For the last seven months, I have had a doctor who checks my blood pressure, weight, and overall improvement in my health, a counselor who talks to me about obsessive feelings and my relationship with food, others, and myself, and I have gone through two dietary specialists who have given me meal plans. Sometimes I have only had meetings once a week, while other times I have had to meet all three in the same week. All of these hours spent in offices (or on Zoom calls) were because I wanted to be healthy and fit, except I took it to an entirely new level. Fortunately, I have learned a great deal about what eating right and exercising right looks like.
My newest dietary specialist has helped me decipher fact versus fiction when it comes to food. One of the major things that she has emphasized is that the society as a whole really doesn’t have a good grasp of what it means to eat healthy. People tend to grab a hold of things that they hear and spread that information or let it linger in their minds. For example, I heard from the people around me and from TV and online resources that sugar is bad. “Don’t eat sugar! You’ll get diabetes.” said my friend. “Only one gram of sugar!” said the commercial for a flavored drink. “No, you can only have a couple chocolate chips,” said my mom. That scared me. I didn’t want diabetes! But I really did have a sweet tooth and desserts were always my favorite. I didn’t really care about chips or fries or soda, but I enjoyed the ice cream or cookie or slice of decadent chocolate cake. Even so, I denied myself of those indulgences. However, everyone needs little indulgences. “Self-compassion” is what my dietary specialist told me that I, like everyone else, needed.
Going back to the subject of sugar, I learned that sugar is a key component to having energy, and everyone needs a great amount of it every day. Carbohydrates are one of the most major food groups that people need to consume. Bread, pasta, and even some fruits like mangoes and apples all provide carbs. Spinach provides carbs as well, and considerable nutritional benefits. These carbohydrates break down into glucose, the most simple form of sugar, in the body. That’s a good thing! Every cell in the body uses sugar for energy. Additionally, carbs allow our bodies to properly use protein, which builds strength, and burn fat, which gives us energy. They provide many vitamins and minerals as well including Vitamin C, Zinc, Iron, Fiber, and Calcium.
Fat may sound scary, but we all need it. Even the fat on your body, not in foods, is essential. Without it, the symptoms are serious. Not only is having a very low amount of body fat uncomfortable, but irreversible internal damage can occur. Similarly to carbohydrates, fat provides energy. Fat allows us to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K since these important vitamins are fat-soluble. Minerals such as Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium are gained by the consumption of fats as well. Fats protect our body on the outside, on the inside, and around our cells by building cell membranes. Fatty foods include nuts, oils, cookies and other baked goods, many kinds of fish, chicken, eggs, and milk. My first dietary specialist was talking one day about fat and its many benefits when she and my mom remembered something from their younger days: Lay’s WOW Chips. Introduced in 1998, these fat-free chips seemed to be the best new thing. Nobody wanted to eat fat because of what they thought was “healthy,” so people flocked to the stores to make their purchases. The chips were the best-selling new product in the United States ni 1998. Instead of fat, olestra was used in these chips. Unfortunately, the molecules of olestra were too large to be absorbed by people’s intestines, so they passed straight through the digestive tract. What did this produce? Diarrhea, stomach pains, and anal leakage. We all need fat, not substitutes that may have many pitiful side effects.
Next on the list is fad diets. Diets can be very poisonous. One reason for this is that the weight lost in diets is temporary. Once someone begins their normal eating habits again, they will gain their weight back, and nobody wants to eat diet food for their entire life. Additionally, diets are mentally draining. Happy birthday, Kate. Oh, no thanks, I can’t enjoy a small piece of birthday cake to celebrate you. Thoughts can revolve around food, and enjoyable opportunities can be missed because of the diets’ restrictions. Diets can promote negative thoughts around food when the reality is that we need all foods.
Yes, we need all foods. In moderation, of course. My dietary specialist provided me with an example of this. She said that we shouldn’t go around drinking soda at every meal of every day, but it would not be harmful to have one once in a while, even multiple times in a week. Every food has a purpose, some foods just provide more nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, than others. Spinach, a well-known “health” food, provides these things, but soda has a purpose too. The sugars in this “junk” food provide energy that is key to living life.
The people that I learned these facts from are medical professionals. My current dietary specialist provided much of this information. She is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian, and she has a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics and Nutrition and Master of Science degree in Food and Nutrition Services. If I had to decide who to trust, her or television commercials, articles in opinionated magazines, and my friends who have taken a maximum of one high school class regarding nutrition, I think the answer is clear. Like other topics, there are many fictional beliefs about food. A lesson I learned during eating disorder recovery is not to trust what I read online. I should have known that before, and I did to a degree, but now it is much more clear: information is everywhere, but not everywhere gives factual information.