“Oh! Well then I shouldn’t tell you what I had for dinner last night!”
Is a response I often get when people find out what I do for a living and it always makes me a tiny bit sad and just a smidge self-conscious. Why? Because it shows that people worry that I am going to judge them for their food choices. It betrays the shame people feel about what they are eating. It is yet another reminder that in our culture food and morality sometimes go hand-in-hand. More and more the message seems to be: if you aren’t eating “healthy,” then there is something wrong with you—if you still eat sugar, drink soda, have chips, buy fast food, or depend on processed foods, you are poisoning yourself and anyone else you might be feeding.
The more that I work as a health and cooking coach, the more I believe that this sort of thinking about food and eating is more damaging than eating any of those “bad” foods.
When I first started trying to change my own diet to eat healthier I was completely overwhelmed by all of the messages I was getting: don’t eat wheat; sugar is poison; don’t eat dairy; only eat organic; include x, y, and z superfoods in your daily diet; drink one glass of red wine a day; never drink wine; drink 1 cup of coffee a day; coffee will destroy your adrenal gland and you’ll never have energy again, etc. It got to a point where I would go food shopping and feel paralyzed, even in a health food store!
And then I realized it was too much. I was reverting back to my days of disordered eating. I had lost touch with why I had gone into this work I the first place—that I wanted to share my passion for food and show people how accessible and life changing simple cooking can truly be. So I made a conscious decision to let go. Yes, I was going to continue to find fun ways to make my diet healthier. Yes, I was going to include more fruits and vegetables. Yes, I was going to cook mostly from whole ingredients. But I was not going to deprive myself (or my family) of foods that we truly enjoyed and I was not going to feel guilt when it came to food. In other words, I found a balance.
Here are some things about my eating that may surprise you:
- I eat sugar. Not a lot of it, but there is sugar somewhere in my diet basically every day. There is some in my chai, I often have a handful of chocolate chips after lunch, and I often enjoy something sweet after dinner.
- I drink alcohol. I usually have a glass of wine in the evening. Sometimes two. And when I go out for a grown up night maybe even more (although this is less and less true as I feel crummier the next morning than I used to, so it has become less “worth it”).
- There are refined carbs in my house. White pasta? Yup. White rice? Yes. White flour? You bet. Do I also have the whole grain versions of all of those things? Absolutely. But we enjoy both in our house. Afterall, I am married to a Brazilian who I think might divorce me if all the white rice disappeared from our dinner table.
- There are processed snacks in our house. No, I don’t have Dorritos or Cheetos knocking around, but there are often pretzels and sometimes corn chips and sometimes potato chips. I also often make stove top popcorn, bake whole grain muffins, and have been known to make crackers from scratch. In addition, I am a big fan of the veggie platter and serve a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal. We enjoy them all.
What have I learned from all of this? For me, the greatest realization was that once I stopped feeding myself from a place of rules and restriction, I started enjoying my food more. I savored it more. I was more relaxed about it. And the coolest realization of all: once I wasn’t feeling deprived anymore the foods that I naturally chose, most of the time at least, were the healthier options because they actually made me feel better and because I was more attuned to what my body, and my heart, needed.
So, please, next time you talk to me, tell me all about the McDonalds or the microwave pizza and share with me the recipe for the amazing vegetable soup you made from scratch. I want to hear it all and honor it all, because that is what food should be about.