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Disordered Eating...Or Not?

If you were to have a consultation with a non-diet dietitian, you'll notice a difference in language used compared to a traditional dietitian. This subtle change may challenge your own beliefs around food and body image and will quite possibly question your usual intake. Our society has placed a lot of rules around what we should and should not be eating. The biggest thing we non-diet dietitians emphasize the most is the CONTEXT of what and how you are eating. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Challenging situational eating vs eating with rules and rigidity

Ever since I began working as a dietitian in the eating disorder space, plain Chobani Greek yogurt comes up a lot when discussing daily intake. Some people choose it because they think it's the "healthiest", some because it tastes the best, and some choose it because it's the only type, they think, that they are allowed to eat, as defined by diet culture and the rules they have placed on themselves.

If we compare two types of yogurts from Chobani, Chobani Zero Sugar Vanilla Nonfat Greek Yogurt, and Vanilla Blended Nonfat Greek Yogurt, we can see a difference in the nutritional profile. The "zero sugar yogurt has only 6 grams of sugar, 130 calories and 13g of protein and the "blended yogurt" has 16g sugar, 70 calories and 14g protein. Although the protein amount is comparable, the sugar and calorie amount are doubled. Does this mean that the blended yogurt is BAD for you? No. Certainly not. It depends on the context of how you are eating it. Thinking about food as good or bad and black or white is a dangerous approach. So, if you are dropping your jaw in dismay, let me give you an example of when it might be better to choose the higher carb option.

Let's say you play tennis a few days a week for about an hour and run/walk 30 min - 60 min on the other days. You work full-time and are on the go all day long. You might struggle to get snacks in because of your go-go nature. Hello, new moms! Hello new grads and college students! Choosing a yogurt that has a little more energy in it (carbs) to fuel your day will likely be a better choice than restricting the carbs and going for an option that will just leave you feeling depleted and wanting more. Since the protein options are comparable with a difference of 1 gram, you won't see an insulin spike like you would if you just ate carbs alone.

So, let's talk about why this concept is important to understand. The fact that there's a yogurt with 13g of protein and no added sugar is great. It's also great that there are other yogurts that have added sugar, are higher in fat, have mixed pureed fruit, and some that have no puree added at all. Choosing a yogurt that has higher protein and no added sugar is not a bad thing either. It becomes a problem when this choice becomes the ONLY choice or is based on rules or mindset that the other yogurts are "bad" for you. the point I want to make is that the situation in which you choose a particular yogurt is key. There are no good or bad kinds of yogurt. There is only variety and maintaining variety in your food choices (across all food groups) is very important in living a healthy and balanced life.

If you are an athlete, a gym junkie, or someone who exercises regularly, the "blended" yogurt would be a great choice. Since dairy is optimal for muscle maintenance and growth, a higher protein yogurt combined with carbs is a great option. Depending on your level of intensity and duration, you may need to think about adding in some additional carbs, as 16g of carbs isn't going to do the job in aiding muscle recovery. Even if you aren't an athlete or do minimal exercise, Chobani "blended" is still okay. It will provide a solid protein rich snack for mid-meals or compliment main meals, especially if you are a vegetarian and struggle getting enough protein in your diet. If there are accessibility issues, such as pandemic or hurricane disasters, and you can only find one kind, that's also okay, too! Being flexible is equally important for your mental health.

I can sit here and break down the different kinds of flavors and types apart based on their nutritional value, but at the end of the day will 1 - 2 grams of protein make much difference if you are eating adequately? Branding is incredibly influential and just because something says "zero sugar" on it, doesn't mean it's always going to be the best choice for you to stay healthy. Above all, if you generally dislike a particular yogurt flavor, don't buy it!

If you find yourself questioning your motives, or are ready to change your thinking, it is ALWAYS worth playing it safe and double checking with a dietitian. There ARE dietitians who specialize in eating disorders or disordered eating who will guide you to increasing your flexibility in food choices allowing you to eat socially, spontaneously, and enjoyably all in a non-judgmental way.

Click below if you'd like to come in and check in on your general health and wellness or discuss your nutritional needs.

Jen Pfeilfer, MS, APD

Dr. Thomas R. Schneider, Medical Director

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