Nutrition

Eating with Purpose

The last few weeks have been wild ones! Literally, as I prepared for a retreat known as Outwild! Generally, Wednesday is my blog sharing day and Tuesday is my day to tell you about things I have discovered that are (subjectively) cool or interesting. BUT, I fell off the schedule and this week you get this post on Friday. As my friend’s Instgram handle states, atleastitsnotnothing. Be well for the weekend people!

The idea of eating with purpose didn’t hit me until well into adulthood. After abruptly and traumatically becoming a mother for the first time, purpose became clear. My son was born early at twenty-six weeks into my pregnancy (which is typically 40 weeks for those not in the know). So really, really early. Before this event, I stressed and fretted over what foods I could or could not eat, over gaining too much weight too soon in the pregnancy, and if my body would ever be the same. Until pregnancy eating was a function of ‘looking like a runner’ instead of being a runner. After the first year of motherhood, it was clear. No matter what I ate or how I looked I was both a runner and a mother. Only things of true importance stayed in my life. That did not include being stuck in my head about food.

Purpose permeates my personal approach to eating and my work. When advising a food company on the development of food or personalize a nutrition approach for an athlete, we start with purpose.

More energy for the things you love

Psychic energy is a real thing. Actual glucose is used in making decisions and problem-solving. Conserving psychic energy for the most important things is kinda like conserving glucose for energy in an ultra-race. Eating with purpose begins the development of an automatic roadmap on what to eat. It doesn’t make food good or bad and, once you are on a path, it requires less and less of your decision making energy so you can save up for the big stuff like running mountains or chasing your kids around the ski hill!

The same goes for developing food that supports active lifestyles. I advise food companies to determine what purpose the food they want to create will serve. That purpose could be anything from curbing mid-day munchies to fueling one-hundred-mile races. Once the brand and development team lands on a purpose, the path ahead for choosing ingredients, servings sizes, packaging and everything else involved come into view. Purpose makes the whole process more efficient.

What is eating with purpose? It is eating in a way that aligns with your intentions to be your best at something. The steps to eating with purpose look like this:

  • Set your intention
  • Make no food forbidden 
  • Take a mental note of the purpose of the food serves towards that intention 
  • Recognize what the food will do for the body such as build, protect, energize, satisfy a craving, celebrate, or something else. 

Food is so multifaceted. As much as I think its sole purpose is about nourishing activity, for most, it is much more than that.

In today’s society food is also about enjoyment, celebration, and community. Most of my eating occasions are centered around being healthy and fit to do the activities I love to the best of my abilities. The rest are about enjoying time with friends or family. Eating with purpose provides permission to be human and eat for pleasure, taste and not just in consideration of health and performance – there is room for both.

Eating with purpose is also about trusting our intution and common sense. We know what to eat, truly. When someone asks me, “what should I eat?” I repeat the line from investigative food journalist, Michael Pollan:

Eat food, mostly plants, not too much

It seems so simple yet confusion leaves us from trusting our intuition and searching for answers and plans to show us the way. What happens is we run into conflicting information, misinformation, and misunderstanding about what to eat. It becomes easy to overthink it, be overwhelmed and just give up.

In an attempt to find structure in overwhelm we jump on the latest diet or fad food that someone told us about. We find a generic plan that maybe our friend or neighbor followed and vow to stick to it. Excluding, forbidding, and restricting food, we muscle through for a few days, a week, a month, maybe more but eventually we “fall off” or “cheat”. Cheating or worse failing at the plan sets us up to shame ourselves for what is only natural human behavior. I heard a dietitian once say there is no cheating, only eating. When you choose to eat with purpose that is the way.

It is time to shift our mindset from this:

Find a nutrition plan > Try it > Fall off > Blame/Shame Ourselves

To this:

Set your purpose > determine principles of eating that support your purpose>determine food preferences that set your purpose > create a routine way of eating that supports your purpose

Why losing weight isn’t an intention?

An intention that involves appearance is not sustainable because it isn’t lifestyle changing. A number on the scale, pants size or body fat percentages are just numbers.  Getting to the number becomes a goal that once reached, leaves us lost in the woods wondering what to organize and focus our food choices around now. Choose purpose and intention first. If you are eating for an active lifestyle, the numbers will follow over time.

Eating in a way that supports a purpose makes healthy eating sustainable as part of a lifestyle. For example, today my boys are healthy, happy, and active. My purpose is to stay active with them and still have energy to grab a long run, ski or work on my business.

Every time you eat something ask yourself what purpose that food our meal is serving. Is it going to support well-being, health, or sport? Sometimes the purpose is to energize your body, help you recover, prevent hunger pains, or provide nutrients your body needs. If it does all those things it is what I like to call a multi-tasker food! My three top multi-tasking foods are blueberries, sweet potatoes, and milk!

Other times the purpose is about coming together with others, celebrating, or enjoying flavor. Candy corn serves the purpose of re-experiencing the nostalgia of my childhood. And donuts have a purpose on occasion too. Purpose of donuts = fun!

As long as you know what the purpose the food is serving, there is no good or bad. They are simply of variety of purposes. Fueling, building, repairing, and preventing are the purposes my food is serving most often because I am athletic and tad bit competitive with myself. There is however room to be human. Purpose is giving you permission to be human and eat for pleasure, taste and not just in consideration of health and performance – there is room for both.

So the next time someone says to me ” it must be a cheat day” when the seeing me eating something they restrict I will respond with the word of a mentor ” it aint’ cheatin’, it’s just eatin'”!

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Nutrition Strategist and Registered Dietitian with twenty years of experience creating nutrition strategies that influence and inspire people to accomplish big things.

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