Monthly Archives: September 2011

We’re All Grown-Ups Here

We’re all grown-ups here. Presumably. So let’s eat like grown-ups!

A year into my life as a nutritionist, having counseled individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds all over the country, I’ve had to deal with a certain issue far more frequently than I initially imagined. The issue is that of food preference – our tastes. Affinities toward some foods, aversions to others. They’re shaped by evolution, genetics, human experience… and largely by our mothers. (Sorry Mom) Without a doubt, there’s some interesting science behind these tendencies, shedding light on our primal desires for sugar and fat or how your friend swears he tastes “barnyard” in the Bordeaux you’re sharing, which you think tastes like wine. My friend Marissa provides a compelling discussion of the scientific angle in her blog Changing Our Palate. I’d like to take a look from a different perspective. One from which we can all weigh-in.

So here’s the question:

When a person is working on making dietary changes to improve health, to what extent is it acceptable for limited food preferences to get in the way of making good choices?

To cut the question down even further, let’s focus on one especially stubborn food group – fruits and vegetables. Ok, vegetables. Easily the most nutrient dense food we have available to us. Yes, we all know someone who will live disease-free to age ninety-five on meat and potatoes, but that person is a rarity. Most nutritionists would agree that a day’s intake is lacking without some form of green vegetable present. And of course, these are the most difficult foods to get people to eat.

For the person who knows vegetables as spaghetti sauce, French fries and sandwich toppings, what is the answer to our question? Do these severely limited food preferences draw an immovable boundary around what this person will eat? Or can we expect an individual to make some sacrifice here, as grown-ups must do from time to time? To recognize the importance of food for optimizing health and teach oneself to eat (and maybe even like) those things that are undeniably good for us. Some may say it depends on the situation. Just how much of a jam is this person in from a health perspective? Sadly, that’s how many of us think, and act, subconsciously of course, when it comes to taking the needed steps to improve health. Prescribe me a Statin drug for high cholesterol and I might cut down my red meat consumption. Put me through quadruple bypass surgery and I’ll eat all the kale at the farmers market!

I think I’m getting my point across here, and perhaps a little too strongly. I’m beginning to realize that this was somewhat of a sensitive selection.

The point is, changing dietary habits for good is inevitably a learning and growing process. When we go to a nutritionist, we must be prepared to stretch ourselves, to try new things and to expand food choices beyond what they were before. Hell, if “what they were before” was just fine, you wouldn’t be there in the first place. Sure we can ask to keep things within our limits. Part of the job of a nutritionist is to know food and to help an individual find healthy ways of eating and living that work specifically for that person. But the other part of our job is to teach. So come ready to learn… and eat… like a grown-up.

Don’t think I haven’t forgotten that invite.  Let-go your inhibitions and weigh-in.  If you’re so inclined, share your thoughts in the comments.

A Science of Imperfection

In life, I’m a perfectionist.  There it is!  First sentence.  No secrets.  I have a frustrating compulsion to do everything exactly the right way, effectively and successfully… on the first try!  While this compulsion was easily stoked by my success in high school math, I’ve come to realize that it may not be compatible with real life.

When I entered the world of nutrition I quickly learned that nothing in this field is perfect… not on the first try, and often not the third or fourth.  Science in general may be designed to elicit perfection, but anyone in the field knows that this goal is rarely achieved.  Those of us not in the field see this in the constantly wavering message on what we should and should not eat. (It’s Tuesday… eggs are healthy again)  Needless to say, most nutrition and diet information up to this point (nutrition is still a young science) is really just a well, or not so well, researched guess at perfection.  We must confront the fact that there is no perfect diet, no perfect food, no vitamin, herb, drug or supplement that will serve as the magic bullet and answer all of our health and wellness woes.

Despite my admitted perfectionist tendencies, this nature of imperfection actually stands behind everything I believe and practice in the world of nutrition and wellness.  There is not one perfect approach that works for everyone.  We are all a little different.  Thus, we all need something a little different.  I think this concept can be applied to just about anything, but in nutrition we call it biodiversity.  While we may share 99.9% of our genetic code, that 0.1% brings a significant amount of variability, wouldn’t you say?  Not to mention the myriad of differences in our lives as individuals: we work different jobs, live in different cities, regions and climates, engage in different forms and levels of physical activity, were raised by different families and born of different mothers – some of whom played us classical music in the womb, while others smoked cigarettes.  All of these things can have a strong impact on the foods that will make up our “perfect” diet.

So yes, I’m a nutritionist, who is also a perfectionist, confessing to the imperfection of the field of nutrition at the very same moment that I introduce to you my blog on the topic.  But I don’t intend for this blog to tell you right from wrong or precisely what you should eat.  Fact is, while I have some ideas, I don’t really know what you should eat.  Rather, I hope to provide some guidance that will help you find your own way to dietary and lifestyle perfection.  I will share insights from my personal quest for nutritional alchemy as well as my pursuits to lead clients along this path.  There will be talk of whole foods (not the store)… (well maybe the store too), cooking, supplements, prescription drugs, physical fitness, weight management, nutrition in functional medicine and the struggles of lifestyle and behavior change.  I will likely editorialize a bit (because it’s boring otherwise, for both of us) and I may employ a few interesting metaphors to keep things worldly.

Given the dynamic and constantly evolving environment in which we live, I’ll probably never achieve perfection.  But perfectionists rarely do right?  I hope you’ll join me.