"I was fully expecting to get a meal plan and be sent on my merry way. Thank you for not doing that.""I've stopped tracking food entirely. It's been scary, but freeing. I cannot tell you how much you helped me in the short time we met."
The majority of the clients I see don't come to me looking to simply eat healthier. They suffer from disordered eating. They don't know how to enjoy food anymore. They're in remission and need a post-cancer guidance. They have diabetes. They have a leaky gut.
A lot of people started out on this journey loving "healthy" food just a little too much. Loving it so much that it becomes all they think about. Loving it so much that it no longer loves them back. Loving it so much that they forget who they are. That it becomes who they are.
Imagine thinking less about food and more about the things that make you want to jump out of bed in the morning. What makes you truly, wholeheartedly excited about life? Because I'm willing to bet that counting carrot sticks doesn't do it for you.
Despite the stress that sometimes feels like it may get the best of me, the main reason I love my job with Alchemy is because I find so much meaning in it. Let's delve into "meaning" for a second.
I don't talk about my day to day life in the restaurant industry often, but largely that's what it is---the restaurant industry. It's not sitting around dreaming of new menu items and slamming smoothie bowls. Sure, that happens on occasion. But more often than not, it's making sure the fridge gets fixed, negotiating costs with distributors, figuring out product labels, planning logistics of new concepts, overseeing operations, managing tons of different personalities, keeping people happy, and acting like I have all my shit together when I'm just as lost as everyone else. In short, it isn't easy and it sure as hell isn't glamorous. I knew that when I signed up for this gig.
Do I find meaning in all that? Of course. We're serving delish food that nourishes people from the inside out. I'm proud that Alchemy is improving the health of not only this community, but also this planet. But all in all, our mission of intersecting health care and food is one of the aspects I cherish most. Nutrition counseling plays a big role in my motivation to keep doing what I do in this industry.
Do I jump out of bed with excitement when I read an email from a reader who tells me she's finally beginning to recover from her eating disorder after our last appointment? You bet. And that's what I need to talk to you about today.
Nutrition counseling isn't a formula. Plugging in height and weight and gender to spit out the number of calories someone should be eating in a day isn't going to help most people. Even if someone isn't dealing with an eating disorder, I know that giving them a calorie goal isn't going to solve their weight management issues. Anyone that knows me, this blog, and my overall philosophy knows that I never have and never will count calories. Why would I recommend my clients do something I'd never do myself? Calorie counting doesn't deserve the huge chunk of your heart that so many people are giving it. What has counting calories done for you lately other than drive you insane?
I recently met with a lovely lady who was preparing for a fitness competition. She was eating 975 calories a day (which she was told she had to in order to get down to size) and working out vigorously. She thought she looked great but of course felt miserable. She was deathly afraid of eating anything besides protein pancakes, spaghetti squash, zucchini, and chicken. She knew if she didn't follow a strict routine, she'd go off the deep end. After the competition, she gained back all the weight she'd lost over a year in a matter of weeks. She was imprisoned by food. It was all she thought about. Now she doesn't know how to eat. How could she?
So she came to me expecting a meal plan. Eat this many calories a day. Don't eat fewer than this many grams of protein. Be a robot. Be a prisoner.
Before I get torn to pieces in the comments, I'm aware that some people do need some form of structure as part of their progression toward food freedom. That's great! I by no means intend to offend anyone that has benefitted from meal plans. But I have to be honest when I say that 90% of the time, I don't see the need. (I'm not referring to "meal plans" that are simply recipes for weekly inspiration, like these. If it's inspiring you, it's not a problem!)
I believe in falling in love with food again. In making your own choices. In counting colors, not calories. Me telling you exactly what to eat and when will not only fail to help you in the short term, it may even hurt you in the long run. Until you're empowered to make your own food decisions, you will not be free. You will not be your best self and you will surely not live your most vibrant life.
More people than we realize are still counting everything they eat. It's an epidemic. I met with a focus group of college women last week and they casually asked if the nutrition information for a new concept we're working on will be posted on the menu. I confirmed that it would be. One of the girls replied, "Phew! I literally count every calorie. I hate not knowing what I'm eating."
Lately I've noticed that social media is dictating food choices far more than I realize. Sugar-free, fruit-free everything is the new black. Since one person suffers from a slew of health problems that resulted in needed a low-sugar diet, several other people (who are probably perfectly healthy and totally tolerant to these things) are hopping on the bandwagon. Their followers, in turn, now feel guilty for putting fruit in their smoothies. "I wish I could stop eating fruit but I'm so addicted." I could cry.
When did Instagram start replacing credentialed health care professionals?! When did it become cool to base your intake on some random person online rather than your own body? There is a very fine line between inspiring others to be healthier and fear mongering. Are we creating an environment that breeds disordered eating without even realizing it?
Have we stripped the joy out of eating, out of wondering? Out of enjoying a croissant and coffee at the Farmer's Market without feeling the burning desire to locate it in some database and log its calories? It has become so commonplace that people don't realize it's abnormal.
You are more than a meal plan. You are not 1,200 calories a day. You are not 12 almonds for a snack and you sure as hell aren't a cup of zucchini noodles with a meatball for dinner. Do not let numbers and serving sizes define you. Do not live your life by tracking something that is not supposed to be tracked. By not cherishing something that's supposed to be cherished.
It's time to start loving yourself as much as you love others. Don't do to your own body what you wouldn't do to that of your best friend.
I'm well aware that you can't snap your fingers and make food freedom a reality, so I've laid out some stepping stones below!
This is easier said than done. If you obsess over food and struggle with eating on a daily basis, please seek help. I guarantee that it will change your life! If you're local to Columbus, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
My friend Kylie, who suffered herself from an ED, is the bomb diggity in this arena. I can't recommend her enough! She just released a 7 module e-course on intuitive eating and body acceptance called "How to Eat." This is a great place to start in order to fall back in love not only with eating, but with your beautiful self! You'll learn what's keeping you stuck, non-diet mentalities, truly healthy movement, and curiosity over judgment.
My friends Robyn, Anne, Alex, and Rachel are also amazing resources for learning a mindful, happy approach to eating. This Joyful Eating Program is a great resource to dig deeper into the healing process. You'll learn everything from navigating social situations and tools for building body confidence to creating a fitness routine you actually love.
Remember, it's food. It's just food. Please don't let kale dictate your life. You deserve all the joy and none of the stress that food can bring. Break up with counting whatever you're counting. I'll have a really handsome donut waiting when you're ready to move on!