It seems like everyone has been talking food these last few weeks. And it makes sense, there’s lots of eating going on, and as Jason points out in the previous episode with Dr. Kleiner, lots of folks are busy being hard on themselves about their eating decisions at this time of year. And what I’m hearing is that the folks I admire the most are talking about how can we relieve the shame burden from our eating decisions AND continue to move towards our goals? I love this question, and I love that folks seem to be moving towards a consensus with some common themes and strategies to tackle this emotionally and practically challenging topic.
Dr. Kleiner starts by touching upon the first theme I’m hearing from more and more folks–that people eat food not macros, and we teach ourselves and others how to eat by learning to think in terms of food. Knowing macros can be useful, and healthy eating is a combination of having balanced meals and having healthy eating behaviors. Dr. Kleiner’s solution to this is to talk about eating in terms of exchangeable food groups–1 slice of bread is equal to half a cup of beans, which is equal to half a potato, etc. The ladies at Balance 365 call this having a balanced plate, and the folks over at Precision Nutrition use a similar approach. This also connects to the conversation with Dr. Fardet with Danny Lennon about food reductionism and the importance of a whole foods diet for health. He makes almost exactly the same point as Dr. Kleiner, stating that what is best for our health is eating a diet rich in unprocessed or minimally processed foods, but instead of talking about this, we teach people about the constituent parts and disconnect those attributes from the essential point–that whole foods are generally more healthful than more processed foods.
I appreciate that Dr. Kleiner mentions early that even those approaches, however, do not address the whys of our eating–we don’t simply eat potato chips for a source of fat and carbohydrate. We eat them because they taste good and give us joy, they can be comforting, and they have a certain mouthfeel we find appealing. I would love to hear from her, therefore, how she addresses those needs when she makes recommendations to athletes. A balanced plate/food groups and whole foods-focused approach does not explicitly teach us strategies for addressing how to meet these psychological needs in other ways. This is the tricky and essential mindset work that I have only heard Balance 365 and Georgie Fear address–finding new ways to think about food and our lives to meet our psychological needs in ways that are more in alignment with our nutritional goals. Clearly Dr. Kleiner recognizes the need for these strategies, and I look forward to hearing if she addresses them in later conversations with Jason.
But maybe the first step is getting coaches and trainers to move away from the macros focus and towards a foods focus. At one point in this conversation, Jason makes a comment about how the trainers he knows love math, numbers and data, and you can hear the lightbulb lighting up as he acknowledges that his clients are not going to be just like fellow trainers. Most people find tracking tedious and joyless, and it doesn’t prepare them to eat food in the real world, when life is constantly changing the environment in subtle ways. It can also be triggering to folks who are inclined towards disordered relationships with foods, so it’s a skill that needs to be approached cautiously when we don’t know how well someone will tolerate it.
At the end of this episode, Dr. Kleiner asks the question how do we promote what is best practice when it may not be the best for business? This has been a theme of many of the evidence-based conversations I’ve heard, too. My own gut says that we need to change the national-level policies and incentives that make certain kinds of products easier, cheaper and more profitable. If we couldn’t promote ideas that aren’t backed by science and might be harmful without proving they are safe first, then a lot of those ideas wouldn’t gain traction. If promoters of diet and exercise regimes were held liable for selling dangerous products and ideas, especially if they claim to treat medical conditions, they would be less enthusiastic about promoting their snake oil. I hope for a day when we require more accountability for the sellers of these products, and reading between the lines, it sounds like Dr. Kleiner would agree with me.
I’m grateful that Jason is having these longer-form conversations about a complex topic that is so important to our overall health and wellness. Healthy eating needs to meet all of our needs–including the need for joy that Dr. Kleiner emphasizes. This was a great conversation, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from this guest in the next two episodes!
Did you give it a listen? What are your thoughts on how we can promote healthier, more evidence-based practices in fitness and nutrition? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below, or find and follow Progressive Strength on Facebook and join the conversation over there. Thank you!