Normal eating … a dietician’s perspective
BY GINA GILCHRIST
Hello, Silent Sports subscribers! When I was asked by the editor to have a quarterly nutrition column in your magazine to share some of my thoughts as a nutrition professional, I was quite honored. I realized in the last column I wrote (of Biggest Loser contests) how liberating it was to express my opinions on paper! You see, I have spent the last 21 years as a registered dietitian in settings such as inpatient clinical, outpatient, workplace health, research and dialysis. I have counseled thousands of patients on various nutrition patterns – ranging from healthy eating and weight management, to specialized diets such as gluten-free, allergy, diabetes education, sports and renal nutrition. I have seen many patients excel in their dietary efforts, and I have seen just as many struggle through, trying to change one behavior at a time with nominal results.
As a dietitian, I am constantly questioned by family, friends, and even professional colleagues outside of nutrition about my “opinions” on this diet, blog or book. I can be sitting at dinner with new acquaintances hoping that my profession will not come up, as I know at some point I will hear, “Well, look what SHE is eating” or “Now I have to sit next to the dietitian and can’t order what I want.” The reality of it is (and my husband of 20 years and three children will attest to this), I am not up on all the latest nutrition fads. I don’t bog myself down with blogs, the latest and greatest nutrition books, and words of wisdom from famous people who claim miracle pills, cleanses and special diets can “fix all.” I don’t always shop at health-food stores and specialty grocery stores. I do not take multiple supplements; and, believe it or not, my entire kitchen is not organic!
The word nonjudgmental comes to mind when I think about dietary choices. In fact, I don’t even like to use the word “diet” in the sense of restriction. Healthy eating is a lifestyle to me, not a “diet.” It has no beginning or end but can progress through the different stages of life and be a constant.
So what is normal eating for someone like me? It’s going to the table hungry and eating until I am satisfied. This may be my entire plate or half my plate that is saved for later. It is being able to choose food I like and truly get enough of it, not just stop eating because I think I should. Yes, I give much thought to my food selection so I get nutritious food 90 percent of the time and I am mindful of my portions. However, I also give myself permission to not be so wary or restrictive that I miss out on enjoyable food. Maybe I will order that single slice of cheesecake and share it with my family for dessert, or perhaps it will be a salad for dinner and no dessert. Do I eat out of boredom, stress or sadness? Do I sometimes overeat or under eat? YES! In these cases, I pick myself up and move on to the next meal, or snack (or day!) and make healthy choices from there. I am sure you have learned the body works best with five to six small, healthy meals daily. Some days I may only have three meals. Other days I may munch along the way. A large part of normal eating to me is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Making healthy choices takes up some time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of life. THIS is what I try to relay to my patients, clients, colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances – that normal eating, the dietitian way, is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.
I truly love my profession and helping others achieve this same healthy relationship with food. For some, it may come easier than for others, but ANY step in the right direction is a positive one to me. I cannot express the amount of satisfaction and fulfillment I have with a patient that, despite the setbacks, can feel good about themselves and their health status!
I welcome all your recommendations on future articles moving forward and am excited about this journey that we can take together in the realm of normal, healthy nutrition!
Editor’s note: If you have a future topic you’d like to see Gina cover, drop me a note at email@example.com and I’ll let her know!