My family has sweet teeth. I love sweets so much that I definitely have more than one sweet tooth…and it’s definitely genetic 🙂 Whenever I go home my dad tries to convince me to make him cookies and if I agree he will eat quite a few when I am not looking. I’ve started saving him cookies whenever I don my baking cap.
All over the internet these days you see posts about “clean eating”, how to cut back on sugar, healthy this, unhealthy that, and. so. on. I cringe when I see these titles and I never read the posts. As a future dietitian I understand that certain foods are more nutritious than others, but I do not label foods as healthy or unhealthy or good or bad. Yes the vegetables, whole grains, and legumes that I ate for dinner were more nutritious than the handfuls (yes, multiple) of chocolate chips that I had afterwards. But food does not have moral value and so the chocolate chips cannot be bad. Chocolate chips are simply cane sugar, cocoa, butter, soy lecithin, and vanilla extract. And you know what, they tasted delicious.
I have been trying to be more mindful lately and really that means being aware of internal and external hunger cues. Today my hormones and my level of tiredness were definite sources of motivation that led me to the cupboard. And I knew I was in a chocolate mood and I accepted that. Therefore, I let myself finish the bag, which was a few handfuls. Sure I could have had less, but I chose to eat the chocolate chips. I knew I was eating out of tiredness, frustration, emotions, etc. Today was one of those days after 8 hours of work and a midterm that I did not have the energy to be intuitive and to analyze why I was eating dessert and what I could do differently. My schedule has been completely out of whack since Spring Break and I acknowledged that and let myself have a larger than usual treat. It’s been a trend lately.
(my treat a few nights ago)
This is not to say that I am not using mindfulness, because I am. I am aware of the reasons behind my choice to eat the chocolate chips. I am aware why I felt driven to consume them.
Some people argue that “people would eat healthier if they just had more willpower…” Is that really all it is? If I had more will power tonight would I have eaten fewer chocolate chips? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I have felt less stress? No. I probably would have felt more stressed by depriving myself of the instant gratification that comes from chocolate for me. And stress can cause it’s own problems on the body. Hello tension headaches, upset stomached, and anxiety. Would I have been healthier if I had eaten fewer chocolate chips? No. Because a few handfuls of chocolate is not going to define who I am or my eating habits or eating style. For the most part I consume whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean meats, legumes, etc. Sure I love my chocolate and most days I only have a piece or two to cure that craving, but some days I have a few handfuls of chocolate chips and other days I have a thick slice of peanut butter pie.
Eating these foods do not make me a failure. Healthy versus unhealthy is not black and white like the media and society makes it seem, but rather a continuum and honestly any foods can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. I feel that I am being healthy by allowing myself a few extra handfuls of chocolate to unwind after a long day and what has already been a long week. I am putting less stress on my body. I have added to my health by consuming nutrient dense foods throughout the day and these chocolate chips do not mitigate or take away from that. It’s all about the entire picture.
And it’s not just about willpower. One of my favorite presentations by one of my professors talks about willpower and how you only have so much of it. If you use all of your willpower and decision making capabilities in other areas of your life (aka at work and school or while exercising) then it makes using willpower to eat “better” that much harder. So no, willpower is not the answer.
Eat to obtain nutrients for your body.
Eat for pleasure.
Eat with friends.
Eat at home.
Eat at restaurants.
Give your body the nutrients that it needs and deserves, but also acknowledge that eating is so much more than biological. It’s social and cultural. It’s an event and it can be therapeutic. For these reasons eating is complex. This is why normal eating emphasizes eating a variety of foods (while not labeling foods as good or bad) and overeating or under-eating on occasion. Normal eating is broad and all encompassing so eat and be you. Don’t let eating (or certain foods) define you.