patience in the process, and focus on yourself instead of buying into every new piece of advice that comes along.