I am flawed. I don't always follow my own advice about food. AND -- I don’t think I am any different than the people I am trying to serve.
I am overwhelmed as I browse the internet for the latest nutrition information. Is there room for one more opinion, thought or guide to help with control of weight, blood sugar or whatever happiness people are seeking or pain people are wanting to fix?
As a dietitian I want to be sure I don't miss the mark. I want to provide helpful information to someone out there! So I asked myself this question:
Why in the heck do people really eat this, and not that?
I’m convinced it’s more than about health, so I asked. I put out an anonymous survey -- not a very scientific one. I did this before I searched the literature, because I didn't want to be influenced by what I read. I got a good response and I thank everyone who did respond.
This was the question and how the answers stacked up:
What most influences your food or beverage choice?
It’s healthy for me. 38%
It tastes and smells good. 34%
It’s easy to cook or already prepared. 11%
I can afford it – in my budget. 2%
This is what my family likes and I want to make them happy. 2%
Health and taste were the top two. Responses to #6 included a combo of 1 thru 5, in addition to choosing foods low in carb and drinks that are carbonated or not.
Even though this was anonymous, did people respond honestly or with the answer they thought they "should"?
Well, of course, health is important, but really, what is the reality?
As a dietitian, I don't need to prove I’m the best cook or the healthiest eater. I certainly don’t want to make people feel inferior because they don’t eat a certain way.
On social media I think it is a delicate balance between educating and flaunting. Does self-righteous pride slip in? Is that arrogance conveyed in the hundreds of posts, websites, podcasts and emails out there about nutrition?
How do people feel, their gut reaction, after reading a post -- Inspired? Confused? Frustrated? Inferior? Well, hell, I can never do that? Yuk?
I get it -- it's easy to feel self-satisfaction. Sadly, I admit, it's an issue for me, especially when dealing with my husband.
As a person with very different tastes than I, he is my voice of another reality which keeps me grounded. When I presented him with my above survey question, it took him only seconds to reply:
"It’s gotta taste good. I could give a crap about how healthy it’s for me -- if it tastes like sh*t.”
There you have it. Another reality. Which is most important to him? Mine or his? Of course, it's not about me.
Questions I ask myself:
Am I running the risk of alienating or helping people?
Do I get the truth when digging for diet histories or are folks fearful of being judged if the real facts are revealed?
Do others care about nutrition the way I do?
Am I leading people down the road to an extreme disordered eating like orthorexia – fearful of eating a good variety of foods in a joyful way?
Has all this healthy business gotten out of hand -- is the list of foods to avoid continually expanding? What's left?
Will today's research still be true 2, 5 or even 10 years from now?
I cringe when I think about the nutrition facts I taught 20 years ago based on available research back then.
Here's what I learned -- none of this is rocket science, but perhaps it's forgotten. It turns out food preference and choice is pretty complex and begins in infancy.
Sensory appeal (taste, smell, sight of food)
The company we keep when eating.
Where we live in regards to food availability
Whether or not we are alone
Women have more of a preference for vegetables, lower calorie foods, lower animal product intake (especially red meat), lower fat intake, more concerned about moral and ethical issues, more likely to be vegetarian, eat more fresh fruit, have feelings of guilt when eating, more “virtuous” about eating --- PHEW!
Men prefer fried foods, processed meats and higher calorie foods.
The not-so-obvious influencer:
People inherit the ability to taste bitter, sour, etc, and preference for desserts, vegetables, fruit, meat and fish.
Ability to taste can be classified as non-tasters, tasters and super-star tasters. I think we have all known people who have a knack for this - most likely a combo of learned behavior with a lot of practice -- and genetics.
Research has shown, that other than price, sensory appeal is one of the most important factors.
My dear friend, a college professor, shared with me what her course text (Contemporary Nutrition) states: Flavor, texture and appearance are the most important factors influencing food choice. No mention of health here.
Of course there are exceptions to all this, but you can’t deny -- food preference/choice is more than about health.
My Answer to the Survey
As much as I want to say health, taste along with tolerance are most important for me. Health comes in a close second.
I can't eat foods that make me sick. Can anyone? Absolutely not, not for any length of time, anyway. Whether it's gluten, lactose, fat, fiber or whatever -- nobody likes to eat foods that make them feel ill.
No matter how many times I've tried it, I still hate avocado. Yes, I know it's healthy with all the good fats, fiber and potassium, blah, blah, blah -- I just can't stand the texture. I know, stupid, huh?
Over the years what tastes good to me, that's tolerable and healthy, has meshed quite nicely – definitely not an overnight process. With frequent tastings and trials of new foods, I have learned to like some, but not all.
Am I any different from my clients? I think not.
I realize and understand it’s my job as a dietitian and diabetes educator to teach and coach. These are the facts I have to remember:
Truth with empathy and compassion.
Understand the other person's perspective and different life experiences.
Don’t judge others based on food choices.
Clients don’t always tell me the truth.
People need to feel safe and confident to engage in conversation about food.
In all actuality -- the 62% from my survey above, who eat for reasons other than health, are my target audience.
To my dietitian colleagues:
Think about these things the next time you suggest a change in food with someone.
Think about these things when frustrated and burned-out, wondering if anyone appreciates your expertise.
This is the philosophy behind RYGforHealth.People can start immediately to make a change, without elimination of any major food group.
Ketogenic or extremely low carb food plans are not the only options for health. All foods can fit, in a smart and healthy way.
BOTTOM LINE: A little of this, but not so much of that.