When people find out I’m in graduate school for Nutrition and *almost* a dietitian, they often make a comment that I must eat perfectly healthy all the time, or not to judge them for the french fries they are about to eat.
But the reality is that I am NOT a perfect eater. I simply don’t think it’s healthy to eat perfectly all the time. That might surprise some people, but just because I have a lot of knowledge about nutrition, it doesn’t mean that I follow a strict diet.
I saw a post on Instagram last night by a dietitian who wrote a message along these lines (I’m paraphrasing): “Pro tip- always eat a nutrient dense meal before going somewhere that you’re unsure if healthy food will be offered.” On the one hand, yes, this strategy guarantees that you will get a nutritious meal. But if we think about health in a more holistic way, not just counting nutrients on a plate, this type of behavior does not promote overall health.
- Skipping out on eating with your friends/family may make you feel very deprived, especially if you do it often. Deprivation can lead to rebellion. Have you ever gone on a strict diet, only to give up a few days later and proceed to eat ALL the foods you were trying to avoid? For a lot of us when we tell ourselves we can’t have something, we then want it MORE than we would have if we didn’t place it “off limits.” So if you eat your healthy dinner at home, then go out and watch your friends eat pizza and ice cream, you just might uncontrollably eat a whole pint of ice cream that night, or even a week later, because you feel like you missed out.
- It’s okay, in the grand scheme of things, to have a less healthy meal every so often. It’s all about balance. If you eat healthy foods MOST of the time, nothing bad is going to happen from having one meal that is less than stellar.
- It might make you very cranky! If you skip a meal just because it’s not as healthy as you would like, it may mean that you have to go several hours without eating. If you’re trying to enjoy a social event, it’s pretty difficult to have fun if you are starving.
- It can take up a lot of time and energy that could be spent on something more enjoyable if you are preoccupied and worried about planning your meals all of the time.
- If you eat a healthy meal before going out to avoid the possibility of eating unhealthy foods, you may STILL end up eating those unhealthy foods when you get there because they look good. And instead of simply enjoying the food and moving on, you feel like a failure.
What I don’t want you to do now is walk away and say, “I can eat junk all the time and Kacie said it was okay!” That’s not my point here. What I am saying is that the world won’t end when you do occasionally eat some junk.
And, there are some times when it makes sense to plan ahead to give yourself a healthier option. For example- you’re getting ready to leave for work in the morning. You know that you can grab lunch out somewhere, but you also know that you have dinner leftovers in the fridge that you can bring to work. If you choose to eat out, you know that you’re going to feel sluggish in the afternoon and won’t be very productive at work. So, you grab your lunchbox and pack up lunch.
To me, that is a very different situation. Now say your co-workers are going out to lunch on Friday and you really want to join them, but feel like you should eat your packed lunch instead, because it’s healthier. If that is the only reason you decide not to go, then you’re essentially choosing to isolate yourself purely to consume healthier foods for that meal. That is where I feel “healthy eating” becomes unhealthy.
It can be really hard to find the right balance. It can be really hard to trust yourself completely around food!
As a dietitian, I won’t chastise people for eating unhealthy sometimes, or tell them they can never eat their favorite foods again. I won’t be judging anyone’s choices – that’s not how I can help. Just as long as they throw some green veggies in there every so often. 😉