EnlightenU Nutrition Consulting, LLC

Enlightening You about Food and Nutrition


Leave a comment

Food Rules: What are the Costs?

shutterstock_99669935

Labeling food as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy is an example of a food rule. Food rules have seemingly become “normalized” in our culture as being helpful.  They are often suggested for dieters to use because they provide “limits” that often help the eater feel more in control.

Labeling Food:   Categorizing foods as unhealthy/healthy, bad/good, legal/illegal, fattening/nonfattening, safe/dangerous usually backfires.  The intent of labeling foods is to help people get control of their eating for the sake of losing weight, for example, and thus categorizing foods as either fattening or nonfattening provides a sense of control.  However, deprivation often increases desire.

Some possible benefits from food rules include:

  • Focusing on the “rules” is a great distraction from focusing on more distressing issues
  • Helps you feel safe or in control.
  • Produces a “high” when you are successful at following the “rules” which in turn,  perpetuates the eating behaviors while feeling self-righteous or disapproving of your previous eating behaviors.

The downside is that these behaviors often promote rigidity and limits and individual’s choices with food, eating, health, exercise and weight. Simple, healthful guidelines become complex, demanding and powerful.

Another problem is that deprivation often increases desire. When the individual gives in to this desire and eats the “forbidden” food, feelings of guilt or shame are the result often leading to overeating or other compensatory behaviors, such as increased restriction or excessive exercise.

And the cycle continues… Eventually, a person begins to feel as if they cannot live without the strict rules and eating continues to become more rigid and disordered.

Therefore, following are some of the costs an individual suffers by relying on food rules:

  • Food rules prevent the development of confidence in your own body, skills and judgment
  • Rules exacerbate dieting behaviors and rigidity with food, exercise and weight
  • Rules increase your sense of guilt if a rule is violated

Negative thoughts and perceptions about food, weight and eating patterns make it difficult to successfully change certain behaviors.  You may be overly critical of yourself, have a low self-esteem, or view foods as being either bad or good – which can all sabotage your efforts of achieving peace with food and your body.

 Following are some examples of food rules:

  • I can only eat one meal per day
  • It’s not okay to eat after 7 pm
  • Labeling foods as “Good” and “Bad”
  • It’s never okay to eat between meals, i.e. snacks
  • I can’t eat in restaurants because…
  • No fried food
  • I can’t eat red meat
  • It’s not okay to feel full
  • Never eat more than ______ calories
  • If you eat a “bad” food, or break another rule, then ….
  • I have to exercise at least 60 minutes every day, or …

Most would proclaim they want to stop this fight with food and their body, but having unconditional permission to eat feels very scary.  One of the most effective solutions for eating problems of all types is to begin to return all foods to a neutral status – to stop and give yourself permission to eat all foods, trusting you will find a healthy balance.

Legalizing food and eating requires action.  There are 3 things you will need to do:

1. Have a plan. Make a plan to bring forbidden foods into your home; (with support), you want to begin to expose yourself to foods you crave.

When you begin to expose yourself to foods you enjoy, it’s helpful to have a plan that includes: where to start, how to challenge negative thoughts, who can support you, etc.  Remember your goal is to stop the food fight and find a peaceful relationship with food and your body.  You cannot do that if you continue to evaluate food in terms of “good” vs “bad” or in terms of “fat” and “calories.”

2. Replenish supplies of favorite foods. When it feels safer, begin to have your favorite foods around, so you don’t feel deprived.

One suggestion is to make a list of food or foods you would like to reclaim.  Then, you may want to start with the least feared item on your list.  Then, I guide my clients through a “step-by-step” plan for experimenting with reclaiming this food. In this plan, we identify what are the irrational thoughts about the food, i.e. carbs will make me fat or sugar is toxic. Then, we identify what you will do to try the food. For example, if ice cream is forbidden and there’s a risk you will binge on a half gallon of ice cream if it is brought into the house, then plan to go out for a small dish of ice cream with a supportive friend. We discuss a plan for dealing with the irrational thoughts, i.e. education on how your body uses carbs for energy and finally evaluate how the plan went. Finally, we evaluate why your plan worked or didn’t work and what to do different next time.

3. Create a pleasant food atmosphere in your home.  This step is critical for setting you up for ongoing success.

Examples of changes you may need to make include: promising not to “yell” at yourself for eating foods you enjoy; eating slowly and mindfully at a table so you can truly savor your food; and/or use a realistic meal plan that helps you see the big picture of how these foods can fit while helping you achieve your goals with food, wellness and weight.  Journaling your food intake along with thoughts and feelings can be helpful at recognizing that you didn’t “blow it” when you enjoyed a small piece of dessert.

The point of all this is re-learning to trust yourself and your body with food and eating again. Food does not need to have all the power and deserves to be on the plate – not on a pedestal.


1 Comment

The Science of Nutrition

Nutrition ScienceMany of my clients ask a variety of questions about nutrition hoping to find out what is the “right” thing to eat.  Bombarded by so much conflicting information from various sources, it seems increasingly confusing for people to figure out what or whom to believe about nutrition.  So, how do you know what the “truth” is about the latest trends with gluten, sugar, carbs, dairy, fat, supplements, etc.?

Something I learned early on in my nutrition studies was that nutrition is a science.  You may be thinking, “duh, I knew that!”  But, what’s important here is accepting what that really means.  Science is a body of knowledge based on systematic study that is continually evolving.  Believing that science is “the truth” can be misleading because the progress of science is marked by the development of a continuously changing picture of reality.  Many folks struggle with that concept because it demands that you are able to adjust constantly to integrate new information.

A great example of this fact was when I learned that the structure of ribosomal subunits of tRNA (important in protein synthesis) changed from  the 1988 biochemistry textbook I first learned this information to  when I was learning about this again in 2005 – and my old textbook was out dated!  Who would ever think scientists didn’t have this completely figured out?  That was crazy to me – something that I took for granted for “truth” actually was still unfolding –and probably still is.

I see this happen over and over again in the field of nutrition.  For example, once we thought that people who wanted to avoid heart disease should reduce their saturated fat intake and increase their polyunsaturated fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol levels.  Many dietary guidelines and sound nutrition advice was based on this “fact”. Then, it was to decrease total fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol (finding polyunsaturated fats were not “good” for you); and, then again today we have new information challenging what we believe about the relationship between fat and heart disease. These treasured “facts” about fat continue to change – and I see many people feeling uncomfortable and even resent trying to figure out what is “right”?

I have always loved learning about science, and especially nutrition.  It is what I love about my job as a dietitian which continues to be about helping individuals navigate this evolving science of nutrition information.   My training and experience has taught me that remaining open-minded toward other points of view is critical when discerning the recommendations scientists make about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat.  In fact, I’ve discovered that it is quite common for scientists to have different ideas of reality even when interpreting the same findings.

So, how do you decide what recommendations are appropriate for you?  That depends on you – your needs and your history with food, weight, and activity.  Being curious and open about new ideas is always important, while remaining cautious when someone declares “absolutes” regarding science may also be helpful.  Remember, YOU know yourself better than any scientist or proclaimed nutrition “expert” and finding someone who can help you explore what is ideal for YOU will likely be your best formula for success.


Leave a comment

True or False: It’s Not Good to Eat Carbs After Dark

Question on a forkThis question comes up a lot from my clients and from individuals attending my workshops. It seems to have morphed from another myth or food rule that states, “it’s not okay to eat after 7 pm”.

The short answer for both of these statements is False! There are many interesting theories and anecdotal evidence about this idea for weight loss. But, let’s understand where these myths come from and why they seem to work (at least at first).

The “real” problem often begins with over-eating at night when an individual is tired, bored, stressed, or overly hungry. This is especially true for the person who “diets at breakfast, diets at lunch and blows it at night.” By this time, cravings (usually for carbohydrate-containing foods) become very intense and they “give in” to eating, and often overeating, highly palatable, convenient, serotonin-producing, processed snack foods. Food rules, like “don’t eat after 7 pm” provide structure and and a sense of control when the person feels “out of control.”

So, what are food rules? Food rules often develop along with sincere efforts at eating healthy. Having a list of foods that state “eat this and don’t eat that” or labeling foods “good” vs “bad”, healthy/unhealthy, fattening/nonfattening, etc. provide very clear structure for an individual who is trying to lose weight. Basically, when a person can’t trust themselves with their eating and weight, they turn to something or someone else, like a “diet” or an “expert” with a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that they believe they can trust.

Although food rules are meant to be helpful, they often backfire. When an individual follows a rule like “stop eating carbs at night” or “don’t eat after 7 pm”, and they lose weight, it’s easy to believe that the real culprit to their excess weight was because “carbs are bad” or that “late-night eating leads to weight gain.” Unfortunately, when the real problem of under-eating or emotional eating hasn’t been addressed, the individual will likely “give in” and break the rule. Since deprivation can increase desire, this may also contribute to overeating the forbidden food or eating at the forbidden time.

Subsequently, feelings of guilt or shame result because they weren’t able to “follow the rules” which again leads to more overeating…and more self-doubt. Sadly, the cycle continues when the person tries to regain control with even more “structure” – a stricter diet, more food rules, another “expert”, etc etc.

Most would proclaim they want to stop this food fight, but having unconditional permission to eat (at any time of the day) feels very scary. The only way to reduce fears of food is to discover the root cause of behaviors that may be leading to excess weight gain and develop strategies that address those behaviors. For some, that may be giving themselves permission to eat enough earlier in the day or it may be legalizing food and trusting that a healthy balance is achievable.

In either case, this usually means getting the appropriate support for positive behavior change with food, eating and weight. It may also mean setting aside unrealistic “rules” about weight and weight loss. Learning to trust yourself (and your body) with food and eating, rather than a diet, a food rule or a so-called “expert”, may be the real answer to a nourishing and healthy relationship with food, eating and weight.