Happy National Nutrition Month! This year’s theme, “Eat Your Way, Every Day” is such a great message for people. It means that a healthy lifestyle can include a variety of foods that meet your nutritional needs and also meet your food preferences. As we wind down another national nutrition month, I took the time to reflect upon what nutrition really means to me.
I have a rather interesting perspective on nutrition. I don’t say that just because I am a Registered Dietitian – although that plays a huge part. As a spokesperson for our national association, I spend a lot of my time answering questions on hot topics in the media and am very fortunate to be able to stay in the loop with upcoming food and nutrition initiatives.
Most of my time is spent in my private practice, where I have about a 50/50 split for people coming to see me for preventative (wellness nutrition) and treatment nutritional care (medical nutrition therapy). And then there are the personal perspectives and my own wellness journey that lead me into the field of nutrition. As a consumer seeking the truth on nutrition, I felt confused by all the contradicting advice. So I left a career in marketing at a Fortune 500 company to go back to school and major in the field of dietetics. In the process, I was set straight on nutrition and I wanted to make it my life’s work to help other people navigate their way.
Food is our life source. It is not just something we should manipulate to be a certain number on the scale or a certain size clothing. Yet so many people have major issues when it comes to eating because that is their main focus. Ask any school-aged child if they think that calories are a good thing for them and surprisingly, they will tell you that they are bad. Sit in on one of my consults with very active adults trying to lose weight and observe their dismay when I tell them that they must eat more in order to build muscle - they've been eating only 1200 calories while exercising 90 minutes every day. Take part in one of my pediatric nutrition assessments where young children are falling off the growth chart because families have taken so many “carbs” out of their diets because they thought they were bad. We must understand nutrition in the context of our own lifestyles and life stages.
Proper nutrition will help us get to that next level. Being that food is our life source, its nutritional content can help us have the strength of mind to craft excellence into every other area of our lives, professionally and personally. Our timing of meals can keep irritability and stress minimized so we can have quality interaction with the people that mean the most in your life.
Food is a source of enjoyment. My earliest memories of food were intertwined with family. I was raised in an Italian-Irish home where extended family was always at my house. We had the pool, so parties made sense at our place. Mom loved to cook, and we loved to eat. My mother did not force feed me nor did she short order cook to my desires. We just ate - together. And we laughed. As I got older, I learned the enjoyment of cooking as a family. And that is something me, my husband and my children love doing together.
Food can heal our bodies and maximize our life spans. This was most evident to me when I worked in pediatric cardiology and we would work really hard on growing these young babies for major surgery. The children that did the best nutritionally and were able to grow despite their congenital issues had by far better outcomes. I work with cancer patients with absolutely no appetite and no desire to eat while on high doses of chemotherapy and radiation. Those that lose too much weight will lose their fight because food is literally what fuels their immune system. I have to find very unique ways to get the maximum amount of nutrition in their body in the easiest way manageable. Don't tell these people that calories are a bad thing!
As we finish up another National Nutrition Month in the month of March, ask yourself what nutrition means to you. Because how you approach food and nutrition comes from that. Most people have nutrition and health goals and it would help you to know the answer. And be sure to check out all the free resources on the National Nutrition Month website.