You Don’t Need to Challenge Your Food
I doubt you need need a trite intro explaining to you how this is a season of diets, cleanses, and resolutions. So I won’t do that. What I will do is backtrack a few weeks, when I saw a tweet promoting a “new!” thing to try for January — her specific “Real Food Challenge” to start your New Year off right, of course. And I wondered: Why did we decide that to change personal food habits is a battle, us against what we eat? Who wins here?
First, let’s take it back to my startup days.
Things move quickly in the startup world. Less than one month after my first day on the job at Spright, we were getting ready to promote our newest product: online health and fitness groups. With only a few days to pick a name, “challenges” won for a while. Why? There were pros — I don’t remember them all, though I’m sure SEO was one — but I do remember a few of us feeling a little unsettled by the notion of challenging people to eat or exercise differently, month after month. It not only felt a little cliche, but also a little off-brand. We were trying to set up a program that would help everyone find their own path to health, not one where “losing” a challenge was a possible outcome at the end of each month. Eventually we changed it to “classes” — a much better representation of our goal to teach participants how to develop sustainable diet and/or fitness habits, to create long-term health instead of short-term “wins.”
Why did we decide that to change personal food habits is a battle, us against what we eat?
The challenge concept doesn’t feel right to me.
To challenge means to contest or to compete. But there’s no sense in doing either of those things when it comes to nutrition. It’s not sustainable to make eating into a duel against someone else — much less against yourself or against the food you eat every day. And in a “Real Food Challenge!” what are we contesting? How does that teach us that it’s natural, and not a real fight, to eat actual food?
It’s not sustainable to make eating into a duel against someone else — much less against yourself or against the food you eat every day.
Real food is not challenging us.
So, who is the opponent in this challenge? Food isn’t fighting you. It’s just sitting there, waiting for its natural fate. Which leaves you, the eater, challenging yourself. But you shouldn’t have to feel challenged by your willpower or your own habits. You should have the luxury of trusting your hunger, satiety, and cravings, instead of fighting them every day.
You shouldn’t have to feel challenged by your willpower or your own habits.
Don’t challenge your food, just eat (and enjoy) it.
Here’s where I do give you trite advice: you don’t need to diet or cleanse, and you certainly don’t need to challenge yourself to eat real food.
You may just need to take a step back and decide to change something — anything — that will make you feel a little healthier every day. You may just need to buy a few extra fruits and vegetables so that you have them available in your own kitchen, where you’ll probably eat them. You may just need a little guidance from a dietitian or health professional.
But I assure you, you don’t need to put up a fight against food.
Heather Caplan is a registered dietitian (RD) in Washington DC. You can find her real talk about nutrition, food, and running on her site: heathercaplan.com