Dietary Guidelines Bore Me

A few weeks ago the United States Department of Agriculture published the eighth annual update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  I used to get very excited about the guidelines. I would read the advisory committee report line by line and anticipate the publication of the guidelines based on expert review of science.  Each year I would read the guidelines and feel a little more let down that “this was it” and think “we know all this already”. Now, the guidelines just bore me. It isn’t because the guidelines are bad or wrong. And it isn’t because I don’t love nutrition.  I think it is because after being a dietitian for eighteen years it always comes down to the same simple recommendations of eat more vegetables, eat more fruit, eat more beans, lentils, legumes. Basically, eat more plants and less of everything else. It is commons sense. I would feel bad having someone pay me to give them this advice. It’s just not that exciting anymore.

Every five years a committee of the brightest and most experienced nutrition and health professionals are selected to provide recommended updates to the USDA based on the latest advances in scientific understanding. It is a long and drawn out process and they do come up with few new things like finally acknowledging that fat isn’t the total bad guy and nuts, seeds, and oils should have never been cut out of the diet in the first place. There is also the acknowledgement that eggs were also good all along and that eating cholesterol in the yellow center has little influence on total cholesterol. Then there is sugar, the ingredient everyone I know and don’t know loves to hate.  Ten percent or less of your total calories should be from added sugar. For most people this will be about forty to fifty grams of added sugar per day. That is something to work with. It doesn’t mean we all have to search for “hidden sugar” in our food. Sugar is far from hidden. The grams are right there on every packaged food in plain sight. Read and weep if you must but, it is of little consequence to your body if that total is “added” or naturally occurring. So sugar zealots please do me a favor and not sweat this nuance until the rest of the population is eating the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables per day. 


In they end, the updated guidelines rarely offer any surprises to those who care to  pay attention to such things. They do however, get health professionals all talking the same talk, if not splitting hairs over fat-free versus low-fat.


January is Diet Month

It is that time of year when well-intending people set themselves up for a miserable battle with that thing we can not live without: FOOD. Resolutions turn into obsessions and suddenly the very ingredients that invigorate us are leaving us to feeling guilty and bad about ourselves. This doesn’t have to be however.

I cringe when friends and family tell me what is on their list of restrictions for “diet season”. Often times these restrictions are self-imposed and nonsensical, nutritious foods like bananas, carrots, or whole grains. In life, where a lot of things are out of our control, food can take the brunt of our control issues. Imposing rules and restrictions on calories, fat, carbohydrate, gluten, dairy, or protein can make us feel we have control over something  that  can seem uncontrollable.

Even as a dietitian I have been there. Dietitian confession alert!

Once upon a time I would get up in the middle of the night and munch like a little mouse in the cupboards. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t fully awake, and I would eat. It seemed out of my control. Sometimes I would eat cereal, yogurt, bars, or (gasp) ice cream. I would wake up in the morning knowing I did it and feel guilty, full, and tired. It seemed out of my control.

I would then estimate my calories consumed, skip breakfast to compensate, and go on with the day counting calories so I wouldn’t  exceed my estimated needs. This behavior caused me a great deal of anxiety and for good reason. It was linked to an anxiety disorder I never let myself recognize, obsessive compulsive disorder.

It took the birth of my first child for me to see that constantly totaling up calories on my hand, sticky notes, or whatever paper was nearest was a pointless waste of energy, and like other OCD behaviors providing me a false sense of security. I needed the irrational obsessiveness to stop so I could begin enjoying my son more and worrying less about nonsensical things like calorie counting before every meal.

To get stop this behavior that was driving my nutrition-mind insane  I had to kick  this OCD thing to the curb. Being the first person in a long lineage of family members with OCD to get help took a tremendous amount of courage and trust. Once I began sorting through real thoughts and feelings with a therapist  the nighttime eating stopped and with it the calorie counting. Poof!  Life anew!

Today I happily eat whatever strikes my nutritious fancy without obsession, self-criticism, or guilt. I eat to feed my adventures as a human who thrives doing human-powered things. I am not destined to calorie count. I have learned that if I don’t eat small, often,  nutrient-filled, and without obsession my mood and energy can not keep up with the activities in my life that are truly fulfilling.

So carry on world with your dietary obsessions if you must, but I say you don’t need them.