As a dietitian who believes all foods fit, I'm not exactly what people expect when they hear the word "dietitian." When people find out what my profession is while they're eating, they often try to hide any treats they may be eating or say something along the lines of "don't look at what I'm eating!" I would like to say that you don't have to make an excuse or hide what you're eating- I promise you, I'm not judging you for what you're eating. Most dietitians aren't either.
Before I went into private practice, I avoided telling people I was a dietitian at all costs. In response to "what do you do for work?" I would simply say I worked in a clinic just so I didn't have to deal with people hiding their food or feeling the need to justify their food choices. Heaven forbid if I as a dietitian were eating a piece of cake- the reaction would be something along the lines of "are dietitians allowed to eat that?" or "that must be really healthy if you're eating it!"
From the reactions I get from people, I'm pretty sure most people believe dietitians only eat salads, would never eat chocolate or some candy, and certainly believe that you should only eat highly nutritious food all the time. I think this is because in our society, this is what we think healthy eating looks like so of course it makes sense that people would think dietitians eat this way.
Never eating for enjoyment isn't healthy!
The thing about this is eating only highly nutritious food at all times and never eating for enjoyment is NOT HEALTHY from a mental and emotional health perspective. The ideal our society holds for what healthy eating should look like is actually pretty disordered. When someone extremely restricts their intake, cutting out sugar, gluten, dairy, saturated fat.... the list goes on, they're praised for their discipline and willpower. In reality though, this could be leading to nutrient deficiencies not to mention the fact that this person may be socially isolating themselves to avoid eating those foods.
When taken to the extreme, this fixation with only eating 'healthy' foods can turn into orthorexia, which literally means "fixation on righteous eating." Someone's food choices can become so restrictive that there isn't enough variety or calories in the diet, leading to deficiencies and health problems!
As someone who fixated on eating only 'healthy' foods when I was in school, I find it quite disturbing how heavily I was praised for my unhealthy obsession with eating only 'healthy' foods. I've heard more stories than I can count from people who say they were praised for their eating when in reality, they were struggling with an eating disorder and needed help, not praise.
So I don't have thoughts of concern in my head when I see someone enjoying a piece of cake or a cookie. I have thoughts of concern (still not judgement though!) when they tell me they have eliminated foods from their diet like sugar, gluten, dairy, etc. and that they are counting every calorie because it makes me concerned about their relationship with food.
Food isn't 'good' or 'bad'- it's just food!
We live in a society that places moral judgements on food- eating foods with sugar, refined flour, high in fat, etc. is considered 'bad,' which makes people feel guilty for eating them. Let's think about this for a second though, shall we? As one of the co-authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole asks: did you steal the food? Did you hurt someone to get the food? If the answer is no, then why on earth feel guilty about it?
The idea that foods are 'good' or 'bad' is something I really try to steer people away from. Are some foods higher in nutrients than other? Of course. Are there negative health effects to eating too much sugar? Of course. The thing is though, there are negative health issues with consuming too much of anything! Too much kale can cause problems for your thyroid. It is possible to get water toxicity. Variety in our eating is the key to getting all the nutrients we need for good health.
When we place that moral judgement on food, we are taking away the importance of the mental and emotional health piece around food. You are also pretty much setting yourself up for failure. When we deprive ourselves of certain foods, it makes us want them more. So let's take chocolate as an example. If you label chocolate as 'bad' and try to eliminate it, you might not eat it for a while. Your desire for chocolate if you enjoy it though, will go up and up until you eat it.
The thing is that you probably won't eat a square or two- you'll probably eat the whole bar- or maybe two. You'll probably eat an amount that will make you uncomfortable. Then you'll beat yourself up for 'being bad' and tell yourself tomorrow you'll be 'good' again by depriving yourself so the cycle of restricting, overeating, guilt, and more restriction continues.
As a dietitian, I take a different route: instead of eliminating foods and placing labels on foods, why not realize that enjoying foods is important? Just like no one would agree that it's healthy to work all the time and never have fun, I believe it's not healthy to only eat highly nutritious foods and never have fun foods! With more and more research emerging on the effects of stress on our health, is adding more stress to our lives by worrying about what to eat truly health promoting? I don't think so.
As a dietitian, I eat all kinds of foods!
I'm a dietitian and I eat less nutritious foods like chocolate, candy, and chips. I also eat more nutritious foods like vegetables, beans, and whole grains. The key is balance- I am not advocating for anyone to eat chocolate, candy, and chips all day, every day because we know this has negative health effects but I'm not a fan of eliminating them either!
Lots of people struggle to stop restricting a food because they feel they simply can't eat a food in moderation. I completely understand that fear- it can be scary not to have food rules telling you what to eat. People are afraid they will never stop eating without food rules because they can feel out of control when they eat certain foods but this effect is usually a result of deprivation! Food is more appealing to us when we've been deprived of it. It's amazing how a food can lose its power over you when it's not off-limits anymore but it takes time. If you're struggling feeling out of control around food and want more help with this, you can check out my services here.
Instead of trying to cut out foods you enjoy, I encourage a different stream: start paying attention without judging yourself, also known as mindfulness. Start being present when you eat, even if it's only for the first minute or two to start. Try to pay attention to your hunger and fullness and how you feel when you eat different foods. Be kind to yourself.
And please, the next time you meet a dietitian, don't feel the need to hide your food. We aren't judging you, I promise.