Each and every one of us experiences a unique and lifelong relationship with food. Like any relationship, there will be ups and downs, good days and bad, but in the end we will always need food. Some of us go on to have a great fascination with what we eat but only a small percentage of people are sufficiently fueled by this fascination to pursue a career in nutrition. I am one of those people.
For anyone who has read my previous blogs, who knows me personally or who was worked with me, you will know that I do take my own personal nutrition and the nutrition of my clients, friends and family very seriously.
At the age of 28 I can honestly say that, after a long personal journey, I am highly confident in the way I eat and my ability to provide others with strong dietary guidance. This was not always the case, it was a long and winding road for me to arrive at this position and I think a little bit about my journey is worth hearing for anyone out there who is in a position to make a change, food related or otherwise, but needs a positive push to know that it is never too late to do so.
Some of you may see my content now and might think that I have been eating with this level of diligence for most of my life. You would be very wrong in that assumption! As far back as I can remember I was always a picky eater, an under eater and a kid and teenager who gravitated towards less healthy food choices such as fast food , pop and candy. In other words, I have spent about two thirds of my life so far eating quite poorly.
Although I often ate foods that I would now consider to be “unhealthy” , I always remained underweight or close to underweight (BMI 17.5-20.5).
Although I truly appreciate that struggling with excess weight is a more common experience for most people, I can tell you that being underweight is not an enjoyable or pleasant experience either.
Somewhere around the age of 17 I decided that I was no longer satisfied with the decisions I was making in regards to my health and opted to pursue what I thought to be “healthier” eating. Unfortunately, I had literally no idea what I was doing and found myself on a diet consisting of numerous PowerBars daily, primarily because I thought they were exceptionally healthy due to their high content of every single vitamin and mineral.
Things got worse before they got better, although I eventually grew out of that “PowerBar phase” what followed was a period of several other strange and overly restrictive phases where I wouldn’t eat any food I thought was “bad”. Although I was slowly starting to eat more fruits and vegetables, I was irrationally rejecting far too many other foods. I’m sure some of you out there can appreciate going through these “weird” or “obsessive” phases, but they are certainly not good behaviours to maintain over the long term.
It took me years of trial, error and education before I over came all of these early obstacles and started to truly understand what it meant to be eating well. Aside from making more balanced food selections, one of the biggest things I needed to embrace as a borderline underweight person was to eat more and worry less. That was a real key to success for me, but I also want you all to understand that eating healthy will always mean different things to different people. Although certain components of eating well include common foods like fruits and vegetables, it is also important to eat in a way that is emotionally and mentally acceptable to you, that is appropriate for your caloric needs and so on.
If I knew back then what I know now, or I had reached out for guidance from a nutrition professional, I would have been able to save myself years of trial and error. This realization, in combination with how much happier and healthier I have become since I truly started to eat better, led me to the certainty that a career in nutrition was the only option for me. Hyperbole aside, the interest that I took in food changed my life, and I felt strongly at that time that there were many other people out there who could share in a similar transformative experience with the proper guidance.
A few years of learning, reflection, university degrees and work placements later, I became a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in public health nutrition. My own personal journey allowed me to appreciate how drastically a change in eating styles can impact one’s health and well-being but even more importantly it made me realize how important the proper guidance and education is in achieving that goal.
At the end of the day, there is no such thing as eating perfectly. I am constantly learning and revising my own eating habits with the goal of taking myself to a higher level of health and well-being. For example, this year was the first time I ever tried tofu and avocado, and they are now both regular components of my diet. The bottom line is that nutrition is a challenging and never ending journey, but one that is well worth the ride.
1. No matter how poorly you may perceive your diet to be, and how long you have been eating in this way, there is always an opportunity for growth and improvement. Obviously, the earlier you commit to this improvement, the better, but if you are otherwise in reasonable health you are never too far gone to enjoy the benefits of eating well.
2. Even with proper guidance and due diligence, it will take trial, error, commitment and effort for you to truly bring yourself to a healthier state. Being well informed will make this process slightly easier. I would sincerely recommend reviewing the content of reputable professionals, myself included, and seriously consider seeking the guidance of a registered dietitian if you feel you are ready to make changes but need that extra push to do so.
3. Eating healthy means different things to different people, the way I eat may be the pinnacle for me but it does not necessarily mean it should be the pinnacle for you. Embrace your unique journey and do the best you can within the context of your life and its challenges.
4. Finally, my own nutrition journey is no more or less special than yours. I happen to be a dietitian with a blog so I have a space to share my own personal reflections, but I am willing to bet if you were to reflect on your own lifelong journey with food you would also have a fascinating and valuable story to share. For this reason, I do encourage you to engage in self-reflection.
I am hopeful that today’s account of my nutrition journey will inspire anyone out there who has been wanting to make a change, or perhaps even inspire you into pursuing a career in dietetics. As rewarding as it has been for me to be able to change the way I eat, it is even more rewarding to help others do the same and to share in their success.
Andy De Santis RD MPH