"The last week, already? But we never even spoke about food and nutrition!"
Bracha announces as she enters the room.
“The last week, already? But we never even spoke about food and nutrition! I thought that was the whole point of this program!”
“We’re doing that today, Leah,” Bracha answers. “However, while what we eat is important, why we choose to eat is just as important, if not more. Which is why we’ve spent the last many weeks discussing that part of eating.
“Before we get into nutrition details, I want to mention that if you’re still struggling with eating the food you like without guilt, or you have some inner ‘food police,’ moving away from that is just as important, or even more important, than focusing on nutrition. Many of the ideas we discuss today can turn into rules if you’re still in that mindset. Eating is not about perfection. We’re aiming for an overall pattern of eating that looks at, say, a week of eating, rather than a day. If you’re feeling confident about the other principles, we can move on.”
The girls nod and Bracha asks, “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘nutrition’?”
“Eating enough protein.”
“Fruits and vegetables.”
“You got some of them!” said Bracha. “Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are all macronutrients that we need in large amounts every day. Carbohydrates are the body’s favorite source of energy, and the brain depends completely on having enough carbs to function fully. Protein is necessary for building our organs and muscles, our immune system, hair and nails, and many hormones. Fat is an important source of energy and necessary for brain development, functioning, protection, and insulation. It helps with vitamin absorption and hormone production. Fat also makes food taste good and keeps us feeling full for longer.
“Fruits and vegetables provide us with micronutrients — vitamins and minerals that we need in small amounts to maintain our body’s functioning. They also have fiber, which doesn’t get digested, but helps with body functions and helps us notice our fullness.
“Think of what you’ve eaten today. What nutrients or foods may be missing or not eaten as often?”
“I don’t have a lot of fat on my list. But is that really important to include?” asked Shoshana.
“You bet it is,” answered Bracha. “Remember when we spoke about satisfaction from eating? You told us how much better your salad tasted when it was ‘fully loaded’ with a good dressing. And fat has many important roles in our body that we can’t live without. Here’s something to think about: Eating fat doesn’t necessarily make us fat. The body breaks down all food into small components that are used to meet the body’s needs. So just because they’re the same word doesn’t mean there’s a direct cause and effect.”
“I think I eat too many carbs,” comments Chaya. “Should I cut down on them?”
“Chaya, you came into this program eating very little carbohydrates,” Bracha answers. “It’s to be expected that once you reintroduce a previously restricted food, you’ll eat more of it for a while. However, we actually need a lot of carbohydrates to function optimally. To energize the body, we need even more. Eating some carbs at each meal and snack is the way to meet those needs.”
Chaya looked surprised and relieved. “I guess I’m not eating too much after all.”
“I’m still working on including more vegetables in my diet,” Leah said. “I’m not up to loooving them yet, but there’s a lot more that I don’t mind eating.”
“Food should be enjoyable, so that’s important progress, Leah,” Bracha replies. “You can also include more fruits while you’re working on increasing your vegetable intake.”
Bracha turns to the group.
“While this exercise of reviewing what you ate today can help you notice where you can improve your eating, the goal is not to create new rules or encourage you to become ‘perfect eaters.’
“Healthy eating is the ability to eat the food that is available in amounts that feel good to you. It means eating for the many reasons that we’ve discussed and allowing all foods, even those with few nutrients (like candy or soda), and not experiencing negative emotions afterward. It’s being able to move on with your day, while eating nourishing and tasty food, without feeling the need to ‘make up’ for it. When you’re eating this way, food takes up less space in your mind, and you can live a fully nourished and flourishing life.”
Bracha Kopstick is a registered dietitian offering virtual nutrition counseling, specializing in helping children and teens develop a good relationship with food and their body. She can be contacted through Teen Pages for more information about joining your own Intuitive Eating Workshop.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 875)
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