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 tea bag 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 badly 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.
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