The way I look at eating completely changed about 3 years ago. Ruthie was born and mama got HUNGRY.
I, like many other people I know, have been through phases of obsessing over my food and ignoring internal cues. In high school, I remember writing down everything I ate along with “motivating” little doodles in the margins (like, ripping myself a new one for eating an entire sandwich for lunch at school instead of the Nutrigrain bar and Diet Coke I had planned). In college, it was going to the dining hall and choosing a chicken breast, two hard boiled eggs, and spinach everyday for lunch (GAGGGGG) and then eating all of my roommates Rice Krispie treats when I got back to my room (sorry, Gloria). In grad school, I avoided all dairy and most meat and ate a lot of brown rice mixed with huge portions of frozen broccoli and hated myself whenever I ordered something delicious at the bar where I worked on weekends. In my first years out of college, it was paleo - another form of super restrictive dieting - and CrossFit. Then, I was pregnant with my sweet Ruthie and everything changed.
If there is anything that kicks your ass into listening to hunger and fullness cues, it’s pregnancy and breastfeeding. You can’t ignore that kind of hunger, you can only feed it. So that’s exactly what I did and I remember being really surprised that I didn’t feel a single ounce of the guilt we have been taught to feel when we eat as much as we want of the thing we want.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding gave me some time + permission to tune back into my inner voice. Checking in with my newborn to see how she was feeling reminded to to check in with myself too. Most of the time I was checking in to see if I felt hungry. If I did feel hungry, I thought about what I wanted to eat and I ate it.
Having a big appetite is something I’ve grown to love. Can you imagine anything more healthy? When we hear about a babe or kid who doesn't appear to have a big appetite, we usually worry about them. We would call the doctor and call our mom and call our friends. But when an adult DOES have a big appetite, they often hide it, try to suppress it, or fill it up with foods they don't really feel like eating for the sake of being healthy.
I used to love this quote:"If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not really hungry". It made sense to me. “Huh, if I don’t feel like eating an apple, I’m probably just bored”. But what it says to me now is that an apple is a healthy snack and if you are hungry for something warm or cheesy or sweet or chewy, you should try to stifle that hunger with an apple because it’s healthier. I am so rarely hungry for a plain old raw apple and that is a pretty crappy snack by the way (throw some almond butter on it and then ask me how I feel). If I would have tuned into myself more often back then, I would have been able to say “I am hungry for (fill in the blank)” rather than “I think I am hungry, let me force down an apple”. Being hungry for a delicious-to-you meal or snack but not exactly hungry for a piece of raw fruit is normal and healthy. We crave diversity in foods because that is what keeps us healthiest.
Ellen, one of my good friends and fellow dietitians knows what it is like to miss your appetite like crazy. She experienced a condition during her pregnancy that resulted in near constant nausea and vomiting for the ENTIRE 9 months (hyperemisis gravidarium). So during a time when many expectant mothers experience the pretty amazing food freedom that comes with pregnancy, Ellen was praying for any food to sound appealing and super concerned about keeping enough food down to support her sweet girl. "I would eat meals 2-3 times hoping that one of them would stay down. There was a 75% chance I would throw up within 5-10 minutes or, even worse, 2-3 hours later". I thought about Ellen a lot during her pregnancy and couldn't help thinking how I take my appetite for granted “Food and exercise are my two favorite things in the world, and I couldn't do either".
If you find yourself worried that your appetite is too large causing you to be preoccupied with food all the time, feeling like you have no control around food or finding yourself worried about eating the entire plate/pot/pan it could be because you are restricting the amount or type of food you allow your self to eat. When I was living my life by the apple-as-a-hunger-meter quote, it seemed like I was either was constantly hungry or eating way too much, always thinking about my next meal and wondering why a raw apple never sounded like a good snack.
I sometimes look back and think that my interest and education in nutrition should have shielded me from going through these obsessive phases, but it's possible that it even contributed to them. I feel like something clicked internally over the last few years. I know now how to eat to sustain good health (and to sustain the weight that is right for me) and I know how to encourage others (my kiddos) to do the same. I finally have the ability to learn about different nutrition perspectives without letting them interfere with my own practices and beliefs.
I’m so thankful for my big appetite and thankful for my little lady for showing me what’s up.
Now pass me a muffin.