Sweet Teeth and My Journey

My family has sweet teeth. I love sweets so much that I definitely have more than one sweet tooth...and it's definitely genetic :) Whenever I go home my dad tries to convince me to make him cookies and if I agree he will eat quite a few when I am not looking. I've started saving him cookies whenever I don my baking cap. img_5629-1

All over the internet these days you see posts about "clean eating", how to cut back on sugar, healthy this, unhealthy that, and. so. on. I cringe when I see these titles and I never read the posts. As a future dietitian I understand that certain foods are more nutritious than others, but I do not label foods as healthy or unhealthy or good or bad. Yes the vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that I ate for dinner were more nutritious than the handfuls (yes, multiple) of chocolate chips that I had afterwards. But food does not have moral value and so the chocolate chips cannot be bad. Chocolate chips are simply cane sugar, cocoa, butter, soy lecithin, and vanilla extract. And you know what, they tasted delicious.

I have been trying to be more mindful lately and really that means being aware of internal and external hunger cues. Today my hormones and my level of tiredness were definite sources of motivation that led me to the cupboard. And I knew I was in a chocolate mood and I accepted that. Therefore, I let myself finish the bag, which was a few handfuls. Sure I could have had less, but I chose to eat the chocolate chips. I knew I was eating out of tiredness, frustration, emotions, etc. Today was one of those days after 8 hours of work and a midterm that I did not have the energy to be intuitive and to analyze why I was eating dessert and what I could do differently. My schedule has been completely out of whack since Spring Break and I acknowledged that and let myself have a larger than usual treat. It's been a trend lately.

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(my treat a few nights ago)

This is not to say that I am not using mindfulness, because I am. I am aware of the reasons behind my choice to eat the chocolate chips. I am aware why I felt driven to consume them.

Some people argue that "people would eat healthier if they just had more willpower..." Is that really all it is? If I had more will power tonight would I have eaten fewer chocolate chips? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I have felt less stress? No. I probably would have felt more stressed by depriving myself of the instant gratification that comes from chocolate for me. And stress can cause it's own problems on the body. Hello tension headaches, upset stomached, and anxiety. Would I have been healthier if I had eaten fewer chocolate chips? No. Because a few handfuls of chocolate is not going to define who I am or my eating habits or eating style. For the most part I consume whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean meats, legumes, etc. Sure I love my chocolate and most days I only have a piece or two to cure that craving, but some days I have a few handfuls of chocolate chips and other days I have a thick slice of peanut butter pie.

Eating these foods do not make me a failure. Healthy versus unhealthy is not black and white like the media and society makes it seem, but rather a continuum and honestly any foods can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. I feel that I am being healthy by allowing myself a few extra handfuls of chocolate to unwind after a long day and what has already been a long week. I am putting less stress on my body. I have added to my health by consuming nutrient dense foods throughout the day and these chocolate chips do not mitigate or take away from that. It's all about the entire picture.

And it's not just about willpower. One of my favorite presentations by one of my professors talks about willpower and how you only have so much of it. If you use all of your willpower and decision making capabilities in other areas of your life (aka at work and school or while exercising) then it makes using willpower to eat "better" that much harder. So no, willpower is not the answer.

Eat to obtain nutrients for your body.

Eat for pleasure.

Eat alone.

Eat with friends.

Eat at home.

Eat at restaurants.

Give your body the nutrients that it needs and deserves, but also acknowledge that eating is so much more than biological. It's social and cultural. It's an event and it can be therapeutic. For these reasons eating is complex. This is why normal eating emphasizes eating a variety of foods (while not labeling foods as good or bad) and overeating or under-eating on occasion. Normal eating is broad and all encompassing so eat and be you. Don't let eating (or certain foods) define you. 

Lent: A Time to Give Up?

Raise your hand if you usually give something up for Lent? Okay now keep it up if that something is usually food. If your hand is still up I'm right there with you. As I have briefly mentioned before I have a challenging relationship with chocolate. My family lives for chocolate and wine...and not just my immediate family but my extended family as well. It's why we get along so well...just kidding, there are so many reasons!

Examples of my love affair for sweets:

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Two of my favorite foods made into one amazing cookie...

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The salted caramel chocolate trifle I made one year for a family Christmas party.

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I went on a slutty brownie spree for a while...almost a solid year

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One time we made slutty brownies in my dorm and brought them over to Julie's dorm to watch a movie just because...p.s. look at Olivia's phone (left)...and my face (middle)

Anyways, getting back to Lent. In years past, primarily in high school, I would give up chocolate for Lent. One year Julie and I both gave up chocolate and the first night of Lent we went over to our friend, Sophie's house and naturally had ice cream while watching a movie. We did not even realize that the ice cream was chocolate chip until we got home. So that didn't last long. Being perfectionists we naturally thought it was a sign that we had failed and continued to eat chocolate until Easter.

The next year I successfully gave up chocolate and the year after that all sweets. Now I say successfully only because I managed to go the whole time without eating the "off limits" food(s), but it was far from an overall success. I was moody and thought about chocolate or sweets all the time...and that is what happens when you make food "off limits" or dichotomously identify foods as good or bad.

Side note: How can a food be good or bad? Sure it can taste good or taste bad, but food is comprised of nutrients and nutrients are what we survive off of so in theory they cannot ever be bad for us. In fact, nutrients are life sustaining. Society has taught us that foods should be labeled as good or bad, but this type of thinking can lead to disordered thoughts and disordered eating habits.

In the past during Lent I would label chocolate as "off limits" and ultimately chocolate became my obsession. I would think about it all the time because it was the one thing that I couldn't have. One year when Easter rolled around I ate an obscene amount of chocolate throughout the day. I am not kidding. I rode back to college that night (I had gone home for the weekend) in the passenger seat in the fetal position because my stomach hurt so badly. I had lost all control because my body was like give me all the chocolate because it didn't know when it would see the food again. My body was in chocolate starvation mode (that may be an exaggeration, but I am trying to paint a picture here). If you want an example, I made pancakes that Easter morning with chocolate from my Easter basket AND covered in maple syrup...talk about a sugar high. Then we had an epic holiday dessert and I continuously ate Oreos throughout the day that had also come in my Easter basket (dipped in peanut butter of course).

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The Easter pancakes...probably more candy than there is pancake batter...

I am writing this post not because I want to tell you not to give something up for Lent this year. That is your own personal choice. However, I am writing this post in hopes that it makes you think a bit more about why you are giving something up, especially if that something is food. Are you doing it to lose weight? Are you doing it to feel more in control around a certain food? If you said yes to either of those questions, you may want to reconsider your Lent "sacrifice".

Restricting food is a part of dieting and dieting has been shown to actually increase weight in the long run. You may lose some weight initially or while on the diet, but once you go off the diet (because restriction is not sustainable) the research shows that people tend to gain the weight back and then some (Pietilainen et al., 2012). Furthermore, restricting food actually gives the food the power. By making a food "off limits" many people find they are distracted and cannot think of anything else. Research has shown that restriction actually increases the likelihood of binge eating (see my above personal example...) (Andres, 2014).

I propose that rather than  restricting a certain food during Lent we make that food available to us every single day. Identify foods that you feel you have no control around or you feel guilty eating. When you find yourself wanting that particular food let yourself have it. Or just simply tell your brain that it is allowed to have that food if you want it. Or you can buy it this weekend when you go grocery shopping. It could take any form that you want.

This year I am going to buy the foods that I want to eat and keep them in my apartment. This weekend I am going to buy popcorn at the grocery store because I have had a craving for that for a few weeks now. While I feel a bit out of control with peanuts lately and guilty about eating them (I ate half a container after having one too many drinks this weekend...) I told myself I could buy more if I wanted to. However, I don't actually want more right now because I am "all peanut-ed out". And that's okay too, but I did give myself the option. And remember, normal eating is flexible. There is no right way or perfect way to eat. Everyone is different and every circumstance is different. But by allowing ourselves to eat any and all foods, we may just improve our relationship with food rather than putting more rules on our eating.

 

References:

  1. Pietilainen KH, Saarni SE, Kaprio J, Rissanen A. Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. Int J Obes. 2012;36:456-464.
  2. Andres A, Saldana C. Body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint influence binge eating behavior. Nutr Res. 2014;34:944-950.

Treat Yourself

Public Notice: Valentine's Day candy is on sale! GO... GET... IT!

(I actually traded those two boxes for a big heart box of assorted chocolates soon after...)

I really wanted a heart of assorted chocolates. So I went out and bought myself one (begrudgingly because I wanted someone to buy it for me...oh well). And I did end up buying the wine that was in the same aisle because YOLO (for my mom, that means "you only live once"). It happened to be my favorite wine so I thought it was a sign. It was. Fate was calling me. Fate knows I like wine.

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(Take me back to my happy place...Napa)

I'm writing this to show that even as a future RD I still occasionally have disordered thoughts about eating. In high school and the first year of college I struggled a lot with disordered eating. I won't get into the details, but it wasn't easy and sometimes...actually more often than I like to admit...the thoughts come flooding back in. For example, today I did a lot of things that made me feel like I shouldn't go buy wine and chocolate (and then drink and eat said goods) even though I wanted to.

  1. I put off my run all day...and then decided it should be a rest day because I was just tired and the sidewalks were not looking good.
  2. I had chocolate for a snack today (usually I save chocolate for an evening snack).

  1. I have been very indulgent lately eating lots of cheese, chocolate, etc. and just eating more (hello, Megan, you are training for a marathon!)
  2. I have been a complete couch potato today (as you should since class was canceled...)

Why is it that these actions make me feel like I shouldn't have what my body (and mind!) really wants? Society. I am made to feel like I should restrict myself because diet culture preaches restriction. I am made to feel like I should alter my actions to reflect what I "should" do (whatever that means...) because society breeds comparison.

I struggle with comparison a lot because I am a twin. Imagine having someone who looks like you, but isn't you. It's impossible to not feel constantly judged. If others aren't comparing you to each other, you are comparing yourself. My parents always asked why my sister and I are so type-A and need to get straight As and be the best because they did not make us feel that way or foster that type of environment. The only explanation I have is being twins. We are set up to be competitive and to compare ourselves. Unfortunately I struggle with this more so I am usually the one comparing myself to Julie.

reunion-twins

In my mind she is taller (well this is true), she runs farther and faster (she also loves running way more than I do). She has a job, a boyfriend, and a dog. She has money and travels to exotic places. It's easy to get caught up and feel as if I am not enough. But I am just in a different chapter. I'm in graduate school. I'm still writing my future.

I "should" myself way too much. I feel that I should eat more fruit and vegetables. I feel that I should eat less chocolate (not possible as I sit here eating chocolate...). I feel that I should drink less wine (nope also drinking a glass right now). I feel that I should workout more. Blah blah blah. It never seems to end. But luckily I can filter these thoughts on good days. Other days I need a reality check and luckily my friends provide that.

We are all good enough. There is no perfect person. There is no equation of perfect actions. Be you. Be great. Be funny. Be smart. Be unique. Be you, whatever that means!

So even though I struggled with feelings of guilt today, I went out and I bought myself a discounted heart of assorted chocolates. I also bought myself that bottle of wine. Maybe I wasn't physiologically hungry, but emotionally I wanted the wine and chocolate. I wanted to treat myself. And even though I have been a bit more indulgent lately, I deserve to treat myself. It's not always chocolate and wine. Sometimes it's a new workout headband from Skida or a pink running watch(talking from recent purchases). Soon it will definitely be a new tea flavor from David's Tea.

Whatever it is, stop the "shoulds" and stop the guilt. Personally I know it's easier said than done, but it's a process. Intuitive eating is a process. Normal eating, especially after a period of disordered eating, is a process. Life is a process. Ask for help if you need it. Talk to friends. Talk to a professional. Journal. Whatever helps you.

You've got this. Don't beat yourself up. The world tries to do that enough. Be you. Love you. Because other people do too.

For me, I'm going to be aware of these emotions and let them float on by because I am happiest when I am content with myself. If the thoughts linger, I will journal or write here. I will also talk to my friends and ask for help. I also acknowledge that February is one gloomy, hard month and I deserve some slack...and extra vitamin D.

I'm off to bed without judgement. Tomorrow is a new day.