**This is an extremely sensitive topic for a lot of people and it's important to understand that A) I am not a registered dietician and B) I am not trained to diagnose, treat or manage disordered eating. This is meant to help you understand how I have approached my own relationship with food**
One of the reasons that addressing and changing nutrition habits is so difficult is that it is in large part, engrained in us from an early age. Growing up we develop habits from our family, friends, neighbours, teachers, classmates, pop culture, news, etc... about when, how and why to eat. I'm sure just between those reading this blog there will be a variance in what time dinner is eaten. Why is that the case? In my house we usually ate after my parents got home, which was 5:30-6:30pm. I ate foods that most middle class Canadians ate, grew up with a Canada Food Guide handout taped to the inside of my pantry, etc... You are for the most part a product of your environment.
Angels and Devils in the Fridge
Part of our relationship with food comes from a place of foods being inherently "good" or "bad". This leads to an idea of gaining points for eating good foods, and a sense of guilt that comes with eating "bad foods". See if this sounds familiar: Protein smoothie for breakfast, a salad for lunch, half a pear midday then pizza+beer for dinner. This day of food might lead to a sense of levelling out the good with the bad points. However, if you look at it from an emotional point of view you might be cranky and starving for the first 2/3 of your day and feeling guilty and demoralized the last 1/3. Maybe even waking up with a "what have I done" before you begin the cycle again.
If we apply our good vs. bad foods thinking to how we were brought up, let's think about when we we consumed sweets as kids.
- Celebrations of success
- Traditions (my family would always have pizza and sodas on Fridays)
Oftentimes these sweets/treats/booze were reserved for special occasions and associated with friends, family, relaxation, etc... A lot of happiness, laughs and enjoyment was shared and associated with some of those "unhealthy" foods.
This is where nutrition and exercise collide. Oftentimes we can feel like if we ate "bad foods" we have to endure some sort of gauntlet of exercise to earn those points back. We felt good, and now we have to feel bad. This pattern emerges often in our eating habits. We feel more accomplished in choking down bland foods because it feels less enjoyable and therefore it must be better for us. If we're honest, this pops up all over our world today. Suffering = productivity, if you stayed up all night working then you are more valued at work/school, etc...
Why Do We Do This?
This pattern of good vs. bad foods is one that emerges oftentimes from industry selling us on ideas of what to eat and when. Usually, this is done in the pursuit of an unattainable body pushed via media. Typically products in this category give short term results for a (hopefully) long term life. So - We eat foods we don't like in a way we can't sustain to achieve bodies we never will. Essentially, we've been tossed into an emotional/nutritional rat race and hopefully I can offer some insight into the off ramp I've made for myself.
Relationships Take Work
The reason we call it a relationship with food, is because it is multifaceted, complex and everlasting. It's something we ideally interact with multiple times on a daily basis and has constant external and internal struggles applied to it. Sometimes we feel like restricting intake will make us feel good, and when that doesn't work we assume overindulging might fix the problem. After that, we're full of guilt and back to restricting our intake.
It should be noted at this point that things like food insecurity aren't addressed in this blog, but this can also have impacts on our relationship with food.
**As I mentioned at the top, this is my approach to my relationship with food. This might be great for you, or it could not be great for you. Either way I hope it's some food for thought**
My approach to food has changed drastically over the last few years. I've done keto, high carb, low carb, slow carb, intermittent fasting, detoxes, vegetarian, no booze, restricting booze by portions or days/week/month, etc... At the beginning of my first year of university I was 200lbs. By the end of my first year I was 165lb, then by the next year I was 210lb. I've gone through a lot of classic Yo-Yo fads both in an attempt to learn/experience different approaches but also in an attempt to chase that body we all want. I've come up with some guidelines (not rules) that help me navigate this relationship.
My current approach to food is this as follows:
- No foods are bad, and don't feel bad for eating them - shoot for moderation with calorically dense foods
- Put effort into creating food that you enjoy
- Have snacks you're okay eating ready. For me, soda water and carrots are my go-tos for late night snacking. I know this is weird - my wife tells me all the time.
- Look for moderation in choices. (i.e. if I know I'll be having a bunch of beers over a cottage weekend, I'll grab a low calorie 12 pack)
- If you can, add a fist full of spinach to your meals - usually 2-3 times/day.
- No using exercise as punishment.
This approach works for me, I've found I've had less stress around eating when I realized that being 80% on point with my nutrition, 100% of the time is better than 100% on point, 80% of the time with bigger ups and downs. This has - FOR ME - worked well for body composition, training, recovery and lifestyle.
Wrapping It Up
I intended this to come across as a look at just how complicated navigating the world of nutrition can be, even for someone in the industry. It's normal for things to be difficult, especially at first. It is also normal to be tempted by the short term wins that you'll see advertised online. I should also note, this isn't a smear campaign on eating healthy. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc... - that shit is good for you! What I was hoping to convey was: if you have an ice cream cone, you're not a bad person. Stressing over one meal/one day/one week of eating shouldn't change your approach to how you fuel your entire life. The goal should be: living a happier, healthier, and longer life.
I'm hoping to do some more articles on nutrition in the coming months, if you have more specific questions about this topic or others - please reach out!
Until next week!
Mylan Clairmont, MSc, CSCS