Life Is Short, Eat the Dang Cookie
It's been quite a week. One that has reminded me, and I'm sure many others, in so many challenging ways that life is really short and precious and the one thing we know for certain is that none of us will be here forever. And while I would prefer to not get sad news, it serves as a good reminder that I'm probably spending too much time worrying about small things and not enough time focused on the big, important things. Less worrying about birthday party themes and more time connecting with friends and family. Less diet stress and more food freedom. More kindness and empathy and less judgement.
Here's why I think it's important to remember how special it is to be here, when it comes to what we eat.
Cut the stress from your diet
There are so many things people try to cut down on in their diet—fat, carbs, sugar, grains, gluten, processed foods. You may be cutting gluten because of an allergy or watching your carb intake because you have diabetes, but lots of people are just trying out the next diet trend to try and drop some pounds. I'm not here to shame you for any diet you're trying. You get to decide what foods to put in your body and you should eat food that makes you feel good. But instead of cutting out an entire food group, what if you cut some of the stress from your diet.
Whether that's rethinking a restrictive diet or cutting yourself some slack when it comes to cooking dinner, most of us could use a break. If you're following a strict diet, ask yourself what you're gaining from it? Maybe it's not the right fit and it's OK to step back and give yourself permission to eat all kinds of foods.
If getting dinner on the table is stressful—take the help from the grocery store and get some pre-chopped vegetables (if those aren't in your budget, shop frozen and canned produce). Use jarred sauces to whip up dinner in 20 minutes. Get takeout when you need to. Give yourself permission to eat eggs or cereal for dinner. I promise you one meal is not going to make or break your diet, but it will give you a break when you really need it.
Take the time to celebrate with your family and friends
There are so many ways we celebrate with food. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, showers, weddings—the list goes on and on. There are lots of people out there that may tell you to choose only the super healthy versions of foods, pack your own snacks or decline events altogether so the extra cake calories don't cross your lips. However, it's perfectly fine and also quite healthy to enjoy these foods especially with the people you love. The research around the health benefits of drinking alcohol, include the social benefits of drinking with other people. We often underestimate how important it is to connect with people and food is one of the things that brings us together.
After a weekend away to visit friends or family, we usually eat fewer vegetables and rely more on convenience foods, especially if I haven't had a chance to go to the grocery store. But while our meals may be less nutritious for a few days, we've made really good memories and to me that's worth the tradeoff.
If you have events coming up, enjoy the food and the company. Make memories over bites. Tell stories with your mouth full (or finish chewing first) and don't worry about macros or calories. And if your calendar is empty, text an old friend (or make a new one) and share a meal together.
Be kind, to yourself and to others
At the risk of sounding cheesy, people will remember how you made them feel, not how well you counted calories or what your pant size was. Again, if you need to eat a certain way to take care of yourself, do it. But make sure you're not being so rigid or stressing yourself out. Life is messy, so your diet needs to have some flexibility. It's OK if you don't eat vegetables for a whole day. Give yourself some grace, and eat some vegetables tomorrow.
A lot of us realize that we should be nice to other people, but we constantly beat ourselves up, especially when it comes to food choices. It may not be easy, but we can all be nicer to ourselves. If you eat a food—whether it's a brownie or a piece of broccoli—there's no need to berate yourself over your choice. Eliminating the good food vs. bad food mentality can help you feel more neutral when it comes to your food choices. Try to treat yourself the way you would treat other people and be kind and say nice things.
So much of nutrition and healthy eating has to do with taking care of your body now, so you can help it continue to be healthy and function properly in the future. But, there's a balance of eating foods that make you feel good, foods that taste good, foods that are convenient and foods that satisfy your needs.
I'm not suggesting you make every meal your ideal last meal—although if there is something you really want to eat, go for it (my last meal would include cacio e pepe and carrot cake)! It's possible to make healthy choices without stress and guilt. Food is something to celebrate and something that sustains us and gives us energy. The point here is to help you remember that there's more to life than your diet and that it's OK to eat the cookie.
Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.