How To Make Sense Of Nutrition

There’s a lot of information out there on nutrition. Endless amounts. Some say meat is toxic and unnecessary, others say that red meat is nutritious. Gluten is either poison or harmless. Eating fruit raises your blood sugar too much and makes fat burning impossible, but it’s also packed with vital bio-nutrients.

WHO’S RIGHT? What should I eat?!

Here’s the truth, babe...ready?

They’re all right.

Ugh...not the answer you wanted, I know. But here’s the deal: all of these people that we get our nutritional advice from- most of them have some science to back up their claims (some more than others, obviously). They’re not arbitrary ideas they pulled out of nowhere- usually. It just depends how you see each experiment that has “proven” each theory and how it applies to your own health needs and desires.

We can really drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out what the “perfect” foods are and how, when, and in what quantities we “should” be eating them. We will literally never come to a conclusion, because there’s no consensus out there in the nutrition world. Just none.  

Be weary about the diet fads, and I say ‘fads’ because that’s what most of them are. They all get disproven eventually. For instance, just 10-20 years ago the Western world had a serious terror of eating fat. Fat was poison, it was causing all diseases, and we needed to replace all of our butter with margarine. Now fat is being glorified. Sugar causes disease. Margarine is poison.

Let’s be real, most people are seeking out these ‘healthy’ ways of eating because they want to lose weight. Because health = thinness, right? Wrong. Health looks different on every person. We’re not all meant to weigh a certain number (yeah, those BMI charts are liars) and eating in a way that makes you feel good does not necessarily drop you into a size 2 (this is called Health At Every Size). If you know anything about my work, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I’m against any kind of food control that is motivated by weight loss desires, because it only ever leads to the inherent backlash of binge eating, emotional eating, and generally feeling uneasy around food, as well as feeling uncomfortable and unhappy in your body.

When I tell people that I’m a health coach, the most common response I get is: Tell me what to eat!

It’s an understandable response. We LOVE being told what to eat. We love knowing that there’s a way to eat that makes us either good or bad, righteous or unworthy. Because then we get to feel better about ourselves through the means of eating differently.

Which is part of why you probably hate the idea of there being NO RIGHT WAY to eat.

It’s called validation. When we don’t feel inherently worthy or fulfilled, we seek external validation for our choices to make us feel like we’re doing things right. For some, this comes in the form of finding the perfect foods to eat and avoid, exercising in just the right way to make sure we’re burning calories and building muscle in all the ‘right’ places, and generally equating our morality to our health.

PSA: Being healthy does not make you morally superior to anyone else.

So what do we do about all the nutrition madness? We gotta eat. Every damn day. And that leaves lots of choices to make about our food. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with any particular way of eating (e.g. Paleo, veganism, gluten-free, etc.) as long as your eating is motivated by a genuine desire to FEEL better physically, and not to affix yourself to a certain label in order to be eating for righteousness.

It’s easy to get sucked into the glorification of eating a certain way, hearing the testimonials of people saying they’re feeling lighter, stronger, whatever. So if you do decide to take on a gluten-free diet, for example, just be sure that you actually need to remove gluten from your diet. In other words, do you actually feel a difference eating this way or are you just doing it because someone told you it was the best way to eat? Some people become seriously physically unwell when they eat even a little bit of gluten -- but that’s not the case for most people. Are you doing it because you’re afraid of bread and that the carby goodness might cause you to gain weight? Analyze your motivations and make sure that you’re not going to make yourself end up in a place of guilt if you decide to start eating all your ‘forbidden’ foods again. Because removing an entire food group from your diet when you don’t actually need to be doing it …. will leave you feeling crazy around food. If you are motivated by true health reasons, then you won’t feel that craziness because you’ll know that you are choosing to protect your body from some very unpleasant physical reactions. This is very different from eliminating gluten in order to save up your “willpower” and prevent feeling guilty around food.

There is no one-size-fits-all diet. No one way of eating works for everyone. Some people genuinely feel like crap when they eat certain foods. Lots of others are just hopping on the bandwagon of fad diets because they think it’s the healthiest thing to do (and therefore being ‘healthy’ makes them a better person), not due to a genuine investment in feeling better.

It's important to pay attention to how certain foods make your body feel. Absolutely. Listen to your body (and taste buds) when determining what you want to eat. You don’t need to oblige to the nutritional advice of a stranger who has never lived a day inside your body. If you discover that a certain food makes your body feel bad, maybe you won't eat as much of that, because you want to honor your body and feel good. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll cut it out forever or become fearful of it. Part of eating intuitively is knowing that there is no perfect way to eat, and you’re not going to feel amazing all the time after every meal, and that is okay. What you eat and your state of health is not a reflection of how worthy, attractive, or powerful you are.

Basically, I advise people to eat to feel good (physically and mentally), most of the time. Sometimes you’ll eat a cupcake even though you know you might get a slight tummy ache, just because the cupcake looks so yummy. That’s totally normal! Not eating the cupcake because you are afraid of sugar or gluten or dairy, or fueling feelings of self-righteousness with your food beliefs, is not the normal we’re aiming for.

 

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What do you think of the fad diets out there? Are they really all fads? Have you ever followed one, only to find that you didn’t actually feel any different physically?