What comes to your mind when you think about food? I bet if I asked that question to 10 different people, I would get 10 different answers. For me, I think of feeling satisfied, energized, and the many good memories that I have with friends and family where we all enjoy a hearty meal together. However, a few years ago that question would have caused a spike in my heart rate because truth be told, food was a source of major internal struggle and anxiety for me for a long time. Maybe you can relate!
It all started with a diagnosis. As a 10-year old, being diagnosed with celiac disease helped me understand the effect food could have on my body, and how changing what I ate and sticking to a strict gluten free diet for life would allow my gut to heal. At the same time, I was training as a high-level gymnast, which only spurred on my natural tendency to be a perfectionist. It took a couple more years before I made the decision to quit the sport I loved because I knew I couldn’t sustain that level of activity for much longer with how my body was barely holding up. Autoimmune disease, even in a well-controlled state, plus high intensity training don’t make for a great combination in an adolescent body!
What transpired next is common for many “retired” athletes to go through. When I quit gymnastics, my body changed quite a bit. It very suddenly changed from a compact, well-conditioned “machine” if you will, to that of a normal pre-teen starting puberty. As I entered my high school years and played other sports, I noticed there were times where I just felt completely out of control with food. I was eating what I thought was too much, and I noticed I was gaining weight and losing the level of muscle tone I always had as a kid.
This sparked an intense desire to learn all I could about food so that I could feel my best and perform well! My solution was to restrict and count calories, but those good intentions spiralled into obsession once I realized how well I could control the way my body looked by sticking to the numbers in my head. At least, IthoughtI had it under control. I ended up going on a restricting/binging/purging (with exercise) rampage and only allowing myself to eat certain foods that I deemed were the best for me. I would severely restrict my sodium, fat, and sugar intake, only to then binge on salty, fatty, and sugary foods because I had deprived myself so much. One of the biggest consequences from this season was that, not only did I ultimately become overweight after being underweight for so long, but some of the foods I would binge on were contaminated with gluten. This set off an inflammatory reaction in my gut that I am still working on healing to this day. I never sought professional help, mostly due to pride and shame, and for fear of being given a “label” or needing to go to therapy. If I had, after all these years of studying nutrition, I believe I would have been diagnosed with “Eating Disorder Not Specified.”
During all of this, my faith was the anchor that eventually got me through, in addition to learning about proper nutrition and intuitive eating. I can now say that by the grace of God I experience a peaceful relationship with food and I have found freedom from it all! That being said, as I look back on that painful and growing time, if I reached out to a professional and received the help I needed, I believe it might have allowed me to work through things in a healthier way and save me from some of the struggle. Accountability would have also made a huge difference.
Why do I share all this with you? First of all, because this story is too common, and I hope we can change that. I also want you to know that I understand. I understand how difficult it can be to have to completely change your eating habits and how tricky gut health and inflammation can be. I understand not liking what you see in the mirror and not knowing how to change it in a healthy way. I understand weight struggles. I also understand the how burdensome an unhealthy relationship with food can be!
I did things the hard way. Instead of seeking help from a professional, I decided to go through five years of school and clinical rotations, mostly because I loved learning about it and wanted to help others live healthy lives, but also partly so that I could help myself. This ended up working out well, and has given me the opportunity to be passionate about what I do and help people who might be going through a similar experience! My desire is to help you not struggle as much as I did and restore a healthy relationship with food, regardless of your health circumstances! Food should be fun, even in the face of a Crohn’s diagnosis or an eating disorder.
Contrary to what many believe, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are not the food police! I can at least speak for the ones I know. We are NOT about shame. We are about freedom! Most of us have had our own struggles with food in one way or another, and have chosen a career path where we can empathize and compassionately help others through their nutrition journey! Our desire is to help people live a life where food is put in its proper place – to heal, fuel, and bring people together – and takes up just the right portion of our thoughts and time! And hopefully, you can answer the question “what comes to your mind when you think about food?” in a more positive way!
As a Dietitian, I always chuckle thinking about all the moments I’ve been in a social situation, with an ice cream or glass of wine in hand when someone inevitably asks me “What do you do for a living?” It seems I always chime in with my reply “I’m a registered dietitian” as they shovel a handful of French fries in their mouth. They suddenly glimpse up at me sheepishly, as if getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. I have found it both amusing and a bit sad to see how people would react to me, thinking either “You must eat perfectly (whatever the heck that means!) or “Oh man, you must be so judging me right now!!”
A question I often pose to my clients is “What does it look like to stop moralizing food?” I like to joke about what it might look like to remove our “Judger” hat and replace it with more of an “Inspector” hat when it comes to observing our food choices. This is important both in light of general health, as well as diagnoses or allergies that may require even tighter reins with food than what is needed for the average person. How do we come from a place of curiosity rather than shame when we talk about food – even when removing certain foods might be helpful?
After being diagnosed
with an autoimmune disease a few years ago I was faced, for the first time in
my life, the realization that I might need to make some pretty significant
changes to my food choices if I wanted to effectively address some of my
debilitating stomach issues, help to normalize my thyroid function and to
improve my gut and heart health. I knew I had to accept a new normal and I’d be
lying if I said it was easy. I also knew that I refused to let my relationship with
food be effected – meaning I never wanted to feel guilty around food or
fall into the trap of white knuckling a strict diet only to “fall off the
wagon”, eating everything on the “forbidden” list until I felt sick and ashamed.
Sure enough, as I began to make changes, I saw and felt improvements and began to understand my body better. I continue to learn more and more about which foods serve my body best and which foods don’t seem to serve it as well (at least not on a regular basis). For me this has meant taking intuitive eating to the next level – using my body’s cues and trusting it to help me feed it well. Asking “Inspector” questions like “When I eat x,y,z how does my body feel? My stomach? My energy levels? My memory and focus etc?”
Then I can use that information to create sustainable patterns I know I can live with. This means splurging on a delicious meal occasionally, even if I don’t feel all that great, because sometimes its just worth it. Other times its not, and that’s okay too! But ultimately, I refuse to let shame be what dictates my food choices!
I’ve always believed that there is a time and place for just about every food under the sun, and for me that has included a tarantula while at a gourmet restaurant in Cambodia (true story), agrub worm in Africa (yup) as well as a hot dog and chili cheese fries this weekend at the historic Coney Island Hot Dog Stand in Bailey, Colorado. Bet you can’t guess which local delicacy I enjoyed most!! Cus every now and then a girl just wants a hot dog!
So many factors are involved in making food decisions, and context plays a big role! Good nutrition is certainly a factor to consider during most eating moments, but if nutrition is the only thing we consider,we are potentially missing out on enjoyable, adventurous, social, spontaneous, or romantic moments that can often involve food!
In Cambodia and Africa, I was being welcomed by natives who wanted to share their lives and culture with me. Not only was it culturally appropriate, but very much appreciated that I participate in their unique delicacies. Eating a piece of birthday cake seems very appropriate at a birthday party but maybe not while hiding in a closet in the middle of the night – this is a sign of some deeper issues that are important to address. A hot dog for breakfast lunch and dinner would be missing a few food groups not to mention get really old! But every now and then, a girl just wants a hot dog!
I’ve always loved the analogy of the glass jar that must strategically be filled with a combination of rocks, gravel, sand and water. By putting the smaller, less important items in first, you risk crowding out room for what matters most. My take on food is similar. When we know the bulk of our diet includes a broad range of foods, most of which were once alive, ones that include lots of different shapes and colors, and obtained mostly from the outer edges of the grocery store (which doesn’t always have to be a “health food” store by the way!), we know our jar is filled with the large rocks that usually matter most. Then I find there is the perfect amount of room left for all the worms, tarantulas and hot dogs our hearts may desire (hey, no judgments, right? :-).
Also, in my near 20 years of being a dietitian, I’ve learned how very different our bodies actually all are! Foods that serve one person might not help another and vice versa.What lifestyle works for you? What choices help you feel your best and help you feel free in your relationship with food? Let’s stop judging ourselves and others for our food decisions!
Shout out to Coney Island Hot Dog Stand for using all natural, homemade and local ingredients, not to mention gluten free oils and bun options! I was pleasantly surprised when I heard this halfway through my meal and am even happier an hour later with no tummy issues! That said, I didn’t know what their ingredient policy was when we approached the historic hot dog shaped building tucked into the pine trees of the quaint Colorado town off Highway 285. When I saw it, I simply turned to my husband saying, “You know, every now and then a girl just wants a hot dog!
Even though Valentine’s Day has already come and gone, there is still a reason to celebrate and wear red because February is American Heart Month. So, let’s show a little love to our hearts this month!
Heart disease is the most prevalent chronic disease in America. It is also one of the most preventable diseases! As many people know, lifestyle is a main contributor to the development and worsening of heart disease. The good news is, there are many delicious foods that contain nutrients that can benefit your cardiovascular system! These nutrients include:
Monounsaturated fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids
Antioxidants: Vitamins C, E, beta-carotene, and phytochemicals
For those of you who don’t know what to do with this information, let me translate these nutrients into specific foods you can add to your grocery list for more heart healthy meals and snacks!
Monounsaturated fats are found in:
olives and olive oil
avocados and avocado oil
peanuts and peanut oil
other nuts and seeds
When monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) replace saturated fats in our meals and snacks (think olive oil replacing butter), the MUFAs can help lower overall blood cholesterol levels, as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides.
The major Omega-3’s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be found in high amounts in:
oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines)
fish oil capsules
There is another Omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) that can be found in:
walnuts and walnut oil
Small amounts in certain vegetables
These Omega-3’s are correlated with a lower risk of developing plaque in your arteries. ALA is known to be anti inflammatory. Overall Omega-3’s are seen as protective to your cardiovascular system!
Soluble fiber can be found in foods like:
The fleshy part of an apple
This type of fiber acts like a sponge by helping pull blood cholesterol into the stool as a waste product to be eliminated! It can also help balance blood sugar levels. Another amazing fact is that even though humans can’t digest fiber, the helpful bacteria that live in your gut can! These bacteria then produce products like acetate, propionate, and butyrate which are fancy terms for fatty acids that can help prevent cholesterol formation and repair any damage to the heart caused by high blood pressure!
The fourth group of heart healthy nutrients is antioxidants. The antioxidant Vitamin C can be found in:
High Vitamin E foods are:
Leafy green vegetables
Beta Carotene is found in:
Orange foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and apricots
Leafy green vegetables
Certain phytochemicals called catechins and polyphenols are powerful antioxidants for the cardiovascular system and are found in foods like red grapes, red wine, green tea, berries, apples, cherries and tart cherry juice, and dark chocolate. Antioxidants help decrease inflammation and lower oxidative stress.
You may have heard of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, which are commonly recommended as heart healthy eating patterns. This is because both recommend foods that contain high levels of the nutrients we’ve talked about. They promote eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, lean meats, lower fat dairy products, nuts, legumes, olive oil, reducing sugar and sodium, and decreasing consumption of red meat. Following these guidelines will help you incorporate these heart healthy nutrients into your diet each day, helping reduce your risk of heart disease one bite at a time!
Raymond JL, Couch SC. Medical Nutrition Therapy for Cardiovascular Disease. In: Mahan KL, Raymond JL, ed 14. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier; 2017. Chapter 33.
We are so excited to share our new blog with
you! We hope our posts will be a helpful
resource for you to learn about the latest in nutrition research, summaries and
reviews of books we recommend, as well as recipes, tools, encouragement, humor,
compassion, and tips to help you navigate your nutrition journey! To start this off, I wanted to introduce a
pretty basic concept that may be well known to some, but is a cornerstone of
how we at JR Dietetics view food and nutrition.
This concept is called “normal eating.” Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and
psychotherapist who specializes in eating, childhood feeding, and eating
disorders, made this term famous in 19831 and it remains well known
to this day. Here is Ms. Satter’s famous
definition of normal eating:
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry
and eating until you are satisfied.
It is being able to choose food you enjoy and
eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you
Normal eating is being able to give
some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being
so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
Normal eating is giving yourself
permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just
because it feels good.
Normal eating is mostly three
meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
It is leaving some cookies on the plate
because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now
because they taste so wonderful.
Normal eating is overeating at times,
feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and
wishing you had more.
Normal eating is trusting your body to
make up for your mistakes in eating.
Normal eating takes up some of your
time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your
In short, normal eating is flexible. It
varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and
Not much more needs to be said after this! We hope as you read it, maybe for the first time or for the 1,000th time, you felt empowered to give yourself a little more grace when it comes to eating. It’s completely cliché to say that nobody’s perfect, but reallynobody’s perfect, especially when it comes to nutrition. In fact, because each body is unique, there is no “perfect” way to eat. I think it’s safe to say that we can all relate to each statement in Satter’s definition.
Now, I’m not going to suggest that some
people don’t truly struggle in some
of these areas more than others, and I think in some cases, we need help to shift
our habits and focus when it comes to food for our health and wellbeing. That is where we as your registered
dietitians come in! Most likely, the
vast majority of us have felt some shame surrounding our eating habits at one
point or another, but there is absolutely no need to feel this way! However, if some of these normal eating
patterns morph into unhealthy situations, it is okay to seek out professional
help from a licensed therapist and/or a registered dietitian like us.
I think one of the most simple and
easily brushed aside lines is the very first, “Normal eating is going to the table hungry and leaving when you are
satisfied.” Let’s be honest, how
often does that happen for you? Maybe
that isn’t something you really struggle with, but for those who find it
difficult at times to listen to their own hunger cues, I wanted to give you a
simple tool to become more sensitive to your body’s hunger/satisfaction level. It’s called the “Hunger-Fullness Scale.”
What I want you to do is picture a number
line from one to 10, where number one is “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse”
and 10 is “I am so stuffed I feel like I could burst.” At a one, you might be experiencing symptoms
of dizziness, irritability (I like to call this “hangry”), shakiness, and frequent,
intense hunger pangs. Number 10 would be
when you are feeling completely stuffed and sluggish like right after feasting
on Thanksgiving dinner. Number 5 would
be neutral, or neither hungry nor full, and you might be hungry enough to eat a
meal in the next couple of hours, or maybe a small snack in 15 minutes.
I would say it’s best for people to try
to stay within the “happy zone” of three to a seven or eight most of the time. A three means you’re hungry enough for a
meal, but you are not yet to the “hangry” stage. A seven or even an eight typically means you
just ate a meal or snack and are completely satisfied, but not stuffed. Eating to a seven can also mean you are
comfortable going three or four hours without eating. Now, as you may have put together after
reading the definition of normal eating, it would be normal to go below a three or above a seven, but to help maintain a
healthy balance and begin to understand your unique feelings of hunger and
satiety, the hunger-fullness scale can be a very useful tool! Hopefully it helps you make small, positive
changes in the way you nourish your body and listen to what it needs.