Resigning From the Food Police

The other day I went for dinner with my fiancé to a fantastic new restaurant and we were sitting beside a table of women who were out for dinner and drinks. These ladies were obviously friends, but some of the comments that they shared regarding their food choices broke my heart.

“You are going to have ANOTHER piece of pizza?”

“Of course YOU don’t need a doggy bag”

“Ooooo bone broth – that will make your skin look younger”

More and more often I see stories in the news and the media that are loaded with judgement. “Mom shamed by teachers over ‘bad food’ in lunchbox…” “Ten foods you didn’t know were bad for your body…” “Healthy foods turned unhealthy…” and the list goes on and on. The clean eating movement has made judgement over food choices a regular occurrence.

There is judgement everywhere you look, especially in the health industry. Looking at it historically, judgement can be lifesaving. By looking at the quality and cleanliness of foods we can protect ourselves against food-borne illness from rotten foods. Judging the body language of the person walking towards us on the street can save us from being a victim of a crime.

Unfortunately, these skills of judgement are being taken too far, to the point where every person feels that they have a right to an opinion on the choices that the people around them make. I am guilty of this too! There have been times when I have been in the grocery store and looked at the cart of the person in front of me, loaded with Coke, chips, and processed foods and I have thought “Yikes! Why are they making such poor choices?”

But who am I to judge? I have a degree in nutritional science and am regularly paid by individuals to essentially judge their food choices in relation to health outcomes. Yet even I cannot look at a single grocery cart and know the entirety of a person’s food intake. Perhaps, this person in front of me regularly eats a diet of high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in sodium, added sugar and processed foods. Perhaps today they are buying snacks for a party or stocking up on some favorite foods that they enjoy only occasionally. I cannot know just by looking at this single snapshot in time. 

So in an effort to limit the judgement, I wanted to clear up some misconceptions. Here are what I believe to be the main general steps to healthy eating.

1)    The first and MOST important step to eating healthy is to eat ENOUGH.

What you are eating doesn’t matter as much as ensuring that you are eating enough to fuel your body. For example, let’s say that you had $40 to spend on groceries this week – you could either spend that money on foods like rice, chicken, produce, milk, eggs, and dried legumes or you could buy a bottle of avocado oil and bag of hemp hearts… what is going to nourish you through the week? Staying “on-trend” can seriously break the bank and cause unnecessary stress when really the most important key is to give your body enough food to fuel our everyday needs.

Teachers that are removing double chocolate muffins from children’s lunches and replacing them with a bag of carrot sticks mean well, but are not realizing that this can severely limit the calories that child is ingesting which can inhibit growth and development, not to mention causing that child to develop an unhealthy relationship with that food.

2)    After you have ensured that you are getting enough to eat, then you can begin to look at the balance of the foods that you eat.

Are you eating a diet that is high in vegetables and fruits, with an emphasis on whole grains vs refined white flours? Do you eat mostly foods cooked at home with cooking techniques that limit added sugars, added salts and added fats? Do you regularly consume foods that contain calcium and vitamin D? Do you enjoy foods with high amounts of added sugars, salts and fats infrequently?

Notice that I have never said that you need to AVOID eating certain foods or food groups. I also have not said that eating one particular food is the cure-all for all ailments.

3)    Once you have begun to find a balance that works for you, (meaning that your body feels good without feeling restricted) then you can work on fine-tuning the quality of the foods that you eat.

This may mean eating more protein from plant-based foods rather than animal-based foods, or experimenting with different cooking techniques to find ways to cook foods while trying to preserve the nutrients within them. It may mean changing some of your grains that you eat to whole grain sources or trying new “ancient grains”. Incorporating more fish and seafood into your diet to ensure that you are getting enough omega fatty acids would be another example. Essentially it is tweaking the specific foods that you eat to allow more variety to ensure you are meeting your nutrient needs.

So the next time someone chooses to order the burger and fries instead of the salad, or when you see someone help themselves to a second helping of dessert, hit the pause button on your thoughts and remind yourself that you don’t know their whole food story.