Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Healthy food: choice versus instinct

Carrie's post and commentary of her encounter at Whole Foods reminded me or I should say made me think about my food beliefs a bit.

Back in October, I went to a large dog conference. Though I tend to do horribly eating at conferences, I did manage to socialize and eat dinner every night. I remember on the night before the conference ended, a big group of us--10 or 11 people went to the Old Spaghetti Factory. I'd never been here, but everyone said how good it was.

I remember ordering some angel hair pasta with mushrooms over a marinara sauce. L., a woman who I had dinner with almost every night and who I knew from past conferences, sat beside me. After the orders were taken, I remember leaning over toward her and saying something to the effects of, "I'm surprised they don't have whole wheat pasta. Normally, that's what I would have eaten."

Her reply to me was "that's because you are a health nut."

Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. Maybe it's just a convenient way to mask the eating disorder. I'm sure many of us are used to that. The thing is, however, I question how much my thinking has come to the point of becoming ingrained. How much is changeable?

Example: if I'm choosing between a white baguette and a multigrain one, I always choose the latter. I tell my self it is healthier, has more nutrients than the white, therefore, I should only eat that one. This is true, but it's the point that I really don't allow myself to eat the one that is less nutritionally valued.

I do this with other items too--white potato versus sweet potato, lowfat yogurt versus nonfat Greek yogurt, iceberg lettuce versus romaine lettuce, green pepper versus red pepper, white flour versus wheat flour (in the dogs' case, it would be wheat flour versus oat or white/brown rice flour), whole wheat pasta versus regular pasta, and you see the drift here. My choices wind up becoming based on what is nutritionally "better, more dense" than for purely what I may want or what has more taste.

This is what we are all told, right? We should choose foods that are nutritionally dense, balanced, just simply healthier for you. So when you're in recovery, trying to unhinge that mindset a bit, how much can you change really? How much becomes almost instinctual by now?

This is not to say that I don't eat some foods that have the item I would normally not choose (example I'm an animal cracker addict), it's just when push comes to shove, I'll go with the item with more nutrients. I'm certainly not trying to knock people who choose healthier options for health reasons, but when does it become about choice versus instinct? Right now, I'm grappling with that question and trying to figure out a balance somewhere.


Sarah said...

Sometimes it definitely has to come down to choice. When I was overweight, my instinct would go for unhealthy junk food, I was chemically addicted to it. I had to make a choice to eat healthier and rewire my relationship with food. And from that I lost weight, felt better, had more energy, and lost those cravings. I think it comes down to knowledge of ourselves and what our body needs in consideration of its wants as well. Knowledge is power especially when we make it work for ourselves.

Just Eat It! said...

I've never been big on caring about nutrients, but my nutritionist pushes me to have the more nutritionally dense foods (ie: leafy greens, whole wheat, unrefined sugars, etc). For me, whole wheat isn't a choice because I have IBS on top of everything else and I desperately need the fiber.

Kara said...

I totally understand this post. I almost always make the choice to eat the "healthier" more nutritional option. Sometimes though, I just really want a sandwich with white bread and sometimes I let myself have it. The problem? I usually feel guilty.

Kristina said...


I don't think it's an issue unless you would "rather" have the white rice or the white bread or whatever but you force yourself to opt for what you perceive to be healthier. And maybe you know that something with more nutrients ultimately WILL satisfy your hunger more.
Also, I think people have different food experiences and expectations. For instance, you expected that there would be whole wheat pasta because that is something you are accustomed to, but if people don't think about it or don't care, then it's a non-issue. I just had a randome lunch experience - Part of my lunch was sauteed kale, which I love, and none of these women (all well-educated, living in southern CA...) had eaten kale. I don't eat it because it's healthy but because it has great texture and flavor (Okay, I like that it's heatlhy, but that isn't the ONLY reason I eat it).
Interesting question though.

Cammy said...

It's hard to tell, because these choices become so ingrained, "natural" or "normal" is hard to define. It's almost as if our diet is a language. You have one mode/language that is automatic and comfortable for you, and it's a struggle to use an alternate one without a ton of practice. I automatically speak English, and when I have to speak Spanish I bumble through it and make a general embarrasment of myself. Does that mean English is more "normal" than Spanish? For me, yes, but it all depends on who you are and what your history is. I guess recovery is like learning a new language, slowly becoming fluent in new behaviors. Maybe those include white bread when you feel like it, or white bread only in combination with specific toppings that go well with it, or no white bread because you just don't like it. I think both health nut and junk food choices can be equally normal or abnormal depending on the context and thoughts behind them.

Reagan said...

I'm so glad you posted about this. I do the exact same thing, and I never thought about it in these terms. More self-examination, here I come... :)

Cammy said...

By the way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! You are definitely something to celebrate!

Tiptoe said...

Everyone, thanks for the feedback. As always, lots of good points made.

Sarah, yes, knowledge can certainly be power, I agree. Knowing ourselves is important for recovery.

JEI, it is true that nutritionally dense foods can make you feel more nourished. Besides fiber, maybe this is another reason your Dietitian encourages more dense foods.

Kara, sorry that you got through this too. Guilt can be hard but I think if you can change the way we think about it, there'll be less guilt.

Kristina, you are right that I am making an issue out of it. I don't know, it just bothers me I guess. I think I still get hung up on the "shoulds."
I do agree with you that it certainly does depend on people's experiences.
Re: your lunch. I know people who have not had okra which is a "southern" thing.

Cammy, I agree with you that recovery is like learning a new language. I guess I want to get to a point where it doesn't feel so distressing to eat the alternative, simply because I want to. As you say, it does feel difficult to distinguish which thoughts are Ed or not. This is why I am afraid these things are ingrained at times. :sigh:
Thanks for the birthday wishes.

Reagan, yeah to more self-examination!

seeleelive (for the love of peanut butter) said...

Oh, I can relate to this! For somebody who has tried their absolute HARDEST TO BE NORMAL, I can speak for this. When I am at my healthy weight (where i am now) I find myself more likely to eat treats, give myself things i want (snickers ice cream bars, just bought a box monday!) and still fit them within my meal plan. when i am with ED, aka underweight, i wil always choose the healthier version, since i associate the white bread with weight gain since it has lower fiber/protein, which will leave me hungrier, causing me to eat more. this of course is really not true, those in france only eat white floured products and they are less obese than americans even with aall our healthy alternatives. as ed recoveree-s, we need to learn to trust our bodies and recognize it is not what we eat but how much..and we also need to realize our bodies need A LOT of fuel!!!! SO much! As we live, i think its important to undo all the lies Ed tells us, be more flexible and allow ourselves all kinds of food, healthy and unhealthy, all in moderation. this is part of the "bar challenge" that i am partaking in...i am trying to cut back on bars since i eat them as desserts, which is F*cked up since there is protein and fiber in them wtf? not to mention they are expensive and i can eat other snacks in their place!

Tiptoe said...

Lee, thanks for sharing your insights. I agree a lot of ED is about learning to be flexible and allow ourselves all food items. Food is most definitely fuel, so it is an important component on our life.

I think your bar challenge is a good thing for you. Hopefully, it'll give you more ideas for food. I'm a bar person myself, but I needed to stop only eating them for breakfast, for I'm trying to eat other things instead. It is a hard since I do naturally want to reach for a Luna/clif bar, but I'm getting better with it. Much luck to you!

Kristina said...

Just want to jump on with a comment about bars.

I like bars when I hike and need the energy, but other than that, I have banned bars from my life. I never feel like they DO anything for me. Yes, I know that they have protein and carbs and nutrients and whatever, but they don't SATISFY me!

MelissaS said...

just the other day, i was offered a white roll or a wheat. after a lengthy internal dialogue, i picked the white. you wouldn't believe how embarrassed i was to ask for it.

in general, i eat a combination of low cal, healthy and whatever i like. too often, i substitute sweets for meals. although i love vegetables so much, i might have broccoli and a brownie for lunch. i don't know if that's the choice of my ED or my taste buds.

they say that when left to their own devices, children choose a very healthy diet. but i think between all the processed foods, advertisements for Kool Aid and McDonald's, et.al, few people have the opportunity to develop intuitively healthy eating!

Life Works said...

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