I hear talk about food everywhere. Of course I do, I’m a nutritionist. But outside of that, even when I’m not trying to talk (or think) about food, it almost always comes up. At work in the break room, coworkers are always discussing their weight loss goals or the new diet they are trying. My friends at dinner bring up that they’ve removed certain foods because their digestion is not as robust as it used to be. At the table over, I hear people discussing their experience on the Keto diet.
It makes me wonder, have we always been so obsessed with food? Not just eating it, but thinking about our next meal, talking about foods we love, having food photo shoots? Or maybe it’s just that I am tuned in to food talk because food is my thang.
Whatever it is, I love that people are talking about food, gut issues, supplements, and even bowel movements. Yes. You read that right.
Our Backwards Thinking About Food
I recently had a meeting with my accountability partner who is also a nutritionist. We were discussing the thoughts and feelings surrounding food; the words we use to describe acts of eating and certain types of food. For example, we have “cheat days,” or “indulgences” or “slip ups” or “we’re being good” because we ate a salad for lunch. She and I agreed that our thinking is backwards. We give way too much power to the foods that don’t serve us and not enough power to the foods that do! We “lose control” over a box of cookies instead of “indulging” in a bowl of fresh fruit.
What if we discussed nutrient-dense foods the way we discuss desserts? For instance, what if I told you that I indulged in a monster salad with grilled asparagus, hunks of avocado, wild-caught buttery salmon, creamy goat cheese, and roasted pecans? Doesn’t that sound lovely? I feel like a lot of people think eating “healthy” means they have to pinch their noises and force down wheat grass shots or gnaw on boring salads like a goat. I hate boring salads as much as the next person!
Is there room for both kinds of food in a healthy diet? Of course there is! In my previous post, I discussed the 80/20 rule that keeps me on track: 80% of the time, I eat foods that nourish me, that feed into my nutrient stores, that give me energy. And 20% of the time, I eat chips and cookies and chocolate. But I hold my chips, cookies, and chocolate to high standards – I make my own or I buy them from companies that I know use quality ingredients, like coconut oil instead of canola oil, or dates instead of white sugar. And I eat those things (1) because I enjoy them and (2) to stay healthy. I eat the desserts so I can maintain my health! As backwards as it sounds, I really think we need to flip our current food logic upside-down by giving the “bad” foods less power (just eat them and move on!) and the nutrient-dense foods more airtime.
Indulging in the 80%
So how do we indulge in the 80%? I always recommend to my clients that they get their butts in the kitchen! Get to know your food and cook it in ways you like it! I hate raw broccoli. If someone told me I “should” eat it, I wouldn’t. But baked in the oven with sea salt, pepper, and then drenched in lemon hummus sauce – I’m in heaven! Plus, when we start to crowd out the processed, sugary foods, our palettes adjust. Vegetables become sweeter! Fruit becomes more tart!
Now maybe some of you are rolling your eyes at me, thinking “Of course she likes healthy food, she’s a nutritionist.” As a baby, I was weaned off of the bottle and straight onto Pepsi. I grew up on sloppy Joe’s, McDonald’s, and French fries. I don’t blame my parents whatsoever – these were (and still are) the staple foods of America and why many Americans are now combating obesity, food addictions, and diabetes. Nutrition didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t even learn to cook properly until I took Culinary Skills during my master’s program. And I certainly don’t put up with boring salads and wheat grass juices even now. I like my food to burst with flavor.
I became a nutritionist because I was fed up with feeling crappy. I was fed up with popping pills, of not feeling in control of my food choices, and of continuing to put money into the sugar industry’s pockets.
The bottom line is when we start to feel better and more in control of our well-being, we can let go of that need for the fleeting satisfaction that sugary foods give us because we like the lasting effects that nutrient-dense foods give us more. And we learn how to strike a balance so as not to let the pendulum swing too far in either direction.
Recovering From the “All-or-Nothing” Mentality
I have had a few clients who want to be told what to eat, who swear to give up sugar once and for all. I try to help them see that they can have both, if they want. They can learn to create sweets at home with high-quality ingredients. The all-or-nothing mentality has ALWAYS blown up in my face – I go ham on those cookies when I feel deprived!
We naturally want things we can’t have. Sure, out-of-sight-out-of-mind works…..when I am in my own home. But when I’m out and have access to cookies and pancakes, I want them! And then my sweet tooth is triggered hard core and I go to the store and load up on goodies because I have deprived myself of desserts. Instead, I sometimes have some ice cream in the freezer. Or I sometimes get a bag of chips when I go shopping. And I don’t make a big deal out of it. Giving too much power to certain foods leads to obsessive thoughts about them. And depriving ourselves of them just makes it worse.
Addressing Our Emotions
There are many reasons we feel we “need” double fudge brownies. When we eat sugar, neurotransmitters that make us feel good are triggered. When our blood sugar levels are dysregulated, our bodies crave sugary foods to try to get it back into balance. When we are deficient in nutrients, we are likely to make poor food choices. And then there is the emotional component – we use food soothe, comfort, and distract ourselves from stress, anxiety, and sad feelings. Many of us eat mindlessly without even acknowledging why we are eating.
It’s simple really – next time you feel you need to eat a cookie or a bag of chips, ask yourself if you’re hungry or if you’re using food as a comfort. Then strategize some of your go-to feel goods! A few of mine include going for a walk, dancing, drinking tea, and meditating. When your soul is content, you may find you don’t need validation from a pint of ice cream.
Our Food Lingo
I challenge you to start thinking about the lingo we use around food and eating. I am very careful about the words and thinking I have around certain foods. For instance, I like to say “nutrient-dense” foods (if you haven’t noticed yet); it helps take the stigma away from being “healthy” (I know, SO politically correct, right?). But I also try not to stigmatize “bad” foods, and instead, think of them as a part of a balanced diet. I enjoy Buddha bowls and I enjoy chocolate. Usually for breakfast, I have a protein smoothie but sometimes I make gluten-free pancakes and smother them in honey. I praise myself for eating loads of quality nutrients and for enjoying dessert, too.
Homemade Almond Butter Cookies
And in the spirit of enjoying quality goodies, I give you my almond butter cookies!!
Almond Butter Cookies
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
- 1 cup almond butter
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup brown rice flour
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup oat flour (or oats ground in a blender)
- Set the oven to 350F.
- In a large bowl, combine melted coconut oil, almond butter, and egg.
- In a small separate bowl, combine coconut sugar, sea salt, brown rice flower, cinnamon, and oat flour.
- Slowly, add dry ingredients to wet. Combine.
- Form dough into balls onto a greased cookie sheet. Use a fork to flatten the balls and create a cross-hatch pattern.
- Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool for 5-10 minutes (this step is important to keep them from crumbling!) and enjoy!