Thursday, July 26, 2018

Let Me Eat Cake!


Recently I was at a friend’s birthday party when an all-too-familiar comment came my way. It was time for cake and a friend of mine said “well, I guess you won’t be having any”. I said “why?” knowing full well why. He replied “well, you’re a nutritionist, aren’t you?”  This happens to me all the time. Someone expects me to eat, or not eat, something because I’m a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist by trade and training. But comments like this always bother me – for several reasons.
First of all, it suggests that all nutritionists adhere to some sort of Spartan diet program where no food that is deemed "unhealthy" can pass our lips. People make all kinds of assumptions about me. They've assumed I am a vegan vegetarian, that I don’t eat white bread, and that I count calories, carbs, or whatever is in vogue to count at the moment. A colleague once ordered baked chips for me at a lunch meeting. When I reached for the regular chips he said “oh I got you baked chips because I assumed that’s what you ate”. When he offered to eat the baked ones so I could have his regular chips, I took him up on his offer. No one’s going to ruin my lunch because they assumed that when I put “potato chips” on my lunch order I really meant “baked chips”. Chips means chips – and don’t you forget it.
Secondly, comments like this make me realize that most people don’t understand what healthful eating means. Eating a healthy diet does not mean every single thing you eat must be whole grain, unprocessed, unrefined, baked-not-fried, or sugar free. Cake will not kill you. Neither will bacon. No food in and of itself is bad for you.
But the worst part of the “you-can’t-possibly-eat-cake” comment was that I then felt obligated to eat the cake. I felt obligated not because I wanted to be polite but because I felt a need to prove that I am not an extreme nutrition nut who only shops at Whole Foods and drinks kale shakes for breakfast. In reality, I didn’t want to eat the cake. I didn’t want to eat it because it was white cake with white icing. And white cake with white icing, to me, is boring. So is vanilla ice cream. And oatmeal cookies. White chocolate is boring and also an oxymoron. If that had been chocolate cake with chocolate icing, I would have elbowed my way to the front of the line to get a corner piece. Corner pieces of chocolate cake have a one-to-one icing to cake ratio which is perfection. You see, I love food so much that I don’t waste my taste buds on foods that I don’t love – or at least really like. That’s where I do say “I’m not wasting my calories on that”. 

So please, if you see me at a party, let me eat cake. Or not. And if it’s chocolate, you may just want to get out of my way.

Beth Kitchin PhD RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham 

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