I did not consider that the setting would be more than nutritionally neutral. It was a required training on a non-nutritional topic at an off-site setting dedicated to health. Though it was an all-day event, I did not know it included lunch, so I had my own packed in my bag. If anything, I supposed it would include the perfunctory coffee and some offering of basic breakfast carbohydrates to start the day and amuse the attendees, but that would be it. My, was I in for a surprise.
It was a cold morning so I was glad for the teabag and hot water. But, as I found myself in line with the others waiting for their morning jolt, I, of course, noticed what was available, and reflected on how nutritional awareness now means let’s serve some fruit along with the wide array of pasty pastries. I am more disheartened about such food offerings in my professional settings where health and nutrition are purported to matter. Still, having a day out of the office, to learn about the proper design of research studies, I thought I would pass the day imagining myself as a research scientist, rather than a nutritionist. Increasingly, I find myself interested in matters of investigation and evaluation, and though I lean strongly toward the qualitative, I like to unveil that quantitative data as well.
The presenters were all quite knowledgeable and held my attention with their touches of humor and accessibility, despite the somewhat dry subject matter. At the end of the morning, we were ushered across the hallway for the lunch–which apparently was provided– and consisted of a selection of sandwiches and wraps, bags of chips, cans of soda and bottles of water. As I looked down the three long lines of tables where we were sitting, my clearly not quieted nutritionist mind acted up. I was tempted to count how many people had chosen a soda and what kind and to then count the total number of people and begin some analysis.
Just as I reminded myself to not play probing, annoying nutritionist, the facilitator took to the microphone and informed the group about the schedule for the afternoon sessions. He then apologized that the cookies had not arrived but that they would be coming soon. The group emitted a palpable response. And, when at break time he did announce the advent of the cookies, as promised, the audience broke into applause. Really, the previously lackluster assemblage of folk, mainly there due to the mandatory nature of the event, responded with animated cheering. Forget the soda study. Where was my neurobiology team when I needed them to measure the excited brainwaves in the prefrontal cortex when exposed to just the anticipation of a sugary surge? I observed the same sparks in the eyeballs of those three-year-olds who just the week before had come to my door disguised as pirates demanding candy. Wow. But, there was still one more twist to come.
As the group got up to dive into and divvy up the cookie bounty, I headed down to the bathroom. On my way back, a woman was heading in my direction. My own brain flipped into one of its pre-programmed reactions. Young, attractive, stylish–I suddenly feel quite bad about myself. As we got closer, she held up a cookie to me and said, “Yeah, I know I am so bad.”
Shocked out of my own internal self-admonishment, I asked, surprised, “What?” She said, “I know I shouldn’t be eating this, but I can’t help myself. I am sure this is emotional eating. I should be better tomorrow. This was a tough week.” Confused and concerned, I said, “I am sorry, but why are you telling me this?” She reminded me that she knew I was a nutritionist because we had come upon each other while walking near my office the month before, and I had told her what division I worked in. We had talked together for about five minutes before we went our separate ways. Now, here, out of context, it took me a moment to recognize her.
Stupidly grasping for something to say, I stuttered, “Then, if I have any power granted in me as a nutritionist in this very moment, please do not feel guilty and bad about yourself because of a cookie.” “Thank you, Elyn”, she said, sounding relieved as she walked away. She had only just shared a common feeling that many suppress. But her conflict makes her a potential subject for this big human study of who we are as eaters–along with all the rest of us. We are tasked with needing to be cognizant of our food choices, in a toxic food environment, while mysterious uncontrollable drives often control our behaviors. Pretty complicated stuff, this eating thing, aye matey?
Well, I really am quite aware that any situation can present me with a nutritional conundrum. This one concerned how a little cookie can magnify our longing, our regret and all the places in-between. In response, may I suggest that as best you can, nourish yourself in many ways, observe what lights up your prefrontal cortex, avoid long boring meetings, and most of all be gentle and loving with yourself.
Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.
In health, Elyn
By my own personal accounting, this is the 100th post of the Nutritionist’s Dilemma, and as you can see, the dilemmas persist. To help me embark on the next hundred, if you are a subscriber, regular reader, occasional visitor, or someone who has just stumbled upon my blog, I would greatly appreciate your taking a moment to: write a comment (below) to let me know how my writings resonate (cogent, amusing, inspiring, galvanizing) or just that you were here (Hi El, Yes, I DO read your blog); share one of my posts (forward to a friend or share on Facebook); click an available like button; subscribe (on side); or invite me on some interesting joint venture to change the world, near or far.
(I would also love some new haikus as I am now relying on ones written by a cat.)
A deep thank you to those of you who have supported my humble efforts to give voice to my experience and to feed my quiet muse.
Blessings to all and Happy Thanksgiving!
My Plate Haiku
I lick your nose, I lick your nose again
I drag my claws down your eyelids
Oh, you’re up? Feed me.
By a cat
from I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats collected by Francesco Marciuliano
I read your blog posts Elyn! Congrats on the 100th posting! That feels momentous and I’m glad that you shared. I think about Saratoga Springs often. And Skidmore. Usually separately which I find interesting.
I love your quirky style and word choice, it is engaging and humorous and lovely in length. It is an honor to read something that sounds so put together and as if it all just rolled off your tongue.
You sound well and I hope you are. Greetings from Berkeley, California, still!
Dear Sara, So lovely as always to hear from you. Thanks so much for reading and responding. It means a lot to me. Just came from the Saratoga indoor winter farmer’s market. (There are now two different farmer’s markets in town.) Remembering when you helped initiate the market on campus and the other initiatives you got started while at Skidmore. I am always interested in hearing what you are up to. Keep me posted. Always can use a little California inspiration. Be well. Holiday blessings. Warmly, Elyn
Certainly I love your musings … and amusings. Your writing is as economical as your advice and I love it. The odd thought, the juxtaposition, the irony, the well put adjective, the lyrical insights — all of it is marvelous. I feel as if I’m traveling along in your head like a silent, smiling companion. And I thank you for that. You take me interesting places. Please write more hundreds of posts so we can nourish ourselves with your wisdom and leave the cookies begging.
Dear Susan, As usual, your random comments are more nicely expressed than my precisely constructed writings. I love the imagery of cookies begging. Needs a funny cartoonist depiction. Thanks for your support and following me all the way from Armenia.
I try to read your blog every month – I love that it keeps me in touch with you, and I also love the way you turn a phrase, Your struggle with knowledge, judgement and acceptance is often profound.
I’ve noticed a similar reaction to cookies at work, but though my insides do leap a bit at the idea of a really good cookie (maybe time to explore that in a haiku?), there are never really good cookies offered, so the excitement is quickly tempered with *bleah*. Again, the ingredients used to make the food are what truly makes it delicious and worth getting excited about 🙂 Store bought cookies got none of that!
Also, best cat poem ever – I live this daily!
Dear Anne Marie,
You are absolutely right. Research protocol suggests that I do a pre and post test survey that investigates if the cookie truly lived up to its promises and elevated our bliss quotient. Or with repeat exposure to a bad cookie is the excitory process dulled–which would as Susan says eventually leave the cookies begging.
Here’s what I have haiku wise based on your input. May need work. My insides do leap/thinking of a good cookie/oft quickly tempered.
Thanks for reading! Thanks for commenting! Thanks for sharing! Thanks for being you!
I am a recovering sugar addict. Wish I was joking. I had to go cold turkey a year and a half ago and still occasionally have cravings. However, most of the cravings went away after about three weeks. Now, I just avoid the stuff entirely – no self control. Then I read an article that the pleasure pathway triggered by sugar (or the thought of sugar) is the same as that observed in cocaine addicts.
And, I read you blog.
I have been reading a bit about happiness and our inability to predict accurately how a thing — such as eating a cookie — will make us feel. See “Stumbling on Happiness” (extremely enjoyable reading) for more on that.
Also, while we have the capacity for reason and the impression that we make choices rationally, our behavior and choices are mostly controlled by arational (that should be a word) emotions. See Haidt’s “Happiness Hypothesis,” a super amazing book.
I have been paying great attention in many ways recently to how my own unconscious drive overpowers my discipline. Eating is a prime experiment, as I take (or leave) a brownie or a cookie. One trick, introduced by a marriage counselor and explained by Haidt, is to not refuse the bad choice, but to delay accepting it. Some activity in the brain dissipates, and it gives the rational control center a chance to take charge. Many times I end up resisting; other times I take the cookie, but throw the second half in the trash.
I miss you.
Thank you for such thoughtful input, (and apologies for the delayed response). It seems clear that we respond to food (and other substances)in a way that is not rational or conscious. Especially with foods that are particularly calming or stimulating to that dear brain and to which it develops a programmed response. The ever present exposure to sugar in particular clearly brings us to our knees. However, as you say, we need to learn mindfulness practices and tricks in order to bring these behaviors into conscious control. (I like the work of Dr. Michelle May and many others who address mindful eating, and Marc David and his Institute for the Psychology of Eating.) This is the challenge of modern eaters. As always, you bring wisdom to your own path and practices. Thanks for sharing that resource.
Wishing you and your family the best in the new year. May our paths cross soon.
I am so glad you write, and are righting* on this subject, and, last but not least, that I saw you last Christmas at the Chinese Food Restaurant in Saratoga (that last one may seem like a nonsequitur but I was just telling someone about it and it was just such a joyful moment).
I hope to see you again soon!
*This was a typo…or was it???
A quick haiku-like poem:
Write in a rush
Eat at leisure
Be well, be well
Nan is a huge fan. I love you, Elyn. How many syllables are in “vegetable?” Jim wants to know.
thanks sweetie. tell jim as many as needed to serve one’s poetic muse. the more the higher the nutritional content.