brought to you by
Dina Cohen CEDRD-S, Noa Miller RDN, Chani Goldberg RDN & Bracha Halberstadt, MSW
Although celebrating in 2020 may be different than usual, we've still got to get ready for family, friends, and food...and plenty of chatter about diets and weight. This commentary might be an internal chorus in your head or an external sigh-fest at a party, but either way, we've got you covered in this post. We're going to shine a light on some murky myths so that you can go into this season empowered!
1) STAY AWAY FROM HIGH-FAT FOODS
aka: Fat in a food equals fat on the body
Some people are wary of foods high in fat, which is no surprise since we live in a culture that has a phobia of fat. They assume that fat in food will get transformed into fat in the body. Uh, no. We need dietary fat because of all its wonderful functions, including the production of hormones and cell membranes, supporting the immune system, and helping the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Eating a food that is high in dietary fat does not translate into gaining body fat. There is no one specific food that will make a person gain weight. Weight gain can result from taking in more calories than someone's body requires, regardless of the source (fat, carbohydrate, or protein). In the absence of specific medical conditions, no one food group should be avoided.
While we're on this topic, please note that body fat is essential too! A body needs fat just like it needs muscle and bone - to help support functions that are vital to life! Some bodies are genetically wired to store more body fat. Just like some people have more height on them, some people have more fat on them. Different life stages may involve changes to body composition, and sometimes people carry more fat than other times. Living in a culture that villianizes fat can make this difficult, but it does not mean it is unhealthy.
2) DAIRY IS FOR COWS, NOT PEOPLE
aka: Eating dairy is unnatural and unhealthy
Because there is a custom to eat dairy on Chanukah, the truth should be known! Unless you have a milk allergy, you would probably do well to incorporate as much dairy as possible into your diet (as long as you are having enough of all the other food groups as well.) If you are lactose intolerant, it means that your gut doesn't produce enough of the lactase enzyme to digest the milk, leaving it for the bacteria to feast on. While this can cause discomfort, it is not dangerous, and dairy products can still be consumed in tolerated amounts. Milk contains many vitamins, including calcium and vitamin D which are crucial to bone health. In fact, dietitians typically use dairy intake to determine nutritional adequacy of calcium in the diet. Milk also has a nice amount of protein - something that almond milk, coconut milk and rice milk alternatives lack. And if you are worried about the saturated fat, fear not. Full-fat dairy products have actually been associated with lower incidences of heart disease. Think dairy will make you gain too much weight? Once again, for those that consume full-fat dairy, it seems that the opposite is actually true. Eating full-fat dairy is associated with a reduced incidence of extra weight gain and might even be associated with a reduced risk of diabetes. Consuming dairy products with fat in them helps keep you satisfied and can keep you from scavenging for less nutrient-dense foods. Additionally, there is no compelling evidence that consuming dairy products increases one's cancer risk. So, have your donut and drink your milk too!
3) WE ALL NEED TO DIET AFTER THE HOLIDAYS
aka: This is a national emergency
What a recipe for disaster. Rather than inspiring healthy eating, what this does is make people frantically consume foods they're not even hungry for because "the diet starts after the holidays." When you make something forbidden, you make it more desirable. Telling yourself you won't be able to have fried foods anymore once Chanukah is done creates a scenario in which you may feel compelled to eat them all throughout Chanukah. You'll probably eat more of them than you would have had you not imposed that ultimatum. What if you say nothing? What if you didn't have rules around specific foods during the holidays? An amazing thing! You'd probably self-regulate. If you didn't make any rules around donuts, I think you'd find that the donut on the 8th day just doesn't seem as appealing as the donut on the first or second day. After being offered cookies time and time again, you might feel in the mood of eating fresh fruit ALL ON YOUR OWN. Bottom line? Telling yourself you need to diet after the holidays will likely make you eat more than you need during the holidays. You might end up feeling uncomfortably full at parties and generally lousy. Conversely, by lightening up your attitude towards food, you are more likely to eat an amount that feels comfortable and naturally gravitate towards balanced eating on the holidays are over.
4) REAL DIETITIANS DON'T EAT DONUTS
aka: You can determine someone's health by watching what they're eating
Nope. You can't. You know why? Because how someone eats at a single event is not indicative of their overall habits. It's seeing a snapshot rather than watching the whole movie. If the donut is part of an eating pattern that is largely balanced, then yes, the donut is part of a healthy lifestyle. The donut doesn't need to be part of a balanced meal (although the eater will probably feel better physically if it is) or even a balanced day, but if the individual has a healthy eating style OVERALL, the donut can even be dietitian-recommended. By the same token, not having a donut can be dietitian-recommended too. It can also be tummy-recommended. For example, if someone a) is tired of donuts, b) is already full, c) prefers other foods, or d) simply isn't in the mood for a donut, they can feel perfectly confident in passing on the donut. So, "Of course she isn't eating a donut, she's a dietitian!" is also an unfair judgement. Maybe this dietitian doesn't enjoy donuts. Maybe she's not eating one because she's busy munching on something she prefers.
It just doesn't make sense to judge someone's eating habits by a single event. Someone can be eating multiple donuts in a way that seems out of control, and you might think, "Wow, maybe she's addicted to sugar." But she may be someone who has an entirely healthy relationship with food and just had a crazy hectic day. Maybe she didn't have a chance to eat anything for hours, and now donuts are the only thing available, so she is having what seems like an excessive amount. The person sitting next to her might eat a single donut and seem totally relaxed about it, but she may have obsessed about that donut all day long and will continue to go home and obsess about it. Someone else can decline the donut only to go home and finish the box of donuts sitting on her counter. You never know. And you know what? It's not your job to know! What's on someone else's plate is actually none of your business. And what's on your plate is nobody else's business, either. If you are anxious about eating at a party because you're afraid your eating will be judged, it's worth taking a look at what that's really about. Are you unsure about your own eating? Keep in mind that it's your overall patterns that really count, not what you eat at at one event. Fretting about the types of foods served is a sure way to kill the joy. For best results, aim for an amount of food that feels comfortable in your stomach. And if you think you might you be projecting - assuming other people are thinking about you what you are really thinking about yourself - then remember while some people may notice and comment on what you're eating, the majority are too concerned with themselves to care about what you're eating for more than a fleeting moment. However, because the risk of having to deal with comments is a real one, read on!
5) IT'S APPROPRIATE TO COMMENT ON PEOPLE'S FOOD AND BODIES
aka: It usually happens and I just need to swallow it Since parties generally involve both food and people, there is a distinct chance you may encounter conversations about what people are eating as well as what the people look like. If you are familiar with having to deal with intrusive and unhelpful comments about food and weight, you might appreciate these tips.They are designed to help ensure that you don’t get derailed by others’ (sometimes well-intentioned but totally misguided) comments.
Other person: “Do you know that there are x amount of calories in what you're eating?”
You: “No, really? And here I thought this was calorie-free!”
Be Straight Up
Other person: “Did you lose weight?”
You: “Please don’t comment on my body.” Or, “My body, my business.”
Other person: “Don’t you usually eat healthy food?”
You: “This is what I’m choosing to eat right now.” Or, “My food, my business.”
Be a Broken Record
If the other person does not pick up on your not- so-subtle cues, bear in mind that this indicates an issue with their boundaries. When that happens, you can try a “broken record“ approach, and keep repeating your one-liner until the other person finally walks off to the buffet.
Build Your Bubble
Even with practiced come-back lines, triggering comments are still, well, triggering. This is why you'll want to work not only on your external responses, but your internal response too. Even if other people don't have good boundaries, you can still develop a good solid personal boundary. Imagine having a clear bubble around you. This bubble is permeable, but you get to choose what to allow in. You can bring this bubble in as close as you want, or expand it as much as you need. Before the party, you can try imagining negative energy trying to enter your space and practice noticing how your bubble can deflect the negative energy. When you’re at an event and you hear triggering conversations, or you’re on the receiving end of clueless commentary, envision your bubble again. Remember that no one has the power to enter your boundaries without your consent. Remember that your boundaries are strong enough to deflect even the most triggering of comments. And remember that you, and only you, know what you need in the moment. Your experience doesn’t have to defined by other people’s opinions.
Dina, Noa, Chani, & Bracha