Eat a Donut

by Kaylee KroyerRD, LD, Healthy Living Coach, YMCA of Central Kentucky

Hi, my name is Kaylee. I am a Registered Dietitian and I love donuts. And here is why that’s okay: 

We live in a society ridden with dieters being led by quick fix gurus –  really though, all of this is just an infestation of “weight-loss programs” and “miracle pills” that each claim to hold the secret to a happy, successful life. Americans spend $60 billion dollars a year on diet and weight-loss products, more than any other country. Approximately half of our population would claim, at any given time, that they’re “trying to lose weight”.
We are spending money on diet products and actively trying to lose weight, yet we are not seeing a resolution to the problem at hand. Why is that? Because the diet industry’s end goal is to stay in business. 

Often, the diet industry sells “one-size-fits-all” programs that are set to self-destruct. Generally speaking, the program “works” within a 21, 30 or 90 day time frame that avoids birthdays, holidays and vacations. These diets are typically strict and specific with little wiggle room to account for real life. When the program inevitably fails us (even though we often feel like we failed it), we find ourselves asking, “What’s next?” as we pursue the next up and coming miracle program.  

Herein lies the problem: we fall into an overly restrictive diet cycle that’s characterized by short-lived “successes” fueled by long-lived insecurities. We are drawn to plans that restrict and limit food choices and prescribe unrealistic exercise programs, because they promise unrealistic weight loss combined with marginal time commitments. The reason why these diets have such a short shelf life? They are not maintainable.  

The bottom line - restriction simply doesn’t work. Restriction creates unrealistic expectations for how humans respond in situations that involve food. Think back to your childhood when someone told you, “Don’t touch the stove” - what was your impulse? Touch the stove. Doing so was followed by pain, regret and perhaps embarrassment. We then found ourselves with two choices: hide from the adult who told you not to touch the stove or confess to them what had happened and look to them for a solution. The diet industry works in a similar way, but instead of making recommendations with our best interests in mind, they profit off of our insecurities and seek to create dependence. 

We’ve all heard the saying: “Everything in moderation”. This is not easy because it’s not our natural tendency. But periods of restriction followed by days of over-indulgence do not equal out to “everything in moderation”. The term “cheat-day” in itself implies that eating normal food is an act of disobedience or behavior deserving of punishment. 
Too many times I have heard people utter the phrase, “well… I’ve been bad” referring to their recent food choices. I have seen the shame on faces, and heard the guilt in voices as they recalled enjoying pasta or dessert while celebrating the birthday of a dear friend. There is no such thing as “bad” or “good” food, because food doesn’t have morals. Food can be tasty, delicious; or it can be bland or mushy.  Of course, it can be nutritious, and it can be locally grown. Food can be sweet, savory, crisp, and delectable. These are adjectives that should be used to describe food. The only time we should say a food is “bad” is if it’s a food that we don’t like to eat. 

We tend to struggle with the thought of “sometimes”, especially when it comes to indulgent foods. We don’t like the word “maybe”, we want a “yes” or a “no”. But I challenge you to embrace the “maybe” and to master the “sometimes”.  
If you find yourself saying, “If I say yes to one cookie, I won’t be able to stop myself!” Ask yourself – why? Could it be because cookies are not part of your regular routine, and you’re feeling deprived of this treat, so you’ll feel the need to over-indulge, in order to satisfy an overdue craving? Or could it be that you’re experiencing feelings of shame or guilt when eating a cookie, leading to regret and disgust. Move past these feelings and thoughts. Progress will look different for everyone. For some “progress” may be learning when to say “not this time” and for others it may be to allow yourself to eat foods that you enjoy. We want to establish a healthy relationship with food, not one steeped in negativity.  

Are there foods that are more nutritious that donuts? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean donuts don’t belong in your diet. I love donuts because I love locally-owned donut shops where I know the baristas and “donut engineers” by name and can ask them, “what’s new?” and get a genuine response. I love enjoying a donut over a good conversation, responding to emails or while reading a good book. As we work towards establishing a healthy relationship with food, it’s important to note that this shift of mindset takes time. Focus on one day at a time and one meal at a time, and keep these take-aways in mind: 

1.    Avoid viewing food as a reward – food is a necessary part of life and it is not something that you need to earn. Be excited about the experience of enjoying food with the people you enjoy being with. Schedule time as part of your regular routine for exercise, vegetables, rest, and treats – they are all equally important for your health and your mental well-being. We don’t exercise in order to eat, those two actions are not dependent on one another. 

2.    Shift the focus from quantity to quality – instead of simply counting calories/macros, focus on including high quality foods. Make it a priority to enjoy a wide variety of wholesome foods, learn about where your food comes from and choose ingredients that you can pronounce. Instead of simply choosing foods based on their calorie content, choose foods that make you feel good. Strive to have a diet that is rich in experiences and flavors instead of characterized by “low-calorie” or “low-carb”.  

3.    Be kind to yourself – even on the days where we go a little overboard, allow yourself to move forward. When you start to experience feelings of regret, use it as an opportunity to learn and improve. I think we can all remember a time that we obsessed over not eating a treat, only to ultimately cave and eat way too much of it, to the point where we felt sick and miserable. Yes, this maybe wasn’t the best choice, but we can’t dwell on that. Instead of focusing on the “mistake” ask yourself what you would do differently next time. The solution is not to restrict or over-exercise because that simply perpetuated the cycle.

We give so much power to food, to the point where we determine our value based on the food that we eat. Food is needed for survival. If you have a beating heart you need food to stay alive. Let’s shift the mindset away from counting, weighing and measuring everything we eat in order to lose weight – instead focus on how we can properly, and adequately, fuel and nourish our bodies and minds with what we eat. Eat the foods that make you feel better, stronger and more energized.  

This is what is known as “food freedom”, setting you free from the clutches of a billion dollar industry built on the backs of insecure and unhappy people. Spend your hard-earned money on nutritious, wholesome, real food and focus on loving yourself now; strive to nourish the body that you have. Break the cycle of restriction and overindulgence by recognizing that all foods have a purpose and a place in your regular diet. 

Recognize that healthy living is a form of self-respect and self-care: give yourself time to de-stress, do exercises that make you happy and enjoy your food. Most importantly though, go eat a donut, and let them know that your dietitian told you to.