Planning my daughter’s daily menu to maximize her iron intake and absorption reminds me of why I was attracted to eating nutritiously as a child. When I looked at the nutrition newsletters my father got in the mail, I was excited to learn that by eating the “right” stuff I could enhance my eyesight or boost my immunity. It made me feel empowered, secure, perhaps even invincible!
Just a year or so into my practice as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I had evolved into a different stance. I would feel myself cringing as I told my patients what to eat.
What occurred between my childhood and late adolescent years—where my passion for nutrition turned almost pathological (i.e. I ate only healthful foods and overly restricted unhealthful foods for a couple of years)—that led me to resist the mathematical, predictable, dictated style of planning a most-nutritious diet?
It’s hard to put it in chronological order, but it was a combination of events. First, my father, my #1 role model for healthy eating and fitness, suddenly passed away my last year of college. So when I began nutrition grad school the following year I was confused and ambivalent as to my current stance on nutrition. On the one hand, I felt that it was useless—it didn’t prevent my father’s premature death! On the other hand, eating healthy and getting regular exercise surely did enhance my father’s quality of life—plus, it arguably may have added some years to his life.
So that was part one—the shock of losing my father. Part two was that, just as I was beginning to want freedom from the strict studying schedule I had kept in college, I also wanted more wiggle-room when it came to food. My father’s sudden death was a worthy catalyst for me to further relax my nutritious eating patterns. And I remember how guilty I felt for eating the veggies my boyfriend would prepare with lots of oil and salt. Well, I felt bad on the one hand, but excited on the other—cuz it tasted oh so good! And these “decadently-made” veggies were only the tip of the iceberg to the other fun foods we often ate—like candy and cake.
Thus part two was that I responded to my past overly restrictive nature by becoming overly liberated—when it came to diet, and other things as well (read my book for details on that ;)).
Along with my relationship with food, my perspective on life shifted dramatically as I coped with the sudden loss of my father. Over the years, I began to allow myself to feel the depth of what had occurred. And I realized that there was so much more to life than a perfect plate. My interests began to expand beyond nutrition and physical health to emotional and mental well-being. I didn’t want to simply tell people what to eat, I wanted to address the psychological barriers they were facing in keeping a healthy diet—as well as the financial ones because, let’s face it, healthful food is expensive!
Just as I created space in my nutrition sessions for discussing how healthy eating fit into the greater context of my patients’ lives, so too now I have to have compassion for myself in feeding my daughter: Do the best I can, but allow for flexibility—have her nutritious diet be a part of an overall enriching life and not get bogged down by nutrition do’s and don’ts.