I love awkward small talk. You know the kind I'm talking about. You're introduced to someone at an event and you’re both internally like, “K...what do I say now?” We often stick with the usual material: weather, sports, TV shows, etc. For me, the fun really starts when the conversation turns towards, “So what do you do for a living?”
When I tell people that I work in the field of nutrition, I can almost guarantee that they'll ask me something along the lines of, "So does that mean you like...only eat kale?" And (with maybe too much elation), I always respond, "GIRL, please!” And then I bite into a cookie for extra drama.
I totally get why this assumption repeats itself. Hop on any social media page or a treadmill at the gym, and you'll get an overwhelming amount of information regarding what a "healthy" diet consists of. You can basically summarize most of the declarations into, "You can only eat this," and, "You can never eat this." People! This is why I love opportunities to talk about “what I do for a living,” because I get to discuss my philosophy of eating, and why a lot of what people have heard regarding nutrition is probably just a bunch of bologna.
The most important message I try to get across to folks is the idea that, “All foods fit.” The goal of this simple yet powerful phrase is to help people understand that they need to relax a bit when it comes to following a “healthy” diet. What do I mean by this? I mean that you shouldn't feel guilty for eating processed foods, carbs, dairy, or whatever else anyone tells you is "bad." As long what’s on your plate doesn’t go against a religious or moral belief, you can eat it.
I know what you’re thinking. “Girl, didn’t you just spend your entire college career studying nutrition? Isn’t this mentality the reason why obesity, heart disease, and diabetes run rampant?” You’re on the right track. Of course our diet can either prevent or increase our chances of developing these diseases. Of course we need to eat less processed foods, and incorporate more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein into our diet.
But here’s the deal. We’re HUMAN. We like sharing a pizza with our friends, squeezing ketchup on a hotdog at a baseball game, or digging into a slice of cake at our grandma’s 80th birthday party. Food is so much more than fuel. It’s a social and cultural bowl of goodness that needs to be savored.
Food is also psychological. You don’t have to be a toddler or an adolescent to understand that when something is deemed “off-limits,” it automatically becomes a thousand times more enticing. My freshman year of college I participated with my hall in “No Sweets November.” I went from being someone that could pass up a cookie if I wasn’t feeling it, to longingly gazing at anything sweet I passed by. On my birthday (November 16th) I gave myself a free pass to eat the “forbidden” sweets I felt so deprived of. Three cupcakes and a King-Sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup pack later, I felt like my insides were made of syrup. I know I’m not the only one who has experienced a similar situation. My philosophy is that if you give yourself the freedom to indulge and just eat the gosh darn cookie every once in awhile, you won’t feel like you need to gorge yourself on a "a whole roll of Toll House cookie dough” (unless you’re Buddy the Elf).
I chose a career in dietetics because living a healthy, long life, and helping others achieve the same is important to me. But when it comes to eating well, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that a healthy diet consists of eating in a way that you can maintain for the rest of your life. I can’t imagine a summer without my dad’s grilling, or saying no to the orange rolls my mom makes every Christmas morning. My wedding wouldn’t have been the same without Funfetti wedding cake, for crying out loud! What I’m trying to get across to y’all is that my idea of a healthy diet is more than living off of kale smoothies. Yes, I do believe in the power of making healthier food choices. I also believe in the power of foods that are good for the soul.
So, to summarize my thoughts to the random person at the party: Yes, I eat a lot of vegetables. And fruit. And other “healthy” foods. They make up the majority of my diet, and I think other people would benefit from eating more of them, too. However, do not be surprised if you find me enjoying every last bite of a delicious, soul-satisfying cookie.