As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I always felt that my purpose was to help inspire people to get healthy—either by losing weight or by better managing a disease such as diabetes.
My undergraduate training was steeped in advanced nutrition and science courses. And, after graduating to become a registered dietitian, I completed the 1,200 brutal hours of supervised practice that fully tested my mental stamina and flexibility. After passing my board exam, I was bursting at the seams—ready to dive into counseling individuals on diet and nutrition. I was ready to help people eat healthy, exercise, and just feel good!
However, the universe had somewhat different plans for me.
I landed my first job as a dietitian working with women and teen girls with eating disorders, trauma, and addiction. My counseling skills felt like they leaped out of the window after my first week onsite. I realized quickly that society and my professional education had trained me to feel that, as a registered dietitian and yoga teacher, I could do so much good for people.
But just like any light that is cast, there is always a shadow side. It was in the doors of my new job that I learned how powerful nutritionists, personal trainers, yoga teachers, and the like are in the development of disordered eating and poor body image.
I was left speechless—literally.
The first four weeks as a newly registered dietitian, I was actually afraid to speak. Everything that I had been taught to do had the potential to further contribute to the suffering and poor body image of these women and girls. It was then that I realized how I needed to change my words, my intentions, and my strategy.
The key? Mindfulness. I became mindful of the needs of these women. I became mindful of my thoughts and, more importantly, my words.
My first year as a dietitian, working with these incredible women, was emotional and just plain hard at times. But it was also rewarding and immensely insightful. I am the dietitian I am today because of my experience with these women.
So how has my philosophy on food and self-care changed?
1. Promote self-acceptance over self-love.
Especially with a background in teaching yoga, I find it is easy to promote self-love and the idea of nurturing your inner child. However, for most of the women I worked with, self-love was not even close to being on the radar—but, self-acceptance was something they could work with. I’ve learned to meet people—and myself—where they are in life.
Whether behind a desk or on a yoga mat, I choose my words with attention and intention so that, as a nutrition therapist and yoga teacher, I can meet people where they are instead of asking them to meet my ideals. This has allowed me to operate from a stance of empathy and understanding.
2. There is no such thing as a “perfect diet”—even one prescribed by a professional in the field.
You are your own best nutritionist. As someone whose livelihood is based off a nutrition education, I strongly advocate this statement. You are truly your own best nutritionist.
Only you can taste the food in your mouth. Only you know what the texture is like. Only you know how satisfying a meal or snack is. I look at my role now in a different light. My role and expertise is in helping individuals heal and cultivate a positive relationship with food.
3. All foods fit because health is more than just physical.
It is possible for us to live off of green smoothies and salads for the rest of our lives, but would we be happy? Humans connect to food differently than any other species. We gather around food. We celebrate with it. We mourn with it. No other species does this.
So when we deny ourselves the piece of chocolate cake at that special birthday party, what mindset are we doing it with? Food impacts our emotional, mental, and social health just as much as our physical health. If we only nourish one part of the whole (such as physical health) then the other areas of our well-being suffer. The key is to create a state of balance so that all areas of our well-being are nourished equally.
4. Mindful eating helps to learn how to honor hunger and fullness.
Just like any skill takes time and practice to pick up, mindful eating is no different. My yoga practice greatly helped me to create awareness about my body, my mind, and my food.
Recognizing and honoring hunger and fullness is an essential aspect of building a positive relationship with food. Personally, mindful eating and honoring hunger and fullness enhanced my own self-worth. It reminded me that I am the keeper of my body, my temple, and I chose to both honor its needs and respect its boundaries.
Author: Samantha Schmell
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman