It’s NOT all about portion control.

My mother is currently in a rehab facility after a stay in the hospital. She is there to gain strength so that she can return home. She is overweight, and that weight is in large part what causes her the pain that has landed her in the facility.

I have been working with my mom for many months as I would a client. We focus on small changes to her diet and lifestyle, and she has done a pretty amazing job of switching to a mostly whole foods based diet, and gained a better understanding of how different foods affect her mood, energy level, and desire to eat more later.

In her current situation she of course must rely on what different options she has to choose from. Shortly into her stay, the resident nutritionist came by with a menu for her to choose her meals for the next couple of days. While one day she chose a desert, for that evening she decided not to choose the cake because she knew it wasn’t good for her. Instead of supporting her in that decision, the ‘nutritionist’ told her that it was okay to have the cake, “it’s all about portion control” she said,  “so the small piece of cake will be just fine.”

Arg!!! It’s this long-held, bogus idea that a calorie is a calorie–that all that matters is calorie in/calorie out. It is not true. Food is information to our bodies. Food can be medicine or poison. It can nurture or make us sick. So let’s look at this cake that the facility will serve my mom with her dinner. Regardless of the caloric value of that slice of cake, there is no nutritional value. None. I am sure that the cake served in this rehab facility will be made with low quality ingredients, with artificial coloring, low quality sugary products such as high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats. In other words, eating the cake will lead to inflammation, and, if this type of food-like product is consumed continually, then it will lead to chronic disease such as diabetes, obesity, dementia, and possibly cancer.

After eating the cake that lacks nutrients, my mom’s body will perceive it as a stressor because it isn’t real food. This is what causes disease if we eat food-like products continually over time. By contrast, if she were to have a piece of fruit after dinner, or extra vegetables, legumes, healthy fats, or brown rice with her meal, her body would be getting extra micronutrients that will be beneficial to different aspects of her body’s functioning. These vitamins and minerals would in turn help her lose weight, sleep better, and ultimately heal faster.

I do not believe that we should all give up cake. I do believe that we should be realistic about the consequences of what we are eating, and I sure as heck think that when an individual is in a rehab facility, regardless of their weight, they should get support when they make nutritious choices.

In the meantime, I will continue doing my best to support my mom and anyone else interested in learning to nurture our bodies with nutritious food choices and to make conscious choices to indulge in the special food treats that we really enjoy.

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Resources: Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? By Mark Hyman, MD.

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