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What’s in Food?

  • Eating

On the road to “normal” eating, how much should you think about nutrition and how can that focus feed (excuse the pun) into your eating problems? Does trying to eat healthily most of the time make you feel as if you’re on a diet and push your restriction button? How much attention should you pay to possibly toxic ingredients in food? How can you balance how food affects your health and not fall into obsessing about its purity?

To eat “normally,” you need to assume that all food is fair game except for those that cause allergies and sensitivities. No food is forbidden or bad. No food is good or better than any other. The philosophy of “normal” eating says that all foods are created equal. This is a difficult concept to grasp when every other news bulletin is about nutrition and healthcare providers are stuck on our weight. The approach is complicated by the fact that as a disregulated eater, you can’t simply start eating previously forbidden foods “normally” right off. You first have to legalize them in your thoughts and practice having them around. Until you’re following the rules of “normal” eating consistently, it’s vital to make satisfying choices—nutritious or not. Let’s call this stage one.

In stage two, once you’re eating fairly “normally,” it’s time to think about ingredients and generally choose complex carbohydrates over simple ones, cut back on transfats, sugar, and sodium, and consider nutrition. This can be challenging if you’ve had eating problems—balancing food choice satisfaction with nutrition without feeling deprived and restricted. That’s why I encourage people to wait until they’re eating “normally” on a regular basis—often many months to a few years—to focus on nutrition. Thinking about it doesn’t mean always eating healthily; it does mean always making conscious choices, however. You might decide to have full-fat ice cream because it tastes heavenly, or go for the low-fat or fat-free version because they taste great too. You might choose French fries one day or a baked potato, brown rice, or linguini the next.

Considering the nutritive value of food is not optional for a healthy life and is entirely compatible with “normal” eating which is all about staying conscious about what goes into your mouth. If you find that thinking about nutrition is getting in the way of eating “normally,” reframe your beliefs about choice and deprivation. If you feel pressure to eat nutritious or non-nutritious foods all the time, you’re working off some irrational beliefs and need restructuring of your cognitive system. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you feel more comfortable around nutritious and non-nutritious food and can balance cravings, pleasure, satisfaction, and healthy eating.