I like to think of myself as a healthy person. I try to eat a balanced diet and I live an active lifestyle. Most nights I get 8 hours of sleep, some nights it’s a little less. I am not afraid to indulge in a treat every now and then, namely dark chocolate and chocolate chip cookies! My relationship with food has always been pretty good, I don’t get ‘scared’ of eating certain foods, I’ll just steer clear of foods I know I don’t like.
About a year and a half ago, I decided to go vegetarian. It was a decision which came from wanting to reduce my carbon footprint, as well as maintain my health in the long term. I have dabbled in vegan food here and there, mainly through experimenting at home with flaxseed, nutritional yeast and coconut yoghurt. While I have never called myself vegan, I try and eat a plant-based diet where I can.
In the age of the internet, we are lucky to have access to a wealth of information about food and nutrition. With just a few words typed into google, I can find the ’10 benefits of dried figs’ or ‘8 reasons to eat bananas’, or maybe ‘6 ways to add flaxseed to your diet’. It’s all there for you to read, if you wish. Something I tend to do is google the food I’m eating. Not only do I get to enjoy that pear, I also get to know it’s high in fibre.
On the downside, I personally find Instagram to be saturated with diet, nutrition and calorie comparing accounts. It’s overwhelming to say the least. Earlier this year, my ‘explore’ page was about 60% food and diet tips. It was a vicious cycle of clicking on these photos, learning about the calorie difference between white potato and sweet potato, white rice and brown rice, an apple and a banana, and worrying I was not healthy enough. Then it would turn into wondering whether I was eating too many calories in a day. I have never counted calories in my life, but these pages were enough to tempt me. Even though I knew that most of these pages were complete bullshit, I always thought to myself, but what if they’re right?
The tipping point came when my housemate made a delicious curry for lunches for the week. He had cooked up a big pot of white rice and divided it between containers. I was in the kitchen and took a glance at this white rice, and for the first time I was genuinely scared to eat it. I got this sick feeling in my stomach and worried it would be too many carbs. Luckily, I had enough self-awareness that after a mere five minutes of panic, I knew my Instagram explore page was to blame. I quickly deleted the app from my phone and breathed a sigh of relief. Realistically, I knew I’d download it again within the week, I just needed a mini break from all that self-inflicted pressure.
Fast forward a few months, and I have managed to tweak my Instagram so I don’t see all those food and diet posts in my explore page. Ignorance is bliss. Something I’ve also done is book an appointment with a dietitian. I had my hesitations as I thought to myself, what will they tell me that I can’t look up online myself? What actually pushed me to go was the fact I’ve been having a few issues with digestion as of late, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t jeopardising myself.
I made my appointment and ironically walked past a whole foods store between my car and the practice. I stopped to buy some carob buttons and eyed off the selection of fancy flours, grains, spices and chocolate.
At my appointment, I got to sit down with a female dietitian who wore a bright smile and exuded warmth. We got to know each other, just like new friends would. I told her about my food habits, what I like to eat, how active I am etc. She asked me lots of prompting questions and checked whether I knew what she was referring to when she spoke about certain vitamins. According to this dietitian, the ‘four pillars of good health’ are diet, exercise, sleep and joy. She spoke about them as legs underneath a table. If one leg is wonky, the table won’t be much use. I liked that joy made it’s way in there. While we talk about self-care as part of maintaining good mental health, taking care of our mind and doing things we enjoy can do wonders for our physical health.
It was refreshing to have an honest conversation about food, with a professional, without the hashtags from Instagram and ‘listicles’ on the internet. If there was a certain vitamin I maybe wasn’t getting enough of, it was okay. I was taught how to incorporate it into my vegetarian diet and given honest advice about what foods to eat to get the right amount. We chatted about how to ‘build your plate’ to include carbs, protein, vegetables and fats, and what foods were going to give me the iron, protein and zinc I needed (among other things!).
At the end of my appointment I was given some resources to take home which would help me build a healthy vegetarian diet. I walked out feeling empowered and most importantly, healthy! I realised I didn’t need to worry too much, as long as a majority of the 21 meals I eat in a week are giving me the nutrients I need, I’m going to be okay. In the two days since my appointment, I have already cooked some buckwheat for lunch (recommended as a source of protein) and made some pear and walnut muffins. Both were delicious.
Sometimes Instagram can be a good way to share your knowledge with the world, and it can also get crowded with competing messages. While I am no expert in food, diet, eating disorders or mental health, I do know that I benefited from seeing a dietitian at a time when I was on the verge of being consumed by #healthy. Knowledge is power, though sometimes it’s worth checking where that ‘knowledge’ is coming from.