There’s More to Nutrition Than Weight Loss

There's More to Nutrition Than Weight Loss
Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

The journalist in me surveyed the room: Two plates of mini muffins sat in the middle of the square table, which was draped with a Kelly green plastic tablecloth and bordered with middle-aged women. Two men sat toward the back of the room; it was obvious that they were dragged to the event by their wives.

This was the scene when I recently went to hear a dietitian speak about a book that she wrote. Everything about the situation was expected. Cliché even, for reasons other than the fact that I was the youngest in the room.

The participants’ expressions were hopeful, concentrated and familiar.

They nodded in unison as the dietitian explained the concept of portion distortion, the idea that people often eat more than the recommended serving size when eating out. She explained what indulging “should” look like (a small hamburger is “fine” for an indulgence, but you want to always stay away from the larger burgers.).

Be mindful when eating, she said. Make sure to listen and connect to your body’s needs, but look to serving sizes to tell you how much you “should” be eating. You need carbs to feel full – don’t deprive yourself! – but make sure you’re having only the “good” carbs, like sweet potato, quinoa and brown rice.

Eat healthy 80 percent of the time, she said, but really try to all of the time. There is that 20 percent of freedom, but are you sure you’re hungry? Maybe you just need some water! That will fill you right up, especially at night, when you shouldn’t be snacking!

If you’re starting to feel frustrated with these contradictory and restrictive-sounding statements, then you can relate to how I felt during this talk.

This dietitian and I have *slightly* different approaches to nutrition, starting with the fact that mine is an anti-diet one. I’m a firm believer that all foods fit in a healthy diet and that any way of eating that involves restriction is unhealthy and unsustainable.

This presentation mirrored the way that people often feel about nutrition – confused, lost and restricted. Imagine how overwhelming it was for participants to hear this contradictory information from a nutrition professional with a doctorate!

What this dietitian was doing, however, was addressing nutrition purely through the lens of a popular question that hung in the room’s humid air:

What am I doing wrong, and why can’t I lose weight?

For many, nutrition is seen as a means to an ultimate end of weight loss. It’s something challenging to deal with to meet a superior want. The school before the degree. The vegetables before dessert. The line before the ticket. You get the idea.

Nutrition, for the sole purpose of health and wellness, is often not discussed.

When I tell people that I’m studying nutrition, I’m often met with questions similar to the one above, as well as comments about fad diets and weight loss.

And I understand why. We live in a world where nutrition and weight are intertwined; one where one seemingly cannot exist in its preferred state without the other.

However, though dietary choices and body size are often correlated, there is so much more to nutrition than just weight.

Analyzing nutrition through weight is like only examining front doors when looking for a house and failing to realize that insulation, structure, location and so many other features are just as important – perhaps even more so.

It’s a close-minded approach that encourages all-or-nothing behavior when it comes to eating, when the truth is that nutritious foods are necessary for bodies of all weights at all times.

Whether you’re big or small, your body still requires five to nine servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day.

Whether you’re overweight or underweight, you still need sufficient macro and micronutrients.

Healthy nutrition is more about what you do eat than what you don’t, so regardless of your size or previous dietary choices, it’s important to seek to meet your nutrient needs.

Having grilled cheese and fries for dinner and then “splurging” on ice cream doesn’t negate the fact that you had a spinach salad for lunch – your red blood cells will still be smiling from that iron, even if you gained a pound.

Eating more chocolate than you would have liked while watching “The Bachelor” doesn’t “undo” the fact that you packed balanced lunches the entire week – you will still feel more energized and focused regardless!

Having cake at the office party doesn’t mean that the vegetable omelet and whole wheat toast you ate for breakfast “don’t count” – your body still registers the fiber and protein present in that meal and is grateful for it!

It’s important to listen to your body’s cues when deciding what to eat. Sometimes your nutritional needs differ from your emotional needs, and that’s okay! We are human after all.

However, know that your body still requires nutrient-dense foods when it’s getting less nutritive foods and/or is of larger size.

If you feel like you had a “bad” meal, day, week or month, don’t throw all of your nutritional efforts to mayhem, since your body still needs nourishment. You still need your nutrients, regardless of the “bad” foods you’ve eaten!

Though this sounds obvious, in today’s diet-centric world, where losing weight seems to be “the point” of nutrition, this message often gets clouded.

By the end of the presentation, the mini muffins remained – untouched, of course – in the middle of the table, atop the Kelly green plastic cloth. A woman near me extended her hand to put one on her plate, but then hesitated. She told the woman across from her that she was “trying to be good” and flicked her hand away.

I wanted to tell her that having a muffin wouldn’t make her a bad person, just like eating healthfully wouldn’t make her a good person.

I wanted to tell her that she is more than the foods she chooses to eat and that she shouldn’t base her worth on a baked mixture of flour, sugar and chocolate chips.

I wanted to tell her that food fuels us, but it also does so much more, and sometimes, you really do need a muffin.

I wanted to tell her that nutrition is about more than weight loss and “being good.”

But most importantly, I wanted to tell her that when she does indulge, she should allow herself more than a mini muffin – or a small hamburger.

<3 Dena

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