Lessons learned with food

In the first section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book "Eat, Pray, Love" she travels to Italy as part of what the subtitle describes as “one woman’s search for everything.” Her journey of self-discovery, now depicted by actress Julia Roberts in a movie of the same name, includes a serious confrontation with American women’s attitudes about eating, dieting and the guilt often associated with enjoying indulgent foods.

At a pizzeria in Naples, Gilbert describes a “Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise” and orders two whole pizzas for herself because “the pizza is so good we can barely cope.” She goes on to admit she’s gaining weight every day in Italy. But Gilbert’s new-found joyful abandon with pleasures of the palate isn’t a runaway train headed for dietary doom. It’s an exhilarating side trip of gelato, pastries, pasta, wine and chocolate with a plan to get back on track later. ”

In both book and movie, the message throughout seemed to be about finding balance in life, love, work, thoughts and deeds. Balance is certainly something dietitians talk about all of the time in terms of a healthy balanced diet to support well being of body and mind. So, here’s a sampling of thoughts about the eating in Eat, Pray, Love from nutrition experts who offer guidance to clients.

Yes, her name is Love

Page Love, registered dietitian, Nutrifit Sport Therapy of Atlanta: “I think it is wonderful how the main character reminds women how to really enjoy food and be OK with letting her waistband expand. She also reminds us how to tune into cravings and mindfulness — listening to body signals and responding to what your body is telling you it wants — sometimes more, sometimes less. Sometimes more because it just looks so good and tastes so good, but then there are other times when our body tells us that we have had enough. She reminds us of the sheer enjoyment of eating without worry of what others are thinking or what may happen to our body!”

Love took her own solo midlife trip to Rome and says she didn’t gain weight because she was so active touring and walking everywhere.

When in Rome

Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian, national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association: “I was smitten after reading the first part on Italy and wanted to pack my bags immediately and go directly to that pizza shop! Traveling, for me, is so much about food. That’s the message I try to convey to patients: Savor the moment, make it worth it, make it special, make it count. Don’t eat bread in Italy just because you’re in Italy. Eat bread in Italy when an amazing piece of bread is served to you while you’re there and hopefully it’s coupled with an amazing Barolo!”

Taub-Dix is the author of a new book “Read It Before You Eat It” (Plume 2010)

Give up the guilt

Ann Dunaway Teh, registered dietitian, Dunaway Dietetics, Atlanta: “Unfortunately I still think there is a lot of competition almost among women when eating, such as always noticing what the other person is eating or choosing, making qualifying statements or disclaimers about why they made this choice or that choice. I counsel on moderation and not restricting certain foods because this can set up a person for “bingeing” on that particular item later and feelings of guilt. I also temper my advice with physical activity and teach people how to enjoy all foods in moderation and have their eating reflect physical activity and vice versa.”

Dunaway Teh specializes in nutrition counseling for athletes and families.

Enjoy! It’s healthy

Marsha Hudnall, registered dietitian, Green Mountain at Fox Run, Vermont: “Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and the current attitudes about eating in this country seriously interfere with that enjoyment. We can dig into our food, enjoy it thoroughly, and still walk away healthy. In fact, enjoyment and happiness even promote good digestion and utilization of the nutrients in food. I believe that one of the positive life messages in Eat, Pray, Love is to realize that food is a wonderful part of life and to enjoy it as part of a full life that includes other things.”

Hudnall is program director at Green Mountain at Fox Run in Ludlow Vermont, a women’s healthy weight-loss retreat and pioneer in the nondiet, mindful eating approach to health and healthy weights. She leads Adventures in Mindful Eating Tours of Italy.

Mealtime mindfulness

Page Love says it well, “When we tune in by eating slowly, pausing during meals, you will get appropriate and accurate measures of when to stop. Set up a “healthy meal environment” sitting in an aesthetically pleasing environment. Maximize your enjoyment mindfully, which will in the end help you decide how much you need of yummy food without overdoing it!”

Gilbert also communicates mindfulness writing in Eat, Pray, Love about lunch in her Roman home of eggs, asparagus, olives, goat cheese, salmon and a peach, “Finally when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bit of it with my fingers.”

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil.com

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