As a nutritionist, I spend a lot of time talking about food. I educate others on topics such as the health benefits of various foods, appropriate portion size for a given food, and how to look for healthy foods. I take a scientific approach in explaining how the macro- and micro-nutrient content of food affects our bodies.
But there is another way to view food; a way that does’t emphasize protein, carbs, fats, or vitamins, but rather, flavor, taste, appearance and preparation. It is the way that chefs approach their food; with curiosity, excitement and a quest for making the enjoyment of food an experience in itself. While my education in dietetics allowed me the knowledge of nutrition, it was my “foodie” friends who taught me how to see food as the experience.
I come from a history of weighing, measuring and tracking my food intake. I still occasionally do, and in specific cases, I’ll recommend it to my clients. Tracking my food intake is quite simple for me to do at home; I have food scale and my cooking is relatively basic. Provided that I order simple meals at restaurants, I can confidently track my meals when dining out and continue to feel in control of my nutritional intake for the day.
Enter dinner with my foodie friends. Every few months I have the pleasure of checking out new and trendy restaurants with a great group of fun- and food-loving women. None of whom track their food intake. What craziness, right?? They’re a breed of unicorns who some how remain slim and healthy, eat out regularly and think ‘My Fitness Pal’ is keyword for a cute personal trainer at the gym. They order what sounds most intriguing from the menu, enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail, and even savor dessert. And while I’m not in their heads and can’t tell what they are truly feeling, none of them appear to show outward signs of anxiety. They’re attention is on the conversation, the picturesque meal in front of them and what’s being passed around the table. They are participating in the experience.
It’s taken a while for me to come around this mindset of enjoyment of food without such intense focus on nutritional value. I resisted “exploring the menu” and sought to find meals containing quantifiable ingredients for a long time. This was not only a challenge but a hindrance to ordering at many restaurants, especially those specializing in ethnic cuisines. Try finding an entry for “Estofado Nikkei” (A Peruvian beef stew) in your food tracker….certainly not as simple as “chicken, meat-only, roasted”.
Addiction theory presents “hitting rock bottom” as a catalyst for change. An event that causes one to question their beliefs, choices, and direction in life. And while I object to to liken my restaurant meal choices with substance abuse recovery, I did undergo a realization that led me to re-evaluate my relationship with food. I hit rock bottom when I found myself dining on a protein bar rather than enjoying the offerings at a trendy new restaurant because I couldn’t comprehend the nutritional value of less-than-familiar ingredients. At the attempt to feel in control, I sacrificed experience. I admitted the peculiarity of such situation to myself and concluded this was not the type of eating habits I wanted to continue for myself, nor model for others. I began to deepen my true understanding of nutrition to include not simply nutrients, but also experience and context.
I still find value in monitoring and/or tracking ones’ nutritional intake, and depending upon my lifestyle situation, I do so from time to time. However the majority of my meals are now decided upon what sounds and looks delicious, and what foods I know help me to feel my best. I most definitely take this approach when dining out and ‘experiencing’ new cuisines.
Thank you foodie friends ❤