When I was younger, my grandpa would pick me up from school every day. Not only did I love seeing my grandpa, but this was my favorite part of the day for another reason- grandpa had an amazing lineup of snacks. This lineup included crackers, cheese, ham, chocolate pudding, chips ahoy cookies, and diet coke. Looking back, was that lineup kind of excessive and not the most nutritious? Honestly yeah, but that’s a conversation for another day (or another upcoming blog post!). But the point is, eating an array of delicious snacks had my 6-year-old self high on the joy of eating good. Little did I know that my natural love for good food would later turn into guilt.
Fast forward about 2 years later, life wasn’t so simple. I stopped eating things that I loved and I put myself on “diets” where I would eat salad without the dressing and run laps around my house. I was a bigger kid and my friends at school were thinner than I was; and I began to notice. Maybe it was my inborn desire for perfection, or the fact that my friends at school didn’t eat lunch a lot of days, but I began to associate loving food as being “fat”, “unhealthy”, or simply just bad. Whenever I was hungry, I tried to ignore the feeling, knowing that the less I ate, the smaller my (still growing) body would be.
A few years later I snapped out of the diet phase, and I’m so lucky that that’s what it was- a phase. A lot of people aren’t as lucky as I was in ditching diet culture. However, I was never fully comfortable with my love for food until I started studying nutrition at the University of Illinois. Along with a science-loaded curriculum, my nutrition coursework taught me that there are no “good” or “bad” foods, and that all foods can fit into a balanced diet with some planning. I learned that food can be something that brings us happiness, and we are allowed to enjoy foods that we love. That’s part of the joy of just being alive.
There’s a principle that a lot of “Non-Diet Dietitians” use known as “All Foods Fit”. This basically means that there are no “forbidden” foods, and that we all have the ability to eat foods that we love within reason. Example: I LOVE chocolate. Back when I used to deprive myself of it out of fear of weight gain, I would eventually hit my breaking point and binge on probably 500 calories worth of it. Now? I make sure to keep a stock of Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares at all times, and I eat at least one every day. If I want chocolate, I eat it, I’m satisfied, and I move on with my day. Eating a leafy green salad for lunch no longer seems like I’m depriving myself, because I have given myself permission to eat what I love, which creates food freedom.
Eating Mexican for lunch isn’t something that I should consider “bad”. Ordering sushi twice in one day isn’t something that I should beat myself up over, because I wanted it and I enjoyed eating it. In the words of Ariana Grande, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it”. Ordering foods that I love used to be taboo, but not anymore. I can eat vegetable stir fry for dinner and have a caramel latte after lunch, because my food choices should be something that make me happy, not inflict feelings of shame and guilt. Life is too short to eat things I don’t love.
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