I hear it all the time: "I was so nervous to come see you today. I thought you would take away all of my favourite foods". This makes me really, really sad.
There is a deep misconception that dietitians act as the food police, instructing their patients to "eat this, not that". Although some dietitians may take a good vs bad food approach, many other dietitians see that this method tends to be more harmful than helpful. Here are some reasons why.
1. It can increase feelings of guilt or shame
Having this black or white outlook on nutrition can greatly affect your relationship with food. Foods which were once pleasurable now generate guilt, shame and a sense of failure. We eat some foods for nourishment of the body, others for nourishment of the soul. THIS IS OKAY. Food is much more than a block of nutrients we eat to survive. It has cultural, societal and personal significance. If we reserve eating food for survival, we remove the enjoyment from it. If we really want to eat for health, we can't forget that food choices also impact our mental health.
2. Foods considered "healthy" vs "unhealthy" are always changing
The reality is nutrition is not black or white. It is gray. VERY gray. Nutrition is still a very new science and it is often still unclear how foods affect our health. Even the latest recommendations based on science are not truths, but nearly theories. For example, in the 1990s we believed that fat was negatively impacting our health. There was a huge influx of "low fat" and "light" products. In current times, we tend not to fear fat as much, but we are increasingly demonizing sugar. Nutrition recommendations based on avoiding certain foods don't enlighten people. Instead, it confuses and scares them, creating multiple unhelpful food fears.
3. The overall picture is more important than it's individual parts
Health is influenced by a multitude of factors. Nutrition is only one tiny piece of the very large puzzle. The "bad" food you ate is only a tiny fraction of that piece of the puzzle. In the end, the fun foods we consume do not have a significant impact on our physical health if balanced with nourishing foods.
4. It doesn't allow us to trust our body
Have you ever been on vacation for several days where all you ate was restaurant food? Have you ever noticed that after those several days, restaurant food loses its novelty and you are craving more balanced meals? That's no coincidence. We don't need an external source telling us which foods are good and bad for us; our body is already amazing at doing this. That doesn't mean that we can never have the foods that make us feel sluggish or tired, but it is an incredible, built-in indicator of which foods to choose more or less often!
I will never tell my clients which foods are good or bad, because I believe all foods are good if they are safe. Instead, I guide my clients in choosing foods that feel satisfying and pleasurable. I help them tune into their body's wisdom. I help them get rid of food fears. I teach them to embrace every inch of who they are. And most importantly, I listen to their struggles with empathy and kindness.
When it comes to food, people don't need one more person telling them what to eat or not to eat. Period.
Have you received advice from a dietitian telling you to avoid certain foods? How has that shaped your relationship with food?