Sometimes a Girl Just Wants a Hot Dog! – A Dietitian’s Take on Food Restrictions, Allergies Etc.
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), grub 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, 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!