As a dietitian, I’m not paying much attention to what you eat (unless you’re my client, in which case you’ve asked me to do just that). But what I do notice is how people eat, what their relationship with food is like, and whether external rules govern the way they eat. So when I hear things like “cookie = bad” and see subsequent shame or guilt associated with eating it, I get concerned. Even though many people think dietitians are the “food police,” I’m way less interested in policing what people eat and much more interested in helping people gain a broader understanding of what constitutes healthy eating. In fact, at least half of what I do as a dietitian is help folks cultivate a healthier relationship with food, not restrict their diets.
This is because healthy eating isn’t just about nutrition. Yes, food has nutritional value and can have important ramifications on health. But food is also a source of pleasure, a way to celebrate life events and connect with friends and loved ones, and the centerpiece of many cultural traditions.
When we look at food only as something to be restricted and controlled in order to lose weight or “be healthy,” it can backfire. Not only does this mindset lead most people to feel deprived (which can lead to bingeing later on), having this relationship to food also causes you to miss out on important things that we all need for our mental health. From lunch with a coworker that energizes you for the rest of the day to dinner with your best friend to the afternoon cookie on a bad day, food and food-related events play central roles in how we connect with other people and with ourselves. Missing out on enough of what food has to offer in the pursuit of healthy eating and “wellness” can strip the joy out of one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Head on over to SELF right now to read the full article on PSA: Healthy Eating Should Include Mental and Social Health, Too