SALT LAKE CITY — March is National Nutrition Month, a nutrition education and information campaign celebrated annually, created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each year, a new theme is used to inspire informed food choices and sound eating and physical activity habits.
This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” As a registered dietitian who aims to help individuals decrease judgments about food as a way to avoid black-and-white thinking and all-or-nothing behavior, I am not fully supportive of this theme.
Food choices are impacted by a variety of factors: cultural influences, social norms, family patterns, food preferences, availability of and access to food, hunger and appetite, emotional states, stress and attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about food.
Therefore, what does “Put Your Best Fork Forward” even really mean? It’s subjective given the best way to measure nutritional adequacy is to observe food patterns over weeks and months as unique to the individual's situation, and not a narrow view of one meal or one snack or one day.
It’s also important to realize that while food choices will impact our health, we must take a holistic approach for overall well-being. If aiming for perfection in eating (easily perpetuated by the idea of “best”) is causing increased anxiety or preoccupation with food, then we’ve crossed the line between health and obsession and it’s not longer worthwhile.
Several of my fellow registered dietitians share my concern.
- "'Put Your Best Fork Forward' is the theme for NNM 2017, which serves as a reminder that each one of us has tools to make healthier food choices. When we put our 'best fork forward,' sometimes that means we dive into a salad and other times that means we savor a piece of chocolate cake. As students and RD’s for body confidence, we can take this opportunity to help communicate this message in a way that supports self-care choices. Let’s spread messages that reduce the use of good/bad food labeling and promote the inclusion of factors like taste, pleasure and satisfaction when making food choices." —Lindsay Stenovec from Registered Dietitians for Body Confidence (RD4BC)
- “Putting my best fork forward means eating when I’m hungry, choosing the foods that work best for my body in terms of likes, dislikes and energy needs. It also means using my fingers to eat my favorite cookies, pizza or berries, and knowing when to put my fork down because I’m full.” —Robyn Kievit Kirkman
- "Your fork doesn’t need to look like salad and veggies 24/7. Your best fork is what makes you feel good emotionally and physically. Your best fork is personalized to you.” —Emily Holdorf
- "I think we can put our best fork forward by being dietitians who continue to make some waves in the nutrition world by rejecting the diet culture and the calorie counting meal plans we were taught to use in our practice. At home, I really take the pressure out of eating and food. I do prep a lot of food for ease and time, but there’s always room for spontaneity and fun. And we still listen to our needs and go with the flow.” —Kate Albarella
I asked followers via social media to share what it mean to put their best fork forward. Here are a sampling of responses:
- “By putting it (the fork) down when I’m full / picking it up when I’m hungry.”
- “To me, it just means to make the best choice possible for me at that meal. If we are eating out at a family/friend’s place, choose the foods that work best for our own body (and make us feel the best after eating) and put our best fork forward in that way.”
- “It's different for all of us! We get to determine what feels right and makes us happy!”
- “I like to think of it in two ways — one is including lots of variety and trying new foods and another way is eating with meaning and purpose.”
- “Best is subjective and depends on what you think is best for you. That ought to be an internally motivated choice arising out of self-care, not dictated by society or diet culture.”
The idea of “best” is too closely linked to diet culture. It’s well established that diets don’t work and actually only cause weight gain. They make us miserable and erode self-trust.
Most of us have eliminated traditional dieting but have still learned to equate healthy eating with restrictive eating. We cut out foods, food ingredients and even whole food groups. We run scared of feeling satisfied because we equate it with overeating when it’s actually lack of satisfaction that most often causes overeating.
In reality, healthful eating patterns are flexible and encourage balance and consistency. They respect your body and its natural size. Your body and metabolism will function better with a wide variety of adequate nutrition included at regular meals and snacks. Satisfaction is your best guide for ensuring your body’s needs are being met.
Therefore, in an attempt to personalize this year’s National Nutrition Month theme in a non-diet, weight-neutral way, embrace satisfaction. Eat with the intent to feel satisfied, which likely will naturally decrease patterns of undereating or overeating because neither of them are satisfying (more like uncomfortable or painful). Decrease the judgments you give to foods so you can make wise, intuitive decisions about how to best care for yourself, instead of decisions based on fear, deprivation or restriction.